It still doesn’t feel real.
I recently announced on social media that “Corpses and Cognac,” the second book in the Deadly Drinks series, has been accepted for publication and is slated to release by the end of 2019. That’s exciting enough on its own, not to mention that Bones and Bourbon had its one year anniversary and (completely separate) novella “Warp Gate Concerto” is coming out in a month or two.
For me, the excitement over “Corpses and Cognac” being accepted for release isn’t just exciting: it feels like a gods-be-damned miracle. And that’s because I restarted this book so many times, it took almost 5 years to actually finish a full draft…and then completely rewrote the book over the course of 8 months.
Let’s showcase a bit of writing process and talk about how this book came about, shall we?
Back in 2013, I’d finished writing two books. At least, that’s what I’d thought. There was a book called “Bones and Bourbon” that, aside from its protagonists, bears no resemblance to the now-published book of the same name. It also had a sequel, where the Gallows brothers met two other characters; Farris, Jarrod’s boyfriend, and Nalem, the ghost possessing Retz.
That’s right; Nalem and Farris weren’t originally in the first book at all. That’s one of many reasons why I don’t often mention those proto-books, which were only about 60k words a pop…but they were stepping stones to building what the Deadly Drinks series has become. Perhaps their most important role was helping me realize how much the series needed Nalem’s twisted darkness and Farris’s drive and humor. In fact, I needed to include them in the series from the start. I started rewriting that first book to include them, but it wasn’t enough. The two books were so vastly different, they needed a transition between them. What I thought was a direct sequel was actually book 3 of a series, and I needed a new book 2.
In theory, writing a story with a set point A and B is easy. In practice, when a new author keeps rewriting point A and moving where point B needs to go, and the path in between also needs to hint at later points C and D…
I started outlining late at night in a tiny notebook, huddled in the corner of an Unwoman concert at Convolution 2013 (where I first donned the Dorian Graves moniker). This story involving a secret supernatural society hiding in old warehouses and factories around the Bay Area, but didn’t quite click. I turned to my tried-and-true literary inspiration of “listen to Blue Oyster Cult nonstop until you get an idea,” which led to combining secret supernatural societies with possessed motorcycles. There was a fun intro that involved facing ghosts at a racetrack, which then warped into being attacked by spectral motorcycles on a winding highway.
(What’s that? Sounds like all those unicorn chases in Bones and Bourbon? Bingo; a lot of those fight scenes were lifted from the scraps of these early book 2 drafts!)
I made an outline and gave it a go while still rewriting my first book to fit my new ideas. The weird side effect on creating both books simultaneously was that book 2 was outdated from the start, because it was in a fresh state while Bones and Bourbon became more refined. I had a full book breaking past 100k with complicated plotlines and a cast of unique characters, but the second book couldn’t make it past the 40k mark without feeling like it was hurtling into endgame territory, with Retz and Jarrod trying to shoulder the plot as their cohorts struggled in a half-formed state, lurching towards the third book that was already being revamped because of how book 1 was turning out.
If you take nothing else from this process, just take this bit of advice: if you’re just starting out, don’t try to write multiple books in a series simultaneously. You’ll learn a lot if you do, but also end up spinning your wheels trying to drive in five different directions. (Or maybe you won’t. All advice is relative when it comes to writing.)
In my case, I had to finish Bones and Bourbon entirely, to the point where it was refined and in the querying stage, before I could get back to the book and make a full draft. I started it anew. Took a trip to its new setting of Arcata, CA for research. Started again for more accurate details. Made it halfway through the book and reworked it all over again. And again. I scrapped outlines and overhauled whole swathes of the draft roughly every 2-3 chapters, until I hit my stride in January 2017 and wrote the final chapters in the haze of a couple of days. At this point, I’d graduated college and had a full time job in retail.
Draft 1 of “Corpses and Cognac” was finished. I finished workshopping it with my ever-patient beta-reading buddy, and then chucked it into a dark corner to collect fungus until my rage and frustrations at this difficult book had died down. I knew that if I looked at it too soon, I’d scrap it all again.
Cue a year and a half later, right after Bones and Bourbon released, and my editor at the time asked about the sequel. I said I had the first draft of one down, but I wanted to polish it up before sending it in. I had a list of concepts I wanted to refine or edit, but the list only had about four bullet points, so I deluded myself about how little work needed to be done. I agreed to finish the book by the end of summer.
Turns out? Writing styles evolve a lot in a year and a half. And as soon as I looked at this draft, I wasn’t just correcting word choice and minor details. The book was too dark and lacked the humor of its predecessor, the ghost motorcycles split into a ghost leviathan and a gang of minotaur bikers, and my villain was too similar to Lady Delight in the first book. It was a mess. But there were scraps of scenes that were still good, if reworded with proper language and details…
Readers, I scrapped the entire book and rewrote it from scratch. Three months turned into eight months (and an entirely new editor, who was all too patient with me as I wrestled this beast of a book once more). I finished it, gave myself a week to polish before sending it in, and that became “rewrite the final chapters completely” and 8k words over the course of a couple days. I never got the full draft workshopped; for once, my beta reader doesn’t know the ending.
Not only that, but the book became a personal one. It became far more than an in-between story for Retz, Jarrod, Farris and Nalem to grow in. It’s about fraying bonds of trust and how to cope (or at least, how not to cope). It’s a rumination on self-perception, and who’s allowed to make decisions about body and identity. It asks about the worth of memories and what we should let go of. Questions I asked myself all the time while writing, and the answers I searched for bled into the page. I worried it was too much, but it was too late to rewrite it again.
I waited. I celebrated the success of Bones and Bourbon. In the back of my mind, I fretted for this second book. Would it stick the landing of the first book, familiar enough for fans to enjoy but fresh enough to still be exciting? Were the pieces I’d cobbled together good? Would I find a rejection in my inbox…or perhaps a request for another rewrite?
May began. The offer letter came in. My editor loved it.
It still doesn’t feel real that after all this time, “Corpses and Cognac” has stopped being a pile of half-written scenes and is now one coherent book. And in a few short months, it will be ready for the world, the full story it was always meant to be.
I hope when the time comes, you all love it…and read it as many times as I rewrote it.
PS: Want to learn more about “Corpses and Cognac” before it releases? This June, check out my #LGBTWIP posts on Twitter, where I’ll reveal a little more about what waits in store for the Gallows brothers in book 2.
PPS: Not only am I editing my upcoming releases and working on the next Deadly Drinks adventure, but I have a new story in the works as well (in both novel and video game format)! Between that and my day job, my time is pretty tight; I’m going to post blogs more sporadically for a time, mostly to announce book news and appearances. But fret not, for it means more original content with the characters you love (and have yet to meet)!