It’s real. It is finally real — this tale that has been roiling inside of me and struggling to get out. The official cover has gone live and Book One of the series, Conspiracy of Angels, can be pre-ordered in all the places where one may order books. It won’t be out until October — always a momentous month for me — and that seems like such a very long time from now.
But maybe it is just long enough — long enough for me to get the word out. Long enough for me to explain why the story of Zachary Westland has been spilling forth like fire from my lips.
This journey started in 2008. I remember the night with that clarity that sometimes comes with those moments of time that you know, even in the midst of them, are significant. I was working a case with the PRS, and I was sitting outside this house in California with gorgeous acreage — rocks and trees and wide, starlit skies.
I don’t often like to sit idle. My brain is always rushing through words and images and song. All these things demand release from the whorls of my grey matter, so I rarely go anywhere without some means of writing them down.
I had pens and a notepad, and I sat on a crate, hunched over these in the lights for the cameras, scribbling things down. A name. Zack Westland. An image — riding into a city. My city, Cleveland, Ohio. Although I’ve grown up in Hinckley and I live in Medina — both greener, more rural suburbs of the original Metropolis (Superman was born here), Cleveland is the closest major city to where I live, and it’s the urban center I claim as my own. There’s a lot of history in that town — known to far too many as the Mistake on the Lake, or the City of the Burning River. But it is also the city where Rockefeller built the bulk of his empire, where Edison worked tirelessly in Nela Park. There are many stories and secrets in Cleveland, not the least of which slumber in the depths of its neighboring lake, Erie.
As I sat beneath harsh lights and distant stars in a land far removed from my native Midwest, characters unwound and then dialogue, and then all the bones upon which I would build this story, this world. And a word: the Shadowside. That lay at the heart of it — or, perhaps I should say, it was woven throughout it. Because, as with most fiction, that point of view character whose name (a short version of it, at least) was Zack, shared things in common with his creator as I wielded my pen. We were both psychic. We both perceived spirits. And from that common point, all the rest of his world — which looked so much like my world, yet wasn’t — blossomed.
Zachary Westland, who sees through to the Shadowside. Zachary Westland, who feels a compelling need to battle the darker things that spill forth from that shadowy part of reality one step off from our familiar, flesh-and-blood world.
Most of you reading this know that, in 2008, I was writer already. Books on vampires and ghosts and psychic experiences had already spilled forth from my pen. Non-fiction (though I maintain no illusions that many out in the world are quite certain these topics might as well be fiction) was what I was known for, and what had landed me into the curious experience of being a person on TV. And I had a comfortable place as a writer on the weird world of the paranormal and the strange. I was (and still am) happy with the folks at Llewellyn, who published the majority of my work. But they couldn’t publish this story — fiction wasn’t in their wheelhouse. So, if Zack was to live and to walk in the imaginations of others, I would have to embark on a journey I knew would take every bit of stubborn persistence that I had: I had to delve into the daunting and competitive world of traditional publishing.
Llewellyn, of course, is a publisher, and by that, a part of the publishing industry. And yet, the great and many-headed beast of publishing itself views a company like Llewellyn as something akin to a digit on a finger. It is not an arm. It is certainly not a head. Llewellyn, for all that it is one of the largest publishers of Pagan and magickal books, is nevertheless a niche market. The publishing behemoths like Penguin and Harper Collins themselves (as I would discover later in this challenging journey) hardly considered it a gnat. I never had to acquire the help of a literary agent simply to obtain the privilege to submit a manuscript to Llewellyn. The company takes unagented work, and they stand at a level within the publishing industry where this is feasible — and neither party is much in danger of being terribly screwed without the benefit of such an intermediary.
Where I wanted to aim with the Shadowside Series took me into entirely different territory. It was territory I had explored twenty years previously — often with mixed results. Traditional publishing requires a strong stomach and an even thicker skin. It’s not uncommon for good books — amazing books that later bear out to be best-sellers that change the face of the publishing world — to meet with rejection not once, not twice, but over and over. I think of it as an endurance test for the ego. And when I was an aspiring novelist in college, I did not have what it took to keep at it. Because that’s what you have to do — find an agent (a process in and of itself that often comes with a great deal of waiting and rejection) and grind your face against what seems like an endless stream of rejection letters all the while maintaining belief in the book.
Maybe I’d never had a story that meant enough to me to keep me going even after some of the blistering or utterly apathetic replies (the critical ones aren’t the worse — the ones that have always killed me are the ones where the editor praises the work glowingly, and then ends with some terse phrase like, “we can’t market it at this time,” that makes all that praise turn to ash on the tongue). I’d always give up after two or three such rejections. I’d doubt my capabilities. I’d doubt the project. But, most of all, I’d doubt my ability to persevere for the amount of time that landing a publisher would so obviously take.
The Shadowside series was different. It came to me at a time in my life when I knew what it meant to be patient. I knew what it meant to see a book bear fruit. And I had the luxury of time. So, from that night in 2008 and thereafter, I set about crafting a story and a world that I could live in comfortably as a writer for the next ten or twenty years. Not a one-shot novel, but a series. A place that, creatively, I could call home.
And I learned more about Zack in subsequent revisions. And I met Lil, who I can best describe as Jessica Rabbit mixed with equal portions of Kali-Ma. Sal, who is Machiavelli in garters, and soft-spoken Remy who spent at least two days arguing with me in my head over the issue of a hat (he gets his damned fedora eventually, never fear).
Many revisions later, I sought out the Holy Grail of fiction publishing — a literary agent. And I was lucky enough to have Lucienne Diver, who also represents (among many other noteworthy and recognizable writers) a childhood hero, P.N. Elrod, take an interest in Zack and his world. She agreed to take me on.
Twenty years before, when I’d first been trying to establish my name as a fiction writer, I had decried the necessity of a literary agent. I resented the notion that I had to rely on some other person to help sell my book — that I needed an agent like Charlie needed that Golden Ticket just for the privilege of even entering the elusive realm of the slush pile.
Now I don’t know what I’d do without an advocate as skilled and savvy as Lucienne.
Rejections came in, of course. Some — well, that’s material for another entry, should I feel that it’s appropriate to make it. Suffice that, my work as a non-fiction writer, no matter how many books I’d gotten under my belt, didn’t necessarily help me. Actually, it didn’t really count for squat. And my identity as a television personality in most cases worked against me. TV people don’t often write their own books. They are not seen as writers. That label must be earned.
And earn it I did – in the eyes of Steve Saffel at Titan Books — a publishing company that still leaves me feeling a little breathless at the thought that they were willing to take Zack and his world on.
And now, seven years later, we are here. And there is a cover. Zack has a face, as does Lil. And I am almost able to share his world with all of you.
I have not, by any means, given up my non-fiction writing. I have (as recent appearances on Monsters and Mysteries in America will attest) continued to work in television. But fiction — and the Shadowside, especially — is what I want to do with the rest of my life. To live in this story and to shape it, and to share Zack’s adventures with all of you.
October 27th, the first book comes out. I can’t wait.