PLAYING THE LONG GAME

Tell someone you're having a baby, and they'll ask you, "Boy or girl?" Tell someone you're in college, and it's, "What's your major?" Tell someone you've got a book coming out, and they say, "How long did it take you to write?"

To which the only accurate response is also the least satisfying: "That depends on what you mean by 'write'."

Dead Boys came to me world-first. I wandered into the Land of the Dead back in 2000, but that early draft was as lifeless as its protagonists. Even then, I knew a fair bit about the story, and had a couple of cool character designs -- those early Boys would grow up to be Leopold and Barnabas -- but the story was woefully undercooked. So I let it sit while I worked on other things, and it gestated in the dark.

My underworld expanded in the meantime, and soon I was taking notes, drawing maps and diagrams, and trying to imagine what might propel my heroes across the exciting new sets my brain had built. I cooked up a whole new storyline, banged out a William S. Burroughs pastiche on my portable typewriter (ah, Luddite youth!), then shelved it again.

Over the course of the next decade I'd pull that notebook out whenever I got too frustrated with one of my other projects, reinventing it in the hopes of getting the angle of entry just right. There are drafts of Dead Boys that are comic books, stage plays, epic poems, autobiographical fantasies, and crossovers with other novels-in-progress, and with every new version I came marginally closer to feeling like the narrative might justify the world.

So that takes us through nine years of work, both conscious and unconscious. Not a single word of that material is in the book as it stands today. 

By the end of 2008 I'd settled my beef with the English sentence, and I felt as ready as I'd ever be to put Dead City on the page. I decided to start working in earnest on January 1, 2009. I was lucky enough to be courting my wife at that time, and while I was hammering out the first four chapters at a meditation retreat center in Upstate New York, she was kind enough to kindle my excited babble. For the next year and a half I worked ceaselessly on the manuscript, finishing up in the summer of 2010.

So it took 9 years of mulching, then a year-and-a-half of full-time writing.

I didn't change a word for the three-plus years my agent shopped it. Then my editor got a hold of it, and I spent four months working harder than I've ever worked in my life. Today, the thing is being typeset, and with a little more noodling it'll be complete.

Somehow, this feels like a perfectly reasonable timeline to me. It's objectively nuts to spend fourteen years writing a single book, but that's one story safely extracted from my head.

To get the rest out, I should only need eternity, give or take a few months for editing.