Howard Andrew Jones is the author of The Desert of Souls (Thomas Dunne Books 2011), a historical fantasy set in the 8th century Abbasid caliphate featuring the characters Dabir and Asim, who’ve been appearing in a variety of short fiction venues since 2000. His Pathfinder novel, Plague of Shadows, is set to appear in March of 2011. In addition to his many writing exploits, Howard is a writing instructor and Managing Editor of Black Gate.
We are thrilled to welcome Howard as our April Guest Blogger. Please leave comments or questions for Howard on these pages, and check back throughout the month for more thoughts on fiction and writing! And please read Part One: On Heroes and Why We Need Them and Part Two: Sword and Sorcery.
Part Three: The Take-Away
by Andrew Howard Jones
I wrote my novel because I wanted to have fun. I figured that as long as I was collecting rejection letters when I submitted novels, I might as well write the novel I’d enjoy writing the most, because it was starting to feel like the only person my books would ever entertain was me.
Luckily that’s not how it turned out, but I think that kind of mindset really set me free. I’d like to think that if I’d just sat down to write and make it the best story I could, eight novels back, I would have figured things out sooner, but then, eight (or was it nine?) novels back, I’m pretty sure I was trying to draft the best novel I could. So what finally did the trick?
I know part of my improvement had to do with practice. Even someone who picks things up as slowly as me had to be getting better after so many prior novels. But then I’d also been getting more life experience, and it’s surely easier to write about realistic adults if you’ve actually been one for a while (some writers more brilliant than I figure out the trick far sooner). And I’d also been getting to know these characters for a while.
I’ve been writing stories about Dabir and Asim for ten or eleven years, and I believe I’ve placed every one of their stories that I’ve ever written. (Now that I look back on the fact that I was always able to find a home for a Dabir and Asim story, it seems as though I should have realized featuring them in a book was a good idea…) After all those years with them, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I know these characters well. Asim, as the narrator, has been talking in my head for a decade. And because I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve been doing the research about the world he lives in – 8th century Baghdad – which made sitting down to write the book a lot simpler. It would have taken much longer to start the research from scratch. That’s not to say that while writing the novel I didn’t frequently have a few reference books handy, but I knew my way around those reference books, and had a rough idea about what I was doing.
Now, after the book deal – after I can actually hold the physcial thing in my hands – I’ve been asking myself why I kept working on other novels instead of this one, the one I wanted to write. Maybe I was stubbornly hanging on to characters I really liked. I knew novel eight (or nine) wasn’t quite working, but I felt sure I could get it right if I kept trying. And I’d heard that historical fiction was a hard sell, and, of course, Dabir and Asim live in a real historical period. They spend an awful lot of time fighting things man was not meant to know, so maybe they were horror, and while investigating said things they’re solving mysteries, and there are elements of the fantastic… I was afraid that they would be hard to pin down with a genre, which would make a book hard to categorize and sell. It turns out that I was overthinking things. The Desert of Souls was marketed as historical fantasy, and many people have pointed out that the 1001 Nights are full of stories with such elements, so the book wasn’t unclassifiable at all.
I’ve been pondering what to take forward from the whole experience, beside the obvious fact that it’s a pleasure to see your book in print, and people enjoying it. And I suppose, as trite as it may read, it’s pretty simple, even if it flies in the face of wisdom. Write what you’re dying to write and don’t worry about the market. Have fun with it, because if you don’t enjoy the writing, who’s going to enjoy the reading?