In October of 2016, I had no clue whatsoever that I’d be releasing a book in three months. I had spent the previous two months getting together the information I wanted for an alternate history fantasy book set in the 1800s, which I was planning to write for the 2016 National Novel Writer’s Month. For those that don’t know, the goal for Nanowrimo, as it’s called, is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I’ve still got all of the notes for that story, but it’s been semi-permanently shelved.
In any case, I was planning that, if the story I was working on was decent, I would spend about six months tinkering and getting it just right before finally deciding whether or not to publish it. I’d seen too many horror stories from publishers who hate Nanowrimo, and that people send them the half-finished rough drafts immediately after the end of the month, so I didn’t want to be one of those people.
It was the last couple of weeks of September that I got a job in a seasonal position at a Halloween store. I’m not saying what one it was because I don’t want to call out the issues that I saw. My intention with it was to get some extra money for Christmas, take my wife out to a really nice steak dinner at Ruth’s Chris, and maybe have enough money left over to buy some games on Steam.
I managed all three goals, but more in spite of the job than because of it. The store was an utter trainwreck in process. We had too many employees, one of the lead clerks was an incompetent jerk, the brand-new manager couldn’t get the schedule done on time to save her life, the experienced assistant manager was out for her honeymoon for half the time, among many other issues. In all honesty, I could’ve dealt with any of the issues except the scheduling one. I made it through October 22nd, when I intended to work through November 1st and leave.
The inspiration that turned into Ancient Ruins were two books, The Slime Dungeon and Dungeon Born. I’d read both of them in the prior year, and their idea was bouncing around my head. While I was at work, doing mindless stocking, my head was pondering how I would alter the ideas if I was the one who wrote an idea. This was October 19th. I tried to ignore the concept since I had my project, but it was hard. I knew I wanted something with plants, but that was about it.
The idea grew over the 20th and 21st. Then Saturday the 22nd rolled around, and I was seething. I didn’t have my schedule for Sunday the 23rd yet, and it was 4 PM. That morning I’d told the assistant manager that if I didn’t have my schedule by the time I got off (6 PM), that I probably wouldn’t come back. She told me that the regional manager was coming by, and that he wanted to talk to me before he talked to the manager. He didn’t, and ignored me. The schedule wasn’t up, so I walked out and headed home, with no intention to go back in my internal incandescent rage. I’ll note that I was perfectly polite with everyone until I left. I’m unfailingly polite in person, except on the occasions that I say something before my brain manages to catch up with my mouth. Fortunately rare.
Fueled by incandescent rage, I sat down at my computer and decided to write the idea that was stuck in my head, to get it out of the way for Nanowrimo. This was the prologue to Ancient Ruins. I still have the original prologue saved, and it’s bad. I may actually post it to let people see just how far the book came after that. Anyway, I wrote the prologue with no world building, nothing more than that single germ of an idea, then let my friend Joseph read it before I went to bed that night.
The next morning my frustration really hadn’t cooled, nor had the idea. I decided that since it wasn’t gone, and I had a full eight days before I needed to start Nanowrimo, there was no reason not to keep working on the idea. Again, no worldbuilding was done. I just want to reiterate this because people may not realize how threadbare I left the world at the time. I swiped dawn and dusk elves as ideas I’d had from another story idea that will likely never see the light of day, and got to work. Essentially, I made up the world as I went, with Sistina as the core around which everything else was built.
I chatted with my wife about my ideas as we laid in bed, waiting for sleep to claim me. I bounced them off Joe over the internet. And when the end of October rolled around, I had about 34,500 words written, and I wasn’t ready to let go. So I did what made sense to me. I pretended all of that hadn’t been written, and kept going. Why not count just the words since the beginning of November? I kept going, and I had no thoughts in my head about publishing. I never would have put in all the stuff with slave brands, mental alterations, or anything else if I’d actually been planning on that from the beginning.
Exactly a month later, on November 22nd, I finished. 98,114 words to the story, and I slumped back, dazed. I decided that it might make a halfway decent book, so I decided I’d go through several editing passes and publish it. But considering the subject matter, it was difficult for me. Joe had read each chapter as it came out, so he didn’t have a proper perspective on how the book would flow. My wife was buried at work, so she didn’t have a chance to read it.
We went down to my parents house for Thanksgiving dinner, and I decided to break to them that I had been thinking about publishing the book, and that what I’d be writing was romance, potentially with a very dark theme. As I grew up Mormon, this made me very nervous. I needn’t have been worried, as my parents just told me that I couldn’t keep them from reading it when it came out.
Anyway, I was going to take a month away from the book, then come back and edit it. I couldn’t stay away. I started editing Ancient Ruins, and proceeded to cringe. I think I ended up rewriting over 90% of the first 6 chapters. Those were bad. Gods above, they were bad. Those six chapters took me two weeks alone, since touching them was like pulling teeth.
I finished editing Ancient Ruins before Christmas, and as a Christmas present my wife let me commission artwork of Sistina. It was never intended to be the cover, I just wanted art of her, but it was so much better than the piece of crap cover I’d created in GIMP that I threw together a cover with it. After a second editing pass, we decided it was good enough, as I had essentially no following and everything I read said to expect to sell 10-20 copies of my book at most in the first month.
I hit publish on January 16th, and waited impatiently for it to go up. Early on January 17th, it went up, and I realized the table of contents was broken, so I uploaded a new version of the book to fix it. However, I’d made a cardinal mistake of self-publishing. I’d put in a ‘warning’ to try to tell people about the objectionable aspects of Ancient Ruins. Any book that so much as mentions the word ‘rape’ or ‘mind control’ gets blocked, even if such doesn’t occur. I don’t know how it got through their filters the first time, but the book got blocked after 4 copies were sold. I ended up having to upload a new version without that warning, and it’s been up ever since.
Anyway, that’s the story of how I went about creating the book. Ancient Ruins has been more successful than I ever expected it to be, especially given how many objectionable themes it has in it… and Joe sometimes points out that the book is actually rather mild by my own standards. And to anyone who is complimenting my world-building of the setting? I wish that I could accept such without feeling embarrassed, but the world was thrown together on the fly, not properly created. I have a fairly solid grasp of the local regions now, but when I wrote it? Nope. Not a damn clue.
There you go. One day I may do a revised and expanded version of Ancient Ruins and the trilogy to fix all of the minor issues and make it more vibrant, but that day is not now. I shall now go back to what I was doing… browsing art of elven women and dreaming wistfully of commissions.