Reprinted with kind permission of the author
article first appeared in 3 A.M. MAGAZINE
THE EVENT - HOW TO WRITE A COMMERCIALLY-VIABLE NOVEL
WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL? GREG FARNUM PRESENTS HIS NEW NOVEL AND WRITING
CAREER COPYRIGHT © 2000, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE.
On October 1, 1997, I sat down to write a novel. I didn't
quite know what it would be about, I just knew I had to write it. Why?
Because for years I'd been having the odd poem published in little -
littler - micro magazines, occasionally a short story as well - enough
to continually renew my hope that someday I would be able to publish
books, books that would gain me more readers than I could ever get from
appearing in magazines like Beatniks from Space, books that would yield
enough money to finance the writing of other books and allow me to say
farewell to the jobs that fit me like a succession of cheap suits. But
by 1997 that hope was getting a little frayed around the edges: my book
of poetry had been simultaneously rejected by all of the publishers
I'd simultaneously sent it to, my book of short stories had fared no
better, my store of gray hairs and unread manuscripts was growing larger,
and I was in yet another job that felt more like a sentence than a vocation.
Maybe I was just no damned good. More to the point, maybe I was neurotically
out of step with the world around me - so willfully blind to the tastes
and preferences of publishers, editors, professors, critics and readers
alike that my compulsive scribbling was equivalent to some poor soul's
need to wash his hands fifty times a day.
Out of this dismal mire came one faint glimmer of light. A few of the
fifty some people I had sent my book of stories to actually wrote back
- and they were complimentary about what they had seen. A couple of
these folks even gave me a reason for rejecting the work. It was this:
books of short stories weren't commercially viable. Well, there were
plenty of short story collections in the Barnes and Noble and Borders
stores near my house - wasn't that commerce?
Then I got my third reply. It was the most complimentary rejection yet
and it ended by saying that publishers were wary of taking a chance
on a new writer's book of short stories if he hadn't already published
a novel first. A light went on. Sure, like all of the advice you get
about publishing, it wasn't a hundred percent, but I felt it fit my
situation to a T. My course was set - I would write a novel.
I could think of plenty of things to write about, but the catch was
I also had to get it published. It had to open doors for all the deeply-felt
and rejected manuscripts gathering dust while waiting in the wings.
Now, I felt I was accomplished enough as a writer to simply mimic some
of the commercial "product" I saw on the book store shelves
but - and here's where that neurotically out of step thing comes in
- I knew I just couldn't do it. Pile up a hundred stones, collect a
thousand beer cans: I'd undertake any long and tedious task if it would
enable me to get my work before the public, but I couldn't fake a novel.
Writing is just too important to me. I had to find something that would
seem commercially "viable" yet would still hold my interest
while writing it.
A film between you and everything you see hear taste feel - the words
of William Burroughs more or less. It was a phrase that kept running
through my mind. The dominant element in that film, as I saw it, was
technology. Not technology as Venus cum Santa Claus, emerging miraculously
from sea foam and bearing gifts,but a set of choices made by powerful
organizations and then sold to the rest of us with the aid of the persuasive
power of that very same technology, and what they were selling was not
just products but a complete worldview - an alternate reality, so to
So there was my story. The publishers could say it was science fiction.
William Gibson was much talked about then so I picked up his latest
book, Idoru, and read it. Though his computers seemed to owe more to
magic than to technology and the plot sometimes seemed a bit diffuse,
the idea of an artificial star (his Idoru) appealed to me. I would use
it. But Ron Goulart, the prince of hacks, had preceded Gibson here by
two or three decades. Years before, I had read Shaggy Planet and several
of his other science fiction novels. They were quick, tightly plotted,
humorous mysteries set centuries hence and filled with people and things
that weren't quitewhat they seemed. My novel, I told myself, would be
tightly plotted, it would be filled with people and things that weren't
quite what they seemed, it would be a mystery and it would have some
humor in it. Mine, however, would be set in the near future - the very
near future. The time shift would enable me to exaggerate and thus highlight
facets of the present, my real subject.
Which brings me back to October 1, 1997. I was sitting in the passenger
seat of our '89 Honda, my wife Connie taking a turn at the wheel, as
we drove from the Detroit area up to Northern Michigan to visit her
relatives. I had everything I needed to begin except the sine quanon
of stories - people and a situation to place them in. I was jotting
down notes - notes about a story - along with stray observations. The
latter largely just to keep my pen and mind moving. A large billboard
next to I-75 with a picture of Christ and the words "Are you on
the right road?" Omer, the smallest city in Michigan, letters falling
off the sign in front of its only restaurant. And of course cars, many
cars, seeming havens of mobile metal and plastic but each linked to
larger grids by invisible waves. Of course! This is it. This is the
place where my story will be set. At least one of the places. But the
main character, how does he get here? As the questions became more concrete
the answers came more readily to hand.
Back home, I sat down with my notes at the kitchen table and began to
write - in longhand as we didn't have a computer. The next day at work
I typed up what I had written the night before. I had the first page
of my novel. That became my routine; I would work at night then type
it up the next day at the office, generally at lunch time or at the
end of the day, while also taking time to revise the previous day's
typescript. There was no longer any question of merely completing a
formal exercise, I was passionately involved with the story that was
taking shape, and feeling - sometimes uncomfortably - the feelings of
the characters I was attempting to portray.
Seven months after I copied down the words of the surrogate Jesus on
the roadside sign my novel, The Event, was done.
After that, a large chunk of my spare cash went towards postage. I stopped
counting the rejections but the number fifty comes to mind again. Then
one day I got a letter from a new publisher named Domhan Books. They
quoted a line from my cover letter where I called the novel fast paced
and exciting, adding "we agree."
I haven't yet tried to place my other books; I've been too busy helping
my young publisher publicize this one. I feel I owe it to the book,
which now exists as a presence somewhat independent of me, its characters
and incidents taking their place alongside the characters and incidents
- fictional and real - that make up the story of my life.
THE EVENT TODAY!
At this point the easiest way to get a copy of the book is by going
to the Barnes and Noble web site, www.barnesandnoble.com. Or, simply
leave the computer altogether and walk into a Barnes and Noble or other
book store and order the book by its ISBN number, 1583455531.All the
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