So, I know I should be concentrating on marketing my latest book, The Bell Witch, which came out a few days ago. (Go get it here, as an e-book, for just $3.99; paperback to follow soon!). But I’ve got another book coming out in October, a thriller called Kill/Off, and I’ve got two pieces of news that made my week.
Kill/Off has been a favorite of mine for years. I wrote it a while back, got a fancy NY agent with it, a great guy named Richard Curtis. If you know anything about agents, you know what a stroke of luck that was. So I had me an agent. I could say things like, “Oh, I’ve got to take this call. It’s my agent in New York.” Yeah, cool.
Well, Richard took the book, at that time titled The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (I know, I know), and ran with it. And got exactly nowhere. Nowhere. With a big capital “N.” Over the course of a few years, it got more and more depressing. We eventually parted ways, no blame on him at all, and I fell into a deep funk in which I didn’t write anything for a few years.
When I got my mojo back, I dived headfirst into my first love, short stories, to help me rebuild my name, the one I’d laid a pretty nice foundation for before I leapt off the face of the earth in self pity. And it worked, the short stories clicked, everything moved pretty fast. Books of the Dead published my first collection of short stories, Little Deaths, to great critical reviews, sales and even some love from the HWA Stokers (it made the Recommended Reading List with several recommendations).
But what about novels? I love short stories, but you really can’t go too far writing them exclusively. I had some ideas, but I also wanted to keep my name out there while I pursued them. Having taken my name out of the ring for half a decade, I was loathe to pop up with some new shorts and a new collection, then fade away again.
I began looking at my previous novels, most of which had been “published” long ago when e-book publishing was in its infancy. In other words, they received absolutely no play at all. I looked at two of them closely, Her Unremembering Way (the original title of The Bell Witch…yeah, I know) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I thought that the central idea of both was good, but wow, they needed extensive rewrites.
I got the rights back to both books and set about doing just that. Her Unremembering Way first. It was harder, in most respects, because the original story was too long, too convoluted and the language I’d affected, trying to duplicate 19th-century speech, was awful…awful. In effect, I had clung too hard to the original source material, and I needed to break away and make the story my own. So I dug in. It took about six months, but I trimmed and rewrote the book lavishly. And, viola, The Bell Witch.
That done, and feeling pretty good, I dug into The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. First, the title had to go. It made the book sound like a fantasy. Kill/Off. Done. Then, I trimmed a lot, rewrote sections, streamlined the narrative. It took less time than the previous rewrite, mostly because the story was a tad more straightforward.
So, both of these books done, what to do? Well, as luck would have it, my publisher Books of the Dead put out an open submission call. What the hell? I didn’t think the books would go over well with BOTD. Just didn’t seem to be Roy’s cup of tea. But, lo and behold, a two-book contract! Excellent! Now, I had my elbow room to work on a new novel (a balls-to-the-wall thing I will talk about sometime later)! These two books would keep my name in play while I wrote more stuff.
Cut to the recent Horror Writers Association/World Horror Convention held back in June in New Orleans. Deb, who’d convinced me to rejoin the HWA after a 15-year break, also convinced me that it was time to get out there and meet my fellow writers. So, we did. Roadtrip, great experience in New Orleans, met a lot of cool people, made contacts that are even now paying off, and, of course, got engaged to the insightful, wise and very sexy Deb.
I made it a point to not be a wallflower at this con. I have a tendency to avoid human contact. I’m fairly extroverted…once you get to know me, but I don’t do cocktail party mingling, cold-call introductions very well. But, damn, if we were doing this, and we were, then I was going to take full advantage of it.
So, I targeted one author who I wanted to get a blurb from for Kill/Off. Joe McKinney. If you don’t know Joe, you should. He’s a police officer/author, and one of the kings of zombie literature. He’s a Stoker Award winner, and, as I was about to find out (and finally share with you in this overlong, rambling post) an all-around swell guy. (Incidentally, his latest book, The Savage Dead, will be available at Amazon on Sept. 3. Get it here.)
Deb and I checked into the con hotel, I served a term volunteering at the registration desk (where I met some wonderful people like Usman Malik and Linda Addison), then came down to attend the opening cocktail party reception. Within two minutes, I spotted Joe at a table.
Gulping some liquid courage, I made my way over, introduced myself and chatted for a while with Joe. My dad was a cop, 27 years with the City of St. Louis police department, retired as a lieutenant. So, I had a hook.
Then, the question. Would you be interested in reading my book with an eye toward a possible blurb? Joe didn’t hesitate. Sure. Send it to me.
Wow. Just like that. Now, I wasn’t assured of a blurb. I mean, the reader has to actually like the book to do that, but I got it in front of someone whom I admire. Now was the time to let the book speak for itself.
After the conference, I tweeted back and forth with Joe several times. His responses were encouraging, to say the least. He was enjoying Kill/Off. I believe at one point he even said it was an honor to blurb it. I’m a little fuzzy there, as I think I might have fainted.
So, earlier this week, I received this e-mail from Joe. I am reprinting it in its entirety, with Joe’s permission, because the e-mail was awesome. Here it is:
Hey John,I’m so sorry you had to wait on this. As you know, my schedule keeps me going in a dozen directions at once, and finding time to read for pleasure keeps getting harder and harder to do. Anyway, I finished KILL/OFF and absolutely loved it. You do dialogue so very well. I felt like you pulled me in right away and kept me hooked to the end. Well done, sir!Here’s my blurb. Please feel free to use any part of it or all of it, whatever works for you. I’d love to see you do well with this book. It’s damn good.“Kill/Off is a tightly written, dark descent into the world of the contract killer. I haven’t been sucked into the mind of a murderer so convincingly since Theodore Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood. John F.D. Taff hits this one out of the park.” -Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Dead City and The Savage DeadHow’s that? Will that work?Joe