“The Hardest Part” has traditionally been mostly a column for NC authors, with some Bull Spec “alumni” in the mix. Jim C. Hines is neither, but when I read about his plans to release this book I knew I had to ask him for a guest essay about it. I mean, c’mon. Don’t we all want to see our fantasy author heroes’ awful, derivative, early fantasy novels that they have had — until now — the sense to hide from the world? Lucky for us, rather than keep his own RPG character fiction novel closeted, Hines has shown the moxie to take his manuscript out of its safe hidey-hole in cold-forever storage, make himself read the thing, and annotate it for our entertainment and possibly even illumination.
By Jim C. Hines:
The hardest part of The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess (An Annotated Novel), aside from figuring out how to fit the title on the cover, was actually reading the story.
This was a manuscript I wrote back in 1995, and is pretty much the very first story I ever finished. As such, it’s also very bad. I spent years writing and learning how to craft a story before finally getting to the point where I could write publishable stories and novels. The thing is, as you get good at something, you also learn to see just how bad those early efforts really were.
It’s not just the brilliant wordcraft of lines like Without saying anything, wordlessly, she walked away, vanishing among the trees or Sitting casually on the floor, a guard sat honing a dagger. It’s everything: the shallow worldbuilding, the cardboard characterization, the ridiculous plot contrivances, and the over-the-top angstiness.
One might wonder why, if the book is so bad, I decided to publish it. Good question, hypothetical reader! Partly, it’s because I had a lot of fun giving my own book the Mystery Science Theater treatment, and hopefully the annotations will make for some amusing reading. I also wanted to put something out there for other new writers who might be able to learn from my many mistakes. If nothing else, the book should reassure folks that none of us are born knowing how to write. Finally, when I read an excerpt of this thing as a fundraiser last year, there were people who said they wanted to hear the rest of the story.
I think there’s something very, very wrong with those people, but who am I to judge?
I knew going in that the book might cause eyeball bleeding. It was worse than I expected.
A lot of us begin writing by relying way too heavily on imitating what we’ve read and absorbed. Thus you get books like this one, with elves and vampires and evil magic and dungeons and dark goddesses and so on. But as I reread the book, I realized where I had also absorbed some rather ugly and at times sexist tropes. There were several scenes I really wanted to simply delete and pretend I’d never written. (In fairness to my much-younger self, I see worse in published fiction today, but still…)
Growth is a good thing. I’ve spent almost twenty years getting better as a writer (and hopefully improving as a human being, too). I’ve got nine published fantasy novels in print from a major publisher, with two more on the way for 2015. But newbie Jim sitting down to write a spinoff based on a Dungeons & Dragons adventure 20 years ago didn’t have a clue what he was doing, and that’s a painful thing to remember.
I also think it’s an important thing. Writing is like anything else. It takes work and practice, and at times it’s incredibly frustrated. On the other hand, if I can go from writing Rise of the Spider Goddess to getting multiple novels onto the Locus bestseller list, then I think there’s hope for pretty much everyone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim C. Hines is best known as a fantasy novelist and the guy who did those gender-flipped SF/F cover poses. His first novel was Goblin Quest, the tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After completing the goblin trilogy, Jim went on to write the princess series, four books often described as a blend of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with Charlie’s Angels. He’s currently working on the Magic ex Libris books, which follow the adventures of a magic-wielding librarian from northern Michigan.
He’s also the author of more than forty published short stories. His first professional story sale was the award-winning “Blade of the Bunny,” which took first place in the 1998 Writers of the Future competition and was published in Writers of the Future XV.
Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In 2006, DAW Books published Jim C. Hines’ debut novel Goblin Quest. But before Jig the goblin, before fairy tale princesses and magic librarians and spunky fire-spiders, there was Nakor the Purple, an elf who wanted nothing more than to stand around watching lovingly overdescribed sunrises with his pet owl Flame, who might actually be a falcon, depending on which chapter you’re reading.
This is Nakor’s story, written in 1995 and never before shared with the world. (For reasons that will soon be painfully clear.) Together with an angsty vampire, a pair of pixies, and a feisty young thief, Nakor must find a way to stop an Ancient Evil before she destroys the world. (Though, considering the relatively shallow worldbuilding, it’s not like there’s much to destroy…)
With more than 5000 words of bonus annotation and smart-ass commentary, this is a book that proves every author had to start somewhere, and most of the time, that place wasn’t very pretty.
- The Big Idea (at John Scalzi’s site)
- How To Turn Your D&D Campaign Into A (Really Bad) Novel (at Chuck Wendig’s site)
- Rise of the Spider Goddess. What was Jim C. Hines thinking? (at the Little Red Reviewer)