Today marks the release of Chris F Holm’s latest book in his excellent Collector series, THE BIG REAP, about Sam Thornton a fallen man who’s been recruited (if that’s the word for it) by Hell as a collector of souls that are trying to game the system and get out of their deals with the Devil. It’s a fantastic series and I can’t recommend it enough.
This book’s been a little different for Chris than his previous books. How? I’ll let him tell you himself.
It’s mighty kind of Stephen to let me sully up his blog-space, particularly since we may well be the Biggie and 2Pac of weird-ass crime/fantasy crossover novels. Unfortunately, my every attempt to spark a bitter East Coast/West Coast rivalry between us has been thwarted by a) my general lethargy and physical cowardice, and b) the fact I’m nuts about Stephen’s books, which totally shoots me in the foot when it comes to writing a kickass diss-track. (Don’t worry – I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about, either. There comes a point in the pre-book-release ramp-up when delirium sets in and all you can do is roll with it.)
The fact is, both our series draw inspiration from the pulps of yore, but until I sat down to write the most recent installment of my Collector series, THE BIG REAP, I had no idea that my books had to that point lacked a key ingredient all classic pulp has in common: blind deadline-looming panic.
The first book in my series, DEAD HARVEST, took me the better part of two years to write – which was fine, since nobody was waiting on it. And by the time Angry Robot bought it and its sequel, THE WRONG GOODBYE, the second book was all but done. There’s something to be said for writing a book at whatever pace it presents itself to you. It allows you to turn over every idea in your head. To examine every concept, every plot point, every theme in great detail.
That is not how I wrote THE BIG REAP.
By the time the deal for book three was inked, my publisher wanted it yesterday. My agent talked ’em into waiting seven months – which was about eleven fewer months than it’d ever taken me to write a book before. I figured I had to get a draft done in six at the outside, so I’d have some time to edit. And okay, that’s still a damn sight longer than the inkslingers of the pulp era had to work with, but their novels topped out at 50,000 words or so, and I knew the story I wanted to tell would take me twice that. For one, it was epic, spanning five continents and several thousand years. And for two, I wanted to go bigger and deffer (seriously, what is wrong with me today?) with my set-pieces, my scares, my thrills, and my character work than I’d ever gone before.
So I sat down at my keyboard to write… and stayed there every waking hour not spent at my day job for the next six months. I barely spoke. I hardly ate. I told that not-so-tiny voice of doubt in my head to sit down and shut up, because dude can’t you see I’m busy? And I told myself than whenever faced with the choice between playing it safe or swinging for the cheap seats, I’d grit my teeth and take the riskier path. The way I saw it, I had no time to dally at a fork in the road, and if I was gonna go down, I was gonna go down swinging.
In the end, I’d gained some wrinkles, lost some pounds, and worn down no shortage of tooth enamel, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t finish. The problem was, I had no idea if it was any good.
That first read-through, I feared the worst. Only you know what? Turns out, it didn’t suck. By the third draft or so, I handed it to my wife/beta reader, and to my great surprise, she agreed. (Believe me, that ain’t nothing. The fact we share a bed aside, she’s not one to blithely rubber-stamp.) But it wasn’t until my editor declared it the best of the series I realized it’s not for nothing I fell in love with pulp. There’s something visceral about the best of it. Something borderline unconscious. And if you ask me, THE BIG REAP is as close as I’ve ever come to duplicating it.
But then, you don’t have to ask me. The fine folks who’ve reviewed it so far have been nuts about it. Guess I shoulda benched that voice of doubt years ago.
Of course, that ain’t as easy as it sounds. Maybe that’s why all those pulp writers I look up to were such drunks.
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