barbara_hambly (barbara_hambly) wrote,

Time of the Dark

As I mentioned a few days ago, I'm going to start writing down things I remember about writing my books - sometimes what was happening in my life at the time, sometimes stuff about researching, or the process of writing.

Jotting down what I recall about the first book - Time of the Dark - made me realize it may take more than one post to talk about a book.

And writing about writing made me realize, what a DANGED long time ago that was.

            When I wrote The Time of the Dark I was living in Riverside, on what had been the back porch of one of those old houses along Seventh Street. I was taking karate four nights a week, hanging out with the dojo gang, taking classes to get a credential to teach High School, and hadn’t written anything since 1973.

            Everything I’d written before 1973 had been what would have been fan fiction, if I’d known about such a thing: stories about characters in Star Trek, Dr. Who, various of the Westerns I was seriously hooked on, written for my own entertainment and shared with nobody. (Thank God – it was beyond terrible. Well-written, but TERRIBLE). I’d gotten an M.A. in medieval history at UCR just in time to have the bottom fall out of the market for college teachers, so I borrowed a large sum from my father to go back to school and re-tool my skills for the only thing I knew how to do, which was teach.

            Then at Christmas I had a dream.

            It was heavily Lovecraft-influenced: the hero (whom I didn’t know) and the old wizard hiding out from enemies in one of those run-down little house-lets you see (or did see back in the ‘70s) if you drove east of Barstow or Bakersfield, sitting out in the middle of the desert, long-deserted and surrounded by nothing. No electricity, no water, and the cell phone was decades from being invented. The young hero goes to the moonlit kitchen and sees this Thing – this Lovecraftian awfulness – oozing in through the cat-door, tiny as a cat, but growing. He runs in panic back to the wizard in the other room and the wizard says (in that perfect Alec Guinness voice), “Did you think they’d be human?”

            By the time I’d written ten pages of this I knew there was nothing I could be but a writer. Which was a darn pity, because I’d just borrowed a large sum from my father to go back to school and learn how to be a High School teacher, and I had no way of paying it back.

            I’d wake up at 4 a.m., write until it was time for me to go to the  High School for student teaching observation, cry all the way to school, cheer up for the class, teach my own classes, and be in tears by the time I got to the parking lot to go home. I did this for months.

            I might add that the master-teacher at the school who was supposed to be observing my class NEVER did so, not from the first day: he simply dumped me into a classroom of 9th-graders and vanished. I later learned that this was for the very good reason that he was an alcoholic: he’d show up drunk for FIRST PERIOD at 8 a.m. – always polite and friendly, but he initiated some EXTREMELY inappropriate conversations before first period class (“Uh – why are you giving me a graphic account of your visit to your proctologist, sir?”) – and by fifth period, the one I taught, he was sound asleep in the teacher’s lounge. The school was also installing air conditioning in the classrooms, most of the ceiling-tiles were torn out, and sometimes black cockroaches the size of chihuahuas would fall out of the ceilings and wander about the classroom. First time this happened I borrowed a flip-flop from the nearest student, smashed the thing so that its little guts covered nearly a whole floor-tile, and asked, “Anybody here take biology?”

            It was that or have the suckers showing up in my desk.

            No wonder ToD turned out a little gruesome.

            I was probably the only person in California who was happy when the infamous Proposition 13 went through at the end of that year, because it meant that there was no frakking way I’d get a job teaching. I’d completed my course-work but didn’t bother to take the exam for my credential. My dad – seeing the handwriting on the wall – asked, Would I like him to get me a job working for General Dynamics (the nice folks who brought you the Stinger missile)? (That’s where he worked – at one time or another half a dozen family members were employed there, including my brother). (He knew that was the only way he’d get his money back.) I spent about 30 months correcting the grammar of engineers and doing production-tracking of marketing proposals, and sneakily working on ToD at lunchtime.

            I’d made out a list of publishers who did fantasy, ranked best to worst, and sent Lester Del Rey (at Del Rey Books) – over the transom, unagented – the manuscript of Time of the Dark, with outlines for Walls of Air and Armies of Daylight. Two weeks later I got a letter back from Lester saying, “We’ll take it,” and realized I hadn’t the slightest idea how to get an agent. I got a list from Sherry, the woman who ran a store called A Change of Hobbit in Westwood, and called down the list til I found an agent who’d represent me (I mean, I’d already sold the book…)

            They thrashed around with the contract for almost a year, and I signed the contract, sent it in, went to a week-end karate tournament in Las Vegas, came back Monday morning to GD to the news that the company was downsizing, put your stuff in a cardboard box and have a nice rest of your life.

            So I did.

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