In 2015, I started an ambitious NaNoWriMo project that went from taking a month to write to taking 6 years. I have never spent 6 years on anything. Not a job. Not a project. I discard things at some point. But I had this weird feeling about Prince of MidWest. Like my soul warned me to not get rid of it. Prince of MidWest has a come a long way and has given birth to some of my more recent writing over the last six years.
Accepted, Rejected, Cut, and Experiments
Prince of MidWest started as 2015's National Novel Writing Month project. Before that, it was The Camelot Project and that's important for later. I wrote the first 50K words and thought that's where the story would end for some reason. Then I thought I'd write a duology. No, a trilogy!
But I lost interest after writing the second 50K words. But I kept coming back to it. The very first finished draft (the 2016 draft) was a weird, wild, discombobulated Frankenstein. There was weird time travel that made no sense (I'm sure it did to 25 year old me), too many subplots I never got to, way too many characters, a trope I use way too much (thanks to my brother Luke for pointing it out), and just so much more that made it a hot mess. It was very cool, but it was like looking at The Thing. Gross.
At the time, I had been picked up by a traditional publisher and they had put out my book Revary. Wanting to do more, they asked me to submit some ideas or books that I had. The Camelot Project and Prince of MidWest were accepted based on my synopsis of each book.
The problem with Prince of MidWest is that it's experimental. One, I don't write YA and I'm not super fond of the modern iteration of the genre. Second, it's one of the first first-person POVs I've ever written. I don't like First-Person POV. Third, it's first-person POV from INSIDE a third-person's head. So...yeah. That was hard to write and I imagine it is bonkers and weird to read. You might think it's third-person while we're hanging out with just Cecil, then suddenly Ezekiel says something about "I was fond of his way of..." and it's jarring, I know that. It was also hard to write the ENTIRE narrative from Ezekiel's flavor. The third-person-type parts feel weird because they use Ezekiel's vernacular and way of describing things. Because of this, when my editor at the trad publisher read it, they blew up at me over email. Not to say they were wrong about everything. They said the novel was written in past AND present tense (which it wasn't, even then), that the POVs were mixed up, and that the timeline made no sense. I tried to establish from the prologue what the narrative style would be but they were not having it. The email made me cry as she tore it apart, said how bad it was (in so many other ways) and that it was never going to be "publishable." Fair enough.
So it was rejected after having been accepted.
On the one hand, I am glad that 2016 Prince of MidWest did not go into publication as it was. It wasn't as bad as all that, but it's so much better now.
So I worked on it. I started some (what I call) deep edits.
Side Story: The Death of the Hard Drive
I was almost done when the worst thing happened: the hard drive on my computer (I didn't use Google Drive yet) died, taking everything I had ever written with it.
Everything. But by the kindness of a single dude, I got everything back.
Devastated, I took it to the nearest Apple Certified fixer people and literally cried in their entryway, holding the corpse of my Mac, telling them what happened. The poor dude. To whoever the manager was that day in the (now nonexistent) Findlay Apple repair place: I owe you a lot. I blubbered to him about how I had novels on there I had written, pictures, how I never backed them up, and that the books were my life. Again, poor guy. He informed me that the task it would take to get stuff off a corrupted hard drive was going to over $500. I remember folding in on my dead laptop and crying more. Seriously, this poor dude. He said he'd look at it and let me know what he could do.
I got an email several days later (almost a week) saying he'd gotten it done and everything was backed up on an external and I could come in and get it. Freaking out, I went to pick it up and stammered about how I didn't have the money but could he do a payment plan. He replied, "Whatever was on here seemed really important. You just owe $80 for the diagnostic."
I have a LOT of bad luck. Like, a lot. Whenever I tell people all the crap that happens to me in a single week, they seemed shocked and usually mumble something along the lines of, "Dang, I thought you made up half the crap that happens to you, but..." Yeah, no. I don't need to exaggerate because the universe serves me up enough drama. But when something good happens, it hits HARD, making up for a lot.
That hit hard. I wish I could find that guy, but I don't even remember what the store was called. It's not there anymore, anyway. But dang, dude. Thank you.
Grandfather Characters and the Cuts
I finished the deep edit and then left the story alone for some time. All that to not even give it a second glance.
After I got dropped from my trad publisher and put out The Trial of Two, I decided it was time to hit up Ezekiel and Cecil again. I did a phase that I call "read through and comment." I left a lot of comments. My editor wasn't right in the things they had pointed out, but it was baaaaad. I set out to fix it. I cut chapters, re-wrote them, ditched entire side arcs, and tossed out whole characters (then added one I love even more). More often than not, I ended up re-writing whole chapters. I cut 40K words entirely that were just so trash. Cringe. Oh, the cringe. I replaced them with 30K much better words. Cutting out my glue words also helped relieve about 5K from the overall piece. I was just a much better writer and editor than I was even 5 years ago. I added a new chapter one (the one you can read today) and some more in the middle to flesh out Ezekiel's seeds of growth. In reality, I almost rewrote the entire book. It went from 100K to a much stronger 125K. But it's a stand-alone so it's ok.
That process was so much harder than just writing a fresh book. I thought about doing that, but knew that if I did, the essence of what originally made me write Prince would be gone.
Grandfather characters, you ask? Why, yes!
I write a loooooot. With 20 books, over 100 short stories, and over 25 poems (that no one will EVER see so help me) written, I've done a few characters more than once. For example, Rocket, my charming, grumpy old biker man from Why They Killed is 100% Tzarik's literary grandfather. Now that I say that, everyone will see how unoriginal I am. Go on, judge me. I need it, hahah. Both are stoic, old (both are 35 when we first meet them) dudes who have "lived too long in their profession" and meet another person who forces them to change. Rocket, unfortunately, reverts back by the end of his story, becoming hard again having experienced the type of person that could exist in his world. I didn't realize Rocket was Tzariks's literary grandfather until I decided to get Why They Killed out in audio (after The Trial of Two). Listening to it, I thought, "Ah, Rocket is Tzarik!" Having written Rocket long before Tzarik, I could see how making one led to the other.
I mentioned The Camelot Project book one was written before Prince of MidWest. While you will never meet the Original Ezekiel, you can imagine the kind of person he was based on the character Artorius from the never-published book 2 of the Camelot Project. I'm sad you will never meet them, but let's just say Original Ezekiel was a lot like his grandfather Artorius: he was super mean, vile, murderous, evil, and just plain hate-able. There was NOTHING to like about Original Ezekiel. I scrubbed a LOT of the violence from Prince (there's still some. I cannot write a book without violence). Artorius (my soon-to-be King Arthur) was a horrid little man as well. Simply, there was NOTHING to like about them. Letting Original Ezekiel be the MC would not work. It's interesting to write a book where there are no MCs to really root for, but SUCKS to read. I'm big on character-driven stories and by the time I was done Read-and-Commenting on Prince, I just wanted Ezekiel to die and thought he didn't deserve Cecil. He's much better now. I gave him vulnerabilities, made him human, and gave him some endearing traits. He's still a bit of a murder-hobo, but more likable and at least is trying to be a better dude.
So my lesson here is: yes, make gray characters. Make villains your MCs. But don't shrug off when feedback says they don't like a single character. No one will read that book because no one wants to hang out with people they don't like. We do that enough at work and all day. There should be someone to root for in fiction and just "the lesser of two evils." And for the love of libraries, redeem your characters. They need to change. We want to see the growth. Don't be afraid to make Good Guys. More on that in another post...
There's a lot more to the story, but those are the good parts. If you're interested, please come and see me at the live release event!
It's happening July 16th 12 pm CT on Facebook Live, Twitch, and YouTube. If you are on my website now, you can find all those links in the header.
Every book I write has a book about how it happened and all that went into making it a reality. I like to think my books are not easily digestible, tossed aside dime-store, penny dreadfuls. They have more substance than that. There's lots in there to make a literature professor or high school English teacher get excited. I hope some of that comes through and someone out there reads one of my books more than once, picking up on things I lay down that are not in your face obvious.
Anyway, please join me and Prince's narrator Adriel Brandt Saturday, July 16th for the live release event. I hope to see you all there!