Friday, August 26, 2011

The Yellow Flowers

That, as you probably can't see, is the title page of the manuscript of my novel-that's-been-languishing-in-a-trunk-for-twenty-years. Twenty-one and three quarters, if you want to be precise.

I wrote it one December while recuperating from a motorcycle accident. I was ruthless with myself. Every morning, I wrote a chapter, tapping away on my Amstrad word processor with one hand, and didn't allow myself lunch till it was done. Then after lunch, I rewrote yesterday's chapter. Then on Saturdays, I re-read everything I'd done in the week, and on Sunday rewrote it all. The book was finished in three weeks - about the same time it took for my shattered hand to become usable again. (Sadly the bike wasn't so lucky. That was scrapped.) It's unashamedly inspired by Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon - not so much the plot, but the tone.

No-one told him the yellow flowers were for the princess, but then, no-one ever tells you anything when you're ten. Gareth was sitting in the loft of the barn, swinging his legs over the edge and thinking gloomy thoughts. To make matters worse, his mother had spanked him in front of the whole Court, and everybody, except of course the King, had laughed at him.

I nearly got it published too, but I turned it down.

Why? Looking back on it, total and utter stupidity.

It was a young teenage fantasy romance, exactly the kind of thing that was huge in the very late 1980s. I submitted it to just one publisher, who loved it, but said that they wanted to do it as a trilogy, because fantasy trilogies were what you did back then. I thought about it for a couple of days, and decided that I didn't really see how the story could continue from there, so I suggested to them that maybe I should write two other unrelated books instead. They said no, and that was the end of that.

Wait, I did what?

A leading publisher offered me - an unknown author - real actual money for two further books as a start of a series, and I said no because I wasn't inspired? These days I'd take that deal instantly, and then figure out what goes into the next two books. Hell, I'd send them a proposal for a trilogy of trilogies. And merchandise. And spin-offs. And versions for every medium ever invented and a few new ones. That's the kind of deal that most aspiring authors would kill for.

As I said, total and utter stupidity.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading through some fiction submissions, and thinking we should do more novels. (Did I mention I'm part owner of a digital publishing house?) And then I remembered The Yellow Flowers. You know that moment where it dawns on you that you've been even stupider than you realised? It was one of those. I've got a novel of my own sitting right here ready to go. After all, it can't be that bad if someone was prepared to offer me an advance for it and demand more of my work.

So here it is, no longer in a trunk. It'll doubtless get some re-editing in the process of getting re-typed, and then I'm damn well going to publish it. And this time, it'll be The Yellow Flowers, Volume 1.


Dave Morris said...

I've been stupider than that, Matt. I turned down having my characters in a TV show because it was a Europudding of a co-production and shoehorning those characters in seemed creatively dishonest. Mind you, I was young and foolish. (Well, 42...)

Look on the bright side. If you'd taken their offer, you'd have been on some measly 10% type deal, and you'd have to have cooked up a couple of sequels that probably weren't needed. This way, you'll be keeping 70% and you have creative freedom. As much creative freedom as the readers allow you, that is, but that's better than having to jump through an editor's hoops.

Anyway, good luck with it. I really like the voice in that excerpt, so you can count on at least one reader in the Morris household.

Will Shetterly said...

Go for it, but don't call it Volume 1. There are readers who will put off buying a book if they believe the cnclusion isn't available. You can still call the second book Vol. 2 or The Sequel. But having a fairly self-contained story is very helpful for starting a trilogy or any sort of series.

Dave Morris said...

Actually, I missed that you were saying it should be volume 1. Those publishers don't know anything. (Remember Goldman: nobody knows anything.) So if it's a standalone, let it be a standalone. You're the publisher! Hell, I love Princess Bride but I don't want PB2 - even though I bet Goldman's editors do.

India Drummond said...

I'm thrilled to see you taking this step. I've had nothing but positive experiences as an indie published author. I've gone the small press route before, and although it felt good to be accepted by a 'real publisher,' it's hard not to wish I'd said no. (If I knew then what I know now, I would have.)

Keep me posted, and if there's anything I can do to help or any way that my experience can benefit you, just say the word.


India Drummond

Sideline Sniper said...

I’m not sure that you really were stupid. Were you earning a
living through writing fiction back then? If not, then lack
of inspiration might well be a good reason not to commit to
writing fiction. It’s easy for the person of today to
criticise the person of the past, but not necessarily

Suppose the younger, less experienced Matt had committed
himself to writing two books. Possible outcomes include (a)
that you would write two uninspired sequels each of which
would sell less well than the previous and the publisher
would ask you for no more. And (b), you manage to write
something for the second volume that, while uninspired,
keeps things going well enough that people want to read
volume three, and volume three more or less manages to keep
that up, but you pull off a good ending. That would fulfil
the peak/end requirement of reader experience, so people
(including the publishers) would want to see more books by
Mr Kelland. Then you have to churn them out one per annum
and you either turn into a complete cynic or realise after a
while that your life’s work has been a pile of dross.

OK, that last bit is maybe an exaggeration. A well crafted
uninspired novel does serve a useful purpose, but it’s not
obvious that the Matt back then (who lacked your current
level of experience) could produce a well crafted work in
the absence of inspiration. So perhaps you did the world a
service by sparing us yet another shoddily written 1980’s
fantasy trilogy? Whereas if you do it now, even if you don’t
find the inspiration, we can be sure it will at least be
well crafted. And who knows? Polishing up the first one
might trigger new inspiration.

Matt Kelland said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

I guess I just keep thinking of the alt.Matt.novelist scenario where Yellow Flowers became a huge blockbuster starring Macaulay Culkin, I went on to write more books than Piers Anthony, and editors would treat me with the same trepidation they reserve for Steven King and J.K.Rowling.

Still, that's a past future, and a whole different river of spilt milk (to mix my metaphors with reckless abandon). I'm looking forward to re-reading YF for the first time in over two decades, and seeing what, if anything, I can make of it.