I’m a Technical Writer and a grad student. I’m a publisher and a husband and a father. I’m a CEO and an Executive Director and a President. I’m a programmer and a web developer and a blogger. And I’m a bestselling novelist.
That never gets old.
I’m also a writing coach. That’s where this blog started out, and it’s really where my publishing company started out, too. I joined a writer’s group with Courtney three lifetimes ago, and then I started dreaming up ways to start a new patronage, and then I got to know a whole bunch of artists in diverse fields (hoping to help them find ways to master their crafts), and then suddenly I had a successful publishing company.
One step in that unexpected journey was meeting an aspiring writer who happened to have extensive professional connections, a background in marketing and PR, and an unflinching determination to get stuff done. That’s not an exhaustive list of his virtues, but those are the ones that have done the most (so far) to propel the Consortium toward reality.
Of course, I’m talking about Joshua Unruh. He’s my nascent Director or Public Relations (or Marketing Czar, as it says on his business cards). When I met him, he’d finished…one novel? Maybe two, but I think the second one was still in progress. And both of those were fairly recent projects. For most of his life, he hadn’t thought of himself as a novelist.
But he was a storyteller. He knew that much. He had a wealth of experience in role-playing games which made him a natural for dynamic, distinctive, and interesting characters. And he brought a deep and broad familiarity with popular and mythic literature. He was a perfect candidate on paper, and most importantly, he had already finished a novel.
Building on the Foundation
Finishing a novel is the hardest part of being a novelist. If you can do that on your own, everything else can be taught. That doesn’t mean you’ll be brilliant or even interesting, but it means you can be a novelist. With Josh’s other traits, I was confident he could become a phenomenal writer–so confident that I went ahead and penciled him in for a spot on our publishing schedule.
Now, mind you, I did that with a very light stroke, easy to erase. And I put him down for a slot that was just ages in the future. I figured it would give us plenty of time to read his stuff, tear it apart, and make him make it better.
His first book–the one we’d planned to publish–was called Hell Bent for Leather. It’s a Weird Western (that’s apparently a recognized category), featuring a demon-hunting cowboy who has to use a reliquary golden gun to ride herd on a stampede of damned souls (shaped like cattle) to rescue a friend who sold his soul to the devil for the chance to win at poker.
It’s a Weird Western (that’s apparently a recognized category), featuring a demon-hunting cowboy who has to use a reliquary golden gun to ride herd on a stampede of damned souls (shaped like cattle) to rescue a friend who sold his soul to the devil for the chance to win at poker.
Re-reading that sentence…I think I could have saved myself some time and just written that instead of the first half of the post. “Joshua Unruh is a guy who wrote a Weird Western featuring a demon-hunting cowboy who has to use a reliquary golden gun….” That tells you most everything you need to know about Josh.
The story is raucous fun. The characters are vivid. The writing could use work, but it’s a first novel and it’s a NaNoWriMo novel. The phrase “the writing could use work” is universally true concerning those things.
Targeting a Demographic
I read it through, making occasional notes to myself and planning to have some detailed coaching sessions with him over things that looked like persistent style issues to me. I saw some general advice I could give him, but mainly I found myself thinking like a publisher and wondering how the hell (pun intended) I was supposed to sell this story.
We never really got around to that particular coaching session, but Josh and I chatted frequently about writing. I was there (perhaps even an instigator) when he dreamed up some of his more ambitious story ideas, and I helped him find a path through some of the murkier territory in some of his existing concepts.
That had been going on for several months when Taming Fire really started moving, and I started thinking of us (Consortium Books) as a viable source of popular literature rather than a quiet little social experiment. While that was on my mind, Josh and I were talking our way through one of his more recent concepts–a neo-noir retelling of Beowulf as the anti-hero looking for glory in a one-man suicidal war against the gods of Valhalla–and he kept insisting that what it really needed was some genuine eddic voice. The story’s structure and narration needed to be authentically old Geat.
He was cooking up an artistic masterpiece. It was ambitious and beautiful in design, and utterly unmarketable. He’ll probably correct me in the comments, and I’m describing this the way I understood it (not necessarily the way he intended it), but it sounded to me like it would only really be accessible to a tiny cross-section of readers who were simultaneously fans of:
- Pulp noir story stylings
- Ancient English linguistics
- And deep Norse myth
I don’t object to works of art. I certainly don’t propose everything should be dumbed down to a lowest common denominator. But I felt like Josh was aiming for an extremely narrow demographic with that particular work, and I said as much.
The result of that conversation was a challenge, and the result of the challenge was one incredible piece of fiction. I’ll tell you more about that on Thursday.