So now that my novel SHIFTER is officially out in the wild, I took a look back at the process that got me here. To my amazement it's been about TEN YEARS! (In reality it's been about 3 since I started any real writing, and the manuscript has been basically finished since last September, so 2 years of writing work? Let's take a quick trip in the wayback machine and see what was going on...
Summer of 2008, a general sense of unease filled the air and the other shoe finally dropped in October when the Sub-prime financial crisis hit. It was fucking scary - banks stopped making loans and tons of wall street guys were laid off over the course of a week. I wasn't working on wall street or anything, but at a tiny design firm in Chicago. It was me and the two owners and business was never really booming, so it was the kind of situation where they'd go without a paycheck themselves during the lean times and make it up when business recovered, but to cover my meager payroll they went to a bank and got shot down. #fail
A few months earlier my girlfriend had moved to NYC to start work at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space museum. She got to see the recently laid off yuppie stock brokers all flooding out of the financial district with banker boxes full of their office tchotchkes first hand. I moved back into my parents place just north of Baltimore for the second time after graduating for nearly a year, taking bus trips up to NYC every other weekend. Over this period I sent out a lot of resumes and actually got an offer in New York, but it fell through after a while and they basically ghosted me.
She had apartments in 3 different boroughs while living there: Staten Island, the Bronx, and Brooklyn - way out in Bay Ridge where normal people could actually afford a place. When she started working at the museum, it was actually parked out in Staten Island for a major overhaul and moved to its more permanent home on the Hudson a few months later. I got all kinds of behind the scenes access and heard some of the craziest stories about that place. Ultimately I found a job in Northern Virginia but was still traveling to NYC nearly as often.
Sometime that fall/winter I made some notes to myself in an email that laid out most of the major background and world-building details of what would become SHIFTER. A surprising amount of that made it into the book and most of what didn't is just in the parts that were carved off to shorten the story and break it into a trilogy. The story fell off the back of the workspace in my brain and got covered in dust bunnies for a while.
During my commutes in the hellish DC traffic I started fantasizing about a zombie story that had its genesis in my boring and tame car, a 2010 Prius, that would be the inspiration for a small fleet of deathmobile Prii protecting a convoy traveling to Seattle after the apocalypse. Zombies were all the rage and this was around the first season of The Walking Dead, so it was extremely relevant, but I never had the motivation to do any real work on it. The story actually had a name: "Smarties", and a bunch of fun zombie killing technologies inspired by Max Brooks "World War Z."
In 2016 that girlfriend and I moved back to Chicago and I started work at a company that makes high-end video game peripherals for e-sports. It was a pretty weird organization and they didn't have a ton of work for me to do, so I spent a lot of time thinking about that old story that was laid out like the plot of a video game. In the summer of 2016 I reached out to a ghostwriter on Upwork.com. For the next 12 months or so we sort of collaborated to create the nucleus of a story.
I made a huge file of background details on the world, the technology, and the main characters, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm a terrible story teller, so every couple weeks she'd deliver a new batch of pages and I'd go through them, actually re-typing, re-wording, and tweaking the stuff she created to be more in my own voice. The two major things that my ghostwriter contributed aside from a kick in the pants to get working on the project for real were the amount of swearing and a character who didn't make it into book 1. Ultimately this collaborator had some sort of issues in their personal life that caused them to seriously flake out on me and stop responding to emails for weeks at a time. I had enough and pulled the plug.
In this same time I did some 3D modeling of what one of the racing pods would look like and also a power-up type weapon that she carries in the second half of the book. You can see the pod rendering in last week's Facebook post. 2017 was a very shitty time for me that I won't get into, but I found myself unemployed again and pretty bored. I licensed a board game, thought I had gotten a deal on a second, but that fell through, and I also reached out to a structural editor to help me work through the issues with my story. I started pitching this 135k word behemoth to agents and wasn't getting much traction, so the agent I worked with for my Tic-Tac-Tome puzzle book suggested I pull out the long knives and get to editing.
This process left me with about 65k, 40k, and 30k chunks, the first of which was massaged into SHIFTER. It wasn't a difficult process to find the breaks in the story where it could become stand-alone parts as I'd already noticed the three major periods in the story. There was about a month in late winter of 2018 that I must have written 40-50k words while requested in a deserted beach-house in Delaware. I did more querying, but wasn't getting a ton of traction. Around the spring of 2019 I decided to self publish and spent most of the time in between hemming and hawing over cover designs and figuring out how to format things correctly. The rest is history.