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09 October 2010 @ 02:06 pm
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.

Current Location: the past
Current Music: stillness
kitmizkit on October 9th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
So I did.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

And we are all SO GLAD you did, too! *beams* Wow, what a great story. And wow, what a great idea for journaling!
namastenancynamastenancy on October 9th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
What a great saga - and we know that it had a happy ending. For you and for us, your dedicated readers.
deborahjross on October 9th, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing it.
Ro Anshiro_anshi on October 9th, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
And here I've known you for a million years (well, if a million years = 25) and I know bits and pieces of the story that is you, but I never knew exactly how those pieces fit together.

Now I do.
barbara_hamblybarbara_hambly on October 9th, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC)
Well, I realize that from that point on in my life, EVERYTHING is rooted in, What book was I working on at the time? So by opening the door labelled "Time of the Dark" or "Bride of the Rat-God," it's the whole room beyond it, not just the contents of the book.
(Deleted comment)
Cat Sitting Stillcatsittingstill on October 9th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
My cat used to hunt crickets. Sometimes he would bring them inside so they couldn't get away while he played with them. Sometimes one would get away anyway and hide...somewhere.

And crick. All night.
Epeebladeepeeblade on October 9th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing this story with us! (And hopefully more stories to come.) I'm always fascinated by how other writers get their ideas.
Severina: furriboots: cat pawsseverina2001 on October 9th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Adding my voice to the chorus of Thank Yous for sharing this (and more stories to come!) Time of the Dark and its sequels are my absolute favourites of your books; I've lost count of how many times I've re-read them. And I had NO idea ToD was your first novel. Wow. Just Wow.
RyokoMusoukaryokomusouka on October 9th, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
It's fascinating to me how accidents of life shape the people who end up being authors. And how bemused by it all those authors seem to be.

As ordinary as it seems to you, it makes very interesting (and inspirational) reading. <3
want. take. have.ghostrunner7 on October 10th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC)
I inherited TOD (almost all of your books, actually) from my mother when I was about thirteen, fell instantly and embarrasingly in love with the Icefalcon and proceeded to read it probably fifteen times. I'm just realizing now that a friend borrowed the whole series and I need them back. Now.
me: bookramlatch on October 10th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
I read that book for the first time I think when I was about eight years old during a period of being really sick with the flu. I can't begin to express how grateful I am for the Darwath trilogy and finding it when I did, and what an impact reading about Gil had on me growing up. Most of my experiences with strong women characters were not very good, and seeing a woman who loved being a scholar yet had the soul of someone who could be one of the Guard and didn't have to be some muscle bound young goddess to become one, was wonderful.

Time of the Dark is very dear to me. I most certainly wouldn't want to ever be in that world, ever, ever, but it is a wonderfully vivid and intensely grim world that was enthralling to read about.
debela on October 10th, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)
I second mizkit's sentiments - very glad you did!

And it makes SO MUCH SENSE that ToD has a kind of visceral ew to the critters. Gah. ew. Ick.
Elizabeth McCoyarchangelbeth on October 10th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
1) wow. and much wow. And extra wow.

2) If I could go back in time... (The double-vision that I'm having is terribly disconcerting. Me-now would want to give you-then a hug. Which then runs up against reality and the younger-me who still makes round eyes of "OMG AUTHOR!" and makes my head go wibble.)

3) I am so glad you wrote that.
ljfrat on October 10th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
I've had some pretty darn scary dreams in my day --- death, destruction, alien invasion, you name it; but if I'd had a dream like THAT one....I'd have been scared to go back to sleep.....EVER.
zolazola on October 10th, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Oh, this is SO great to read, thanks for posting it.

My introduction to your books was the Darwath trilogy and the Windrose Chronicles, and those remain my favorites, although I've read quite a few of your other books and enjoyed them.

I think one of my favorite things about you as a writer is that you create atmosphere. When I am reading about the factories and the conditions in Windrose Chronicles, I can almost smell the soot and smoke in the air, and become paralyzed by the creeping depression, and I feel I've had a glimpse into what it was like when the Industrial Revolution was taking hold. When I read the Darwath series, I almost feel the cold seeping into my bones. The best part is that you do it without being excessively wordy!

I look forward to more of these posts.
ljfrat on October 10th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
Oh, and I picked up ToD at a bookstore in Florida, needing something to occupy me for the plane trip home. I didn't realize it was the first of three, and (of course) finished the book mid-flight. I found "The Armies.." right away, but it took me almost two years to find a copy "The Walls of Air", and I drove everyone I know nuts looking for it for me.