9.15.2015

How THE OILMAN'S DAUGHTER Happened (And Almost Didn't)

The year was 2009.

Ian Healy and I were both laying down the tracks for our individual writing careers. I'd written and published some short stories, and I'd finished one novel that hadn't yet seen the light of day and had a few others in various states of completion. He'd written a lot more than that, mostly the books in his Just Cause series, but he had a pretty sizable collection growing, and neither of us had quite jumped into the indie publishing ring just yet.

He then came up with this idea that maybe we should combine our talents and write a book together.

And I was basically like, eh . . . maybe?

I don't often enter easily into collaborative projects. Suffice it to say that my writing is a bit like my own personal padded room where no one else can follow. My ideas, my voice, my world. Mine mine mine. I'm greedy like that.

But he persisted. He believed in us, or more specifically me, and he also had a pretty radical idea for a story. In fact, he had the first six or seven chapters roughly outlined already. "It's steampunk. It's about this nuclear powered train. In space. We should totes write it together." (I'm paraphrasing).

And I was basically like, "Huh? Steampunk? Space trains? I don't get it."

I scoffed and balked and resisted. I tried every possible way to shoot this weird ass idea out of the sky. Part of me really didn't want to do it because it didn't feel like my idea. My goal has never been to be someone else's writer monkey. I almost resented the notion.

But then he wrote the first chapter and sent it to me. And then he said, "You would write the next chapter, and then I would write the one after that, and so on and so forth. My character, your character. You get to make him completely your own."

I had to admit that appealed to me. If I was going to have a hand in this story, it was going to be as the sandblaster, adding the grit and the nasty. As I do. So I read his chapter and then took a stab at mine. It was the one where Phinneas Greaves, gnarly space pirate, invades the space train with his crew to kidnap this French lass for some secret she carries that some businessman wants.

It was the hardest writing I'd ever done. I didn't understand the universe yet. It was so radical and outside my comfort zone that I was pretty sure I had bombed it. I was still gnashing my teeth at this whole concept, but at the same time, I tried to see it for the valuable brain exercise it was. Ian had to hold my hand quite a bit through those early chapters, helping to refine the action and the scenery stuff (that first space battle scene? I'll go ahead and admit it -- that was all Healy). I hated that he could see this world so clearly in his mind, while it was still very vague in mine.

But then time passed. Things got a bit easier. He edited the chapters I sent him, and I edited the chapters he sent me. The process helped to ensure that there was some continuity throughout the book with voice. We both started get a sense for how we worked together. If he wanted to make a change, I was okay with it. I was still a little timid about suggesting changes to him, though, and I think if I could do things differently, it would be to jump in and be more proactive in the process.

Then I moved to Ohio halfway through the book and we put everything on hiatus. I don't think it was until early 2011 when we finally put pen to paper again. We started really fleshing out the second act and refining the plot and the characters. The third act was where things really caught fire. We were making all kinds of breakthroughs, and it was pure adrenaline.  I was invested, he was invested. When we finished it, I was elated.

Then we went through the beta process, revisions, and eventually tried to get an agent. Months and months of querying commenced, but after some early promise, we struck out. There were some who just had a problem with the early character development. Maybe the book wasn't quite done yet. By that point, I was heavy off into my own work again. I'd just signed The Last Supper and I was making moves with Hobbes End Publishing. I thought maybe we needed to trunk the book and just chalk it up to a valuable learning experience.

So we put it away. A few more years passed. Occasionally Ian would nudge me about fixing OILMAN'S DAUGHTER and releasing it ourselves through his spiffy new publishing company, Local Hero Press. I resisted. In fact, by then I'd totally disowned the book. I even tried to just give it to him. "Here, take this book and make it yours." But he didn't want to do that. I just didn't have the time or the desire to do the work, and so it continued to sit.

More time passed. Early spring of 2015, we started tossing ideas back and forth about how we could make the book better. I also noticed a big gaping hole in my fall calendar with no new releases. I said we could release it if I were allowed to go through to do some more character development work, to address some issues people had with the original draft, and also to bring it up to the standard we were currently working at. And so I got rolling on it, and after a few weeks, we had a new draft that I was finally proud to put my full stamp of approval on. Meanwhile, Ian commissioned Chaz Kemp to make a gorgeous cover, and slowly but surely, the book we'd started writing together six years ago became a thing of reality.

It's really real, y'all!
It's releasing in just a couple weeks. Tomorrow, you will be able to read the first three chapters. Two of them at the Local Hero Press blog, and one of them here. Comment on all three chapters, and you will be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy.

Those who read most of my work will see that this is completely unlike anything I've ever worked on before. But in fact, it was my work on this book that resulted in my own anachronistic COLT COLTRANE series. If Oilman's Daughter hadn't happened, there would simply have been no Colt and Petey.

I resisted this project a lot over the years, but it is in my nature to resist most things. Ian believed in it and in me long after I'd given up. If I have learned anything from writing a book with someone else, it's that I'm still too quick to fold when I still have some decent cards worth playing, and I need to make sure I bring myself completely to the table without hesitation. Holding back cost us a lot of years. And even if this whole thing fails and no one either likes or buys our book, I am grateful to have had the chance to write with a friend who is as trustworthy and open-minded as Ian has been through this whole process. I hope we get to do it again sometime.

Now be sure to grab a copy and let us know what you think!

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