With thanks as always to Laurie and Josh at Shroud Film for tidying my idiocy as much as humanly possible.
Not a single fu–
Not a single swear word:
I was going to do a really cool post. I was going to be all casual and say “Hi, I’m a New York Times Bestseller, and you’re probably not. Anyway, here’s more reasons I hate Star Trek.”
And I’m sure it would’ve been my usual slice of dickishness with a little humour peeking through the cracks, and we’d all have chuckled, slapped each other on the backs and said “Oh, that Aaron, he’s quite a joker.”
That was my plan.
At this stage, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s for real. Let’s just say if there’s an error in the list and I get kicked off it, I won’t exactly have a heart attack. I’m half-expecting it to happen.
I found out last night (from Facebook, of all places). The problem was that my source was Christian Dunn, my publisher’s short fiction editor. Christian is – and I’m being fair, here – a meanie. This had all the hallmarks of a classic Dunnish Prank(tm), and rather than feel any joy over the deal, I vowed to stab him in the intestines instead. I decided to wait for the actual list to see if it was for real.
I woke up late this morning, because I’d been up until 5:30am trying to catch up on Blood Reaver and my Age of Darkness short story, which are both (surprise!) almost ludicrously late. I did the first thing that I do everyday. I checked my email.
And man, I had a lot of email.
I usually wake up to a fair bunch of stuff (editors writing in CAPITAL LETTERS about missed deadlines; private messages from various forums, etc.), but this was insane. I clicked a few of the ones from various folks at my publisher.
But the things they were saying didn’t make sense to me. Madness. These were my colleagues, indeed, my friends. Rik Cooper, Mark Newton, Chris Wraight… I trusted them, yet they had embarked on this strange course of action, deciding to make no sense at all.
I started reading Facebook comments, and emails from other people. These were equally mystifying.
At this moment in time, I was listening to ‘Save it for Later’, by The Beat. I like that song.
Still confused, I took my glasses off.
This didn’t help at all, because I needed them to see the screen. Without them, I had to move closer.
Gripped by a sudden desire to stop pulling confused faces, I decided to check myself. On my quest, I found this:
Wait, I thought. I know that guy.
(Shouldn’t that be ‘Black Library’? Not ‘Games Workshop’? I didn’t know it went out like that. Whatever.)
Of course, since all novelists only ever write for money rather than the pleasure of creation, my mind immediately turned to the financial benefits. The cash! The clout! The… raw… power…
Why, I could even introduce myself like this: “Hi, I’m New York Times Bestselling Author Aaron Dembski-Bowden”, and it would actually be true. I mean, it would be really, really dickish, but it wouldn’t actually be a lie.
But then I remembered how I won’t see the royalties for ages.
Making the NYT Bestseller List has been one of my ambitions ever since I realised I was too stupid to be a paramedic.
Instead of doing something fuelled by hate, despite that’s what everyone always wants to see from me (and what comes naturally when discussing Star Trek), I’m just going to say Thanks. A sincere thanks to everyone who bought and dug The First Heretic.
10 months of my life went into that novel. The reviews and forum feedback have been incredible, overwhelming, and a host of other words that all really just mean “killer” and “rad”.
So I shall use this space to say something terminally lame instead. And that is this:
“Hey, Mum and Dad! Look at me!”
Since I’ve been 30 for two weeks now, I consider myself an expert on the topic. Here’s what it’s like to be a 30-year-old white male in 2010:
- Your Facebook status updates are a miserable screed of people complaining about their children; complaining about divorce; complaining about weddings; complaining about cars breaking down; complaining about being older than you; and complaining about being bored.
- On average, your car breaks down once per week. You ease the pain by telling Facebook about it, and become part of the flawed cycle.
- You have the same money issues as when you’re in your 20s, primarily because your car is somehow allergic to functioning.
- The roads in Ireland are just as bad as when you were in your 20s, and you need to stop taking corners like that, because it’s not good for the wheels. Your smartest friend tells you this, and he knows about these things.
- You start to see high school reunions mentioned, and you realise that you know literally 2% of the people you graduated with, and have no desire to speak to most of them. You feel smug about this and congratulate yourself on a smooth transition to adulthood away from all that, until the 98% have no idea who you are, either. Then you think “Wait, aren’t I over this by now?” and you realise you are, but wonder why – for thirty seconds there – you thought you weren’t.
- You miss your high school reunion because you have to do a book signing, but take the moral high ground and don’t tell any of them that, because you’re safe in that none of them read your blog.
- For your last birthday, you receive: the new edition of Space Hulk (which you are too scared to paint in case you screw it up); a Pantera mug (you collect mugs and you like Pantera – a safe gift); a coaster with the logo of your WarCraft arena team name on it; some killer character art of a former WarCraft character (before you decided to play an undead instead); a new and much-needed black hoodie; many, many, many books; and of course – the staple entry on adult’s gift list – Chaos Marines.
- At your birthday party, for every deep and involved conversation you spend discussing racism (Emma), politics (Nathan and Lousie), careers (Ben) and rebuilding friendships (Ellen), you spend an equal amount of time discussing why Chaos Marines are totally awesome (Everyone else).
In other news, Blood Reaver is approaching halfway, and will hit it in 2-3 weeks. That’s late, but only barely. It’s, like, actually close to being almost on time. Getting a novel to the halfway point only a few weeks late is literally the most professional I’ve been with a deadline since I finished Soul Hunter two and a half years ago.
The trailer for The First Heretic will also be released into the wild in the relatively near future (not that near, don’t hold your breath), with the novel itself let loose mere weeks after. And that’s kinda what I wanted to discuss here, because this is massive and terrifying, even for someone as ball-achingly up their own arse as I usually am.
Let’s review the last releases in the Horus Heresy series.
- A Thousand Sons, by Graham McNeil. This book was a New York Times Bestseller by a huge-selling author, who – let’s recall – was also the man who won the David Gemmell award this year. (He also had a baby boy, so let’s all give Graham a hand for the best year ever).
- Nemesis, by James Swallow. The book was a New York Times Bestseller, by – let’s recall – a huge selling veteran of a squillion licenses, who also won the Scribe award not far back.
- The First Heretic, by me. The book isn’t even out yet, but let’s be completely rational, here: I’m The New Guy. I’m doing skull-burstingly well, with zero complaints from my end, but still. You see where I’m going with this.
- Prospero Burns, by Dan Abnett. Let’s not even crack wise about this: It’s Dan Abnett writing about literally the most popular faction in the license (my insider sources – as if the forums weren’t obvious – tell me only Blood Angels come close to Space Wolves’ popularity). This has NYT Bestseller written all over it, and it still would even if the covers contained nothing more than screenshots of Dan’s FarmVille.
And then there’s an anthology which, by the way, I’m doing a story about the Dark Angels against the Night Lords. But I digress and tease.
Now, I don’t mention this to blub about insecurity, or plead for sales, or whatever else. I mention it because it’s my blog, and it’s what’s going around my skull. The sane thing would be to relax, accept that what will be will be, and try not to worry about it. After all, do I expect to be a New York Times Bestseller at age 30? No, not really. I’ll be stunned if it happens, and will make a 6-hour round trip to Belfast for celebratory pizza, but I’m not exactly expecting it. If I was, I’d not promise myself something as stupid as a 6-hour drive for Domino’s, because it’ll be as cold as a tauntaun’s balls by the time I got back, anyway.
My ex Jessica calls these “ice donkeys”, by the way. Her chilling lack of respect for Star Wars canon was the ultimate factor in the termination of our relationship.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Fame and fortune.
So why do I mention this? Well, because I’m honest all the time, and because I’m really scared right now. When writers sit there and nod sagely and act too cool for school, by saying “I don’t really care about sales or awards”, they’re employing a clever trick of social dynamics called Telling A Lie. Even if it’s only a little bit, everyone still cares that little bit. And in this case, I care because the other guys I hang out with are all getting it done, and I shudder in terror of being the fat kid who goes to the ball without a date.
Pre-Posting Disclaimer: Okay, okay, so I’m exaggerating a little. As I said, I’m not weepingly insecure or freaking out that I’ll die before the world heralds my greatness. I don’t want to be placated, appeased, offered sympathy, or whatever else, just because I was honest enough to say I’ve thought about this.
Ha, actually, that just made me think of the trailer for Heat, way back when:
“STARRING ACADEMY AWARD WINNER AL PACINO AND ACADEMY AWARD WINNER ROBERT DE NIRO
…and Val Kilmer.“
Poor Val Kilmer.
Stop laughing at him. He’s better than you. Like you’ve ever done anything as rad as this:
I’m going to Nottingham to discuss the Horus Heresy around several big tables.
Please enjoy this picture of Errol Flynn in my short absence.
Or don’t. Whatever. Jesus.
Here’s a little look into Horus Heresy research. Recently, I received the wad of pages in the above pic, which is for The First Heretic, among other things. From this picture you’ll note two things: Firstly, that I’m holding lore that was officially released when I was 8 years old, which is pretty mental. (Seriously, it has a dreadnought called “Chuck”. This is wacky jazz.) Secondly, that I really need to shave my head, but am intensely lazy.
Anyway, the reason I have this info is because I asked for it.
I promised you e-whores a look into Horus Heresy emails, and here it is, cut and pasted. This is me, in email form:
— — —
Dear Editors and Those Other Guys on the HH Team,
Hi, I’m Aaron Dembski-Bowden. You might remember me from such moments as choking on my own awkward fanboyishness, or that time Alan Merrett looked at me like I was a babbling retard and asked if I knew the difference between Chaos Marines and Possessed Chaos Marines.
Good times. Perhaps the best times.
I’m here today to talk not about the failures of the past, but the glories of the future. In short, I have a question. Or a point to raise. Or… whatever. I have some words that require other words in reply.
I think we vaguely agreed to mention the Legio Cybernetica a little more, and that’s something I really want to do in The First Heretic, after Graham nailed it hardcore in A Thousand Hypocrites. That’s a noble intent, I’m sure you’d agree, but I have a problem with it. See, the last time the Legio Cybernetica was mentioned in published canon, my body was principally composed of sperm, and the fateful night resulting in my genesis was still a mistake yet to come.
More seriously, I’ve seen references here and there over 20 years of slavering fandom (most significantly in Adeptus Titanicus, which I once owned with a fat kid’s pride) but that was all a long time ago. A really long time ago, and I wasn’t revising the stuff with the foreknowledge that I’d need it for my career one day. I just thought robots were cool. I hope you can forgive my naivety, and that we can all still be friends.
In short, where can I get more stuff about the Imperium’s robotic jazz? I remember the old Cataphract (and Crusader, I think) robot models from when I was about 11 years old, but I can’t recall with 100% clarity if they later evolved into Knights or not. They sound like Knight classes to me. Incidentally, I remember the Cataphract robots because that’s when I learned what cataphract meant. That’s today’s Aaron Fact. Please enjoy it at your leisure.
Now let’s all take a moment to thank In Flames and Monster Magnet for being the greatest bands in the history of ever.
tl;dr — Alex, can you send me some photocopies of canonical Legio Cybernetica stuff? As much fun as making things up can be, I don’t want to directly contradict anything out of ignorance. Many thankies.
Note the ticket. Note the Soul Hunter cover art. Truly, a thing of beauty.
Anyway, I’m still alive.
Been a little busy, lately. I finished Throne of Lies, the Night Lords audiobook, which is set a handful of months after Soul Hunter. I’m polishing The First Heretic based on Dan’s (thankfully light) feedback, and a few things that Graham pointed out. I’ve started Regicide, my story for the Sabbat Worlds anthology.
Beyond that, I need to finalise my synopsis for Soul Hunter II: Your Navigator Really Sucks; I need to pitch my Abaddon/Black Legion story for Favourite Recipes of the Space Marines; I need to brood manfully on my story for Tales of Heresy II: Electric Boogaloo, and I want to have a clearer idea of my next novel after Soul Hunter II, which might be (schedule-willing) a Horus Heresy one again. I’m enamoured of the working title: The Legio Hypocritica. Don’t sweat any precious blood trying to work out if it’s a reference – the book might never happen, or might take years. And you need that blood. You need it inside you, for… heart… stuff. Look, I’m not a doctor. Just shut up.
Along with all this, I’m feverishly trying to catch up with several people who are still waiting for me to get back to them. Mostly Nik, Rob and David. I can feel their eyes on me now, staring hatred into my juicy braincore. Today was blogging and work emails. Tomorrow is friend-mails. See, I’m getting back in the saddle.
In killer news, the first reviews and online discussions of Soul Hunter are sliding onto the radar, and it’s taking no prisoners. I admit, I’m massively proud of it and I expected it to do well, but it looks like it’s kicking fifty kinds of ass. Really, Cadian Blood was good and all, but I found my tone and confidence with Soul Hunter. Although CeeBee got rave reviews, SoHo is the one I’ve been waiting endlessly for, so people could start judging me on it. I suspect it’ll be the first taste of my grey matter that most readers get, which I’m all kinds of cool with.
- The Horus Heresy Meeting -
Oh, right. Yeah. The Horus Heresy meeting.
Most of the time, I come across as pretty relaxed, pretty casual. That holier-than-thou, cooler-than-shit demeanour absolutely erodes at HH meetings. I’m sure a fictionalised account of events that paint me as an ice-cool ninja cyborg will shortly be forthcoming by Yours Truly, but the short version is as follows:
1. Dan’s named his next HH book, but you’re not allowed to know it yet.
2. Graham’s next HH novel idea is badass. I hope he does it.
3. Jim’s post-Nemesis idea is also pretty fly for a white guy. Also, I got the full plot of Nemesis spoon-fed to me, after much begging. It’s absolutely badassingly killer, and may be the best thing to happen to humanity since Aria Giovanni decided that clothing was optional.
4. We hit on some subjects and plot points that could/should/would be mentioned a little more. Stuff from the ancient archives that are still canon, but don’t see much in the way of daylight lately. On that note, I sent an email to the others today, bringing up one aspect of it. I’ll probably post it (plus disclaimers) later this week. It shows a haunting insight into the whole design process, and how my presence is affecting the HH veterans. You can just tell they’re really, really glad to see this bullshit from the new guy show up in their inbox.
5. The best thing (beyond all the idea-sharing and concept-spawning) was that we’ve decided to correspond and analyse junk a lot more than we have before, exchanging drafts and soliciting opinions on X, Y and Z as we write it. Essentially, the series should interlink more in the future. That’s the plan, anyway.
- Black Library Live -
At the signing, one guy greeted me with “Hey, Sexy.”
I am rarely lost for words. Not only was I tongue-tied then, despite having no intention of pursuing a relationship with the guy, I did suddenly recall that I’m about 2 stone overweight. A work-from-home job with crazy hours will do that to you. Thankfully, recent developments mean I’m losing weight for once, and by Games Day 2010 at the end of the year, I think I’ll look pretty different.
I think I replied to him with “Uh… hi.”
The Morning: The day opened with me and Nick Kyme doing a reading. He read from the Salamanders chapbook he had out on the day. I was supposed to read from Soul Hunter, but didn’t bother, since I hate doing readings. Marketing’s nightmare to get me to play ball continues, as you can see.
Instead, I read out the quotes on the back of the book, from Graham and Dan, that mentioned how great I was. Then I read out the book’s introduction, the speech given by the VIII Legion primarch at the final gathering before his death. I think it went down well. People laughed at the right moments, and asked some killer questions, despite the fact no one had actually read the book by that point. It was only released 20 minutes before, after all.
I had to temporarily steal someone’s book, too. Katie ran off to get me something to actually read from, and had to steal Nichola’s copy. Incidentally, after the non-reading, Nic gave me some Pez. I fell silent for several heartbeats, touched at this kindest of gestures. For some men, the way to their hearts is through fine dining, or lacy lingerie. For other men – men who operate on higher planes of consciousness, excellence and morality – the way to their heart is through Pez.
I took the Pez.
The Pez didn’t last very long. In my clutches, it never had a chance.
The Afternoon: In the afternoon, I signed some stuff. I’m beginning to think that all the people at my publisher who keep telling me my signature takes too long may actually have a point. Now that I have more things to sign, I was holding up the queue. This was good for my ego, but bad for people who have more interesting things to do with their lives than stand around all day and wait for me to colour in all the vowels in the words ‘Soul Hunter’.
I didn’t get to sit on any panels, for several reasons. Firstly, the Horus Heresy panel, which you’d think I’d've been a shoe-in for, was focused on Propsero Burns and A Thousand Sons. And rightly so. It’s an event that deserves the airtime. I was off the Audiobook panel because Throne of Lies wasn’t done, and it was pointless having me there when the other guys had been doing it for ages and actually had things to say. And I was off the “How to Write for Black Library” panel because the last time I did that one, my sage advice was “Be really good”, and I said the word fuck no fewer than thirty-six times.
BLTV came up to me, and mentioned 2 things of skin-crawlingly embarrassing coolness. Firstly, that people apparently wanted to see more of me in their videos. I said that’d rock, but to wait until I’ve lost more weight. (I am Marketing’s dream boy.) And secondly… it’s a secret. Sorry. But if it happens, it’ll be killer. Around about the same time, I got to talk to George Mann, head of BL, and discovered he wasn’t an ogre that ate dreams and children. Before this meeting, I’d been scared of those assumptions being facts. Did I have any evidence? No. I just like to give people backstories before I meet them. So sue me.
A new feature for the day was the Seer Council, where we got locked in a room with 15 readers and they got to ask us stuff. This was my fave part of the day, by a million, billion miles. It was good to be completely natural with people for once. Editor Alex sat there as I spoke, occasionally wincing, occasionally willing me by psychic pulse to shut the hell up. It was good juju. Mostly, I was amazed anyone had any idea who I was. Depending on who you believe, my Seer Council filled up 2nd or 3rd. Dan Abnett said I was 2nd, after him. Rik from BL said I was 3rd, after Dan and Graham. Either way, that’s rad.
As I recall, I commented on the following things:
1. I’m aggressively keen on doing a Grey Knights series.
2. If Dan ever asked to do the White Scars, there’d be no fight. One guy seemed keen for the fabled melee to take place between me and King Dan, which was a little bloodthirsty of him, and sort of scary. I remember saying “Dude… you want me to fight my epileptic idol? You have issues, man.”
3. The Night Lords series is a trilogy. It might go up to two trilogies if the editors keep digging it, and I don’t get bored.
4. The Night Lords are better than the Word Bearers because the Night Lords paint lightning on their armour, and they can fly. Lightning + Flying = Cool. Even a 4-year-old knows that. I learned it in school, and you should’ve, too. I did have serious answers once in a while during the half-hour chat, but this is the one that sticks out most of all.
5. Graham McNeill can drink like an army of bastards, and is a lot of fun on nights out.
6. I lied and said I could take him in a fight. I think people could tell it was an elaborately carved falsehood, as I sat there giggling in my White & Nerdy hoody.
After this, Mark (from Marketing) mentioned that I was always really mean to people and they still loved me. He asked why that was. “It’s called a personality, Mark. You should try it some time.”
You see that there? That’s vengeance for him not linking my blog in the bio section of my novels. And let me tell you, vengeance tasted sticky-sweet, like a Rowntree’s fruit gum you find in your pocket two weeks after you’ve finished the packet.
Now, enough. Enough! Let it be finished. Sarah, Ben, it was killer to meet you in the hours after all of this nonsense took place, but this is getting massive now and it needs to die. I was going to end with a discussion about wedding songs, but it’s already long enough and I need to get some work done. So that can come in a day or two.
Now go away.
First, let me just point out that I may be changing the look of the blog a little bit soon. My old school chum David morphed into a grown up, and is a web designer now. He sneeringly acquiesced to doing something as basic and plebian as a WordPress theme, when I begged him to make this pukestain look slightly more presentable. In fact, I guarantee you he’s sat there waiting for details from me right now, a) under the laughable belief that I have any ideas, and b) wondering why I’m writing this instead of replying to his last letter about the crushing social pressure of first wedding dances.
And on that note, there’s something me and Katie haven’t managed to agree on yet, either. The song for the first dance. But we’ll come to that later; time is short, and there’s packing to be done.
This weekend is a 4-day travelfest of social unease and eye-twitching radness. For now – at last – it’s time for Black Library Live 2010. My weekend will consist of the following aspects:
I intend to rise almost inhumanly early, while the skies are still greyed by the threatening dawn. Then we’ll drive to Belfast, I’ll freak out at driving in a busy city while trying not to take human life, and we’ll park at the airport only to enjoy the wondrous pleasure of £15 a day long-stay carparks. Then we fly.
We’ll touch down in the land of the Delta Blues, in the middle of the pouring rain. Once in Nottingham, I think we’re heading to GW HQ, to annoy Christian in Bugman’s Bar. Christian is my publisher’s short story commissioning editor, and practically the only member of staff I actually agree with most of the time. And yet, it will be an ugly encounter. He’ll make outrageous statements about me missing short story deadlines, and I’ll drag his dubious – potentially even apish – parentage into the equation. We’ll end the exchange as we always end our exchanges: in a fistfight so ball-punchingly intense that several of the Geneva Conventions are inevitably broken, and we both spend the night in jail, calling each other names and word-forging new curse words to deploy through the cell bars.
Katie will look on in disappointment, and go on a date with my cover artist, Jon Sullivan. He looks sort of Italian, I think. Whatever.
Friday is the day of the Horus Heresy meeting and the Black Library staff dinner thing. This week, me and Dan swapped drafts of Prospero Burns and The First Heretic, and have much to discuss in that vein. If we manage to do it, it’ll be on Friday. But that’s not foremost in my thoughts, because I’ll still be in jail by that point.
I’ll wake up in the arms of my cellmate, Skull-eating Pete, who will have kept me warm through the long night with some totally platonic hugs. After lying to Pete and saying I really will stay in touch, I’ll leave jail in the company of Jim Swallow and Dan Abnett, who have bailed me out using a combination of charisma and pocket change. We’ll pass Christian’s cell, and I’ll stop right there. At that point, I’ll turn, and moonwalk past while giving him the middle finger.
“Let me out,” he’ll say to me. “You need me at the Horus Heresy meeting.”
But this is a lie. We don’t need him there. With Nick Kyme already pencilled in, our Irritating Northern Guy quota is maxed.
“If you let me out,” Christian will say, “I’ll let your story have the cover if we do another Horus Heresy anthology.”
This is the kind of filthy promise that appeals to my mercenary heart, and such sleazy negotiation buys Christian his freedom. Dan is too Kentish to intimidate this rugged member of our editorial corps, but Jim’s packing a sawn-off under his jacket (with a modified pistol grip) and that guarantees Christian’s good behaviour. We escort him to GW HQ, in time for the Horus Heresy meeting.
At the Horus Heresy meeting, we argue over screwed-up timelines, and I listen to everyone’s ideas for their next books. I start to tremble when I realise I’m at risk of losing control of my bladder due to fanboyish delight. I gush at Graham for A Thousand Sons. I annoy Jim by begging for info on Nemesis. I repel Dan by constantly asking to read more of his Prospero Burns draft. Irritated by this, they ask what my next pitch will be.
I stand. I take a breath. They can all see the stain on my jeans from where I wet myself, but I don’t care. “It’s like… Romeo and Juliet, in space.”
Heads will shake. Shoulders will slump. I won’t be invited to another Horus Heresy Meeting in the future, and security guards escort me from the room.
“Do you need the toilet?” they’ll ask.
But no. It’s too late for that now.
Saturday is Black Library Live 2010. I’m still too new for anyone to have read my stuff, but at least I have books coming out for them to read soon. Helsreach is on pre-release at the event. Legends of the Space Marines has my best short story ever. Best of all, Soul Hunter is fiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally about to be released.
- At 10am, which is practically the night before, me and Nick are doing a reading/talk about the Salamanders and Night Lords stuff we’re working on. Given the insane hour, I expect 4 people to show up.
- At 12pm, I’m signing for a while.
- At 3:30, there’s this weird Seer Council thing, where 15 people can talk to an author in a room somewhere. Given that no one knows who I am, only 2 people show up. But we pass the time with some classic, nail-biting Tetris action on someone’s iPhone, and all is well. They ask questions about The First Heretic that I’m not allowed to answer. I answer them anyway, because there’s no one important there to watch me. Then I lose at Tetris again, and steal the iPhone.
Between and after these events, I suspect I’ll be found with Katie, trailing along with Jim or Dan, still looking very much like the uncomfortable new guy. I may complain a little about not getting to eat Subway. It seems likely, but I’ll play that by ear.
We fly back. This… this day’s sort of less exciting, really. I’m not sure it even deserved its own section, let alone a bolded title.
The First Heretic is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, for two reasons. Firstly, the storyline is ambitious, and likely to be at least slightly controversial given the fact they – crazily – let the New Guy decide how the greatest war in a massively popular 30-year-old license beloved of fans worldwide actually began. No pressure, then.
But that’s not really why it’s difficult. I just like to mention it once in a while because it’s a delicious conceit. Nope, the reason it’s difficult above anything else I’ve ever written is because it’s a Horus Heresy book, from the series that’s sold over a million copies so far, one of which was the 8th bestselling sci-fi book in the UK of its release year.
And that means it has primarchs in it.
For 20ish years, the primarchs have been these mythical beings to me – the shrouded saint figures that were impossible to ever learn about in detail. Now they’re in the HH books, and I’d be lying if I said every writer depicted them with the gravitas I’d been expecting. It’s easy to describe someone looking amazing. It’s less easy to show how they’re amazing, especially if they’re just standing there.
I could say it’s just as difficult (or even harder) to deal with the Emperor, and I’m sure I will say that here at some point soon. That update will involve a lot more use of the words “Graham” and “McNeill”. Also, maybe “Scottish”. I don’t know, we’ll play it by ear. But let’s deal with the primarchs for now. Like, they’re enough of an issue.
For The First Heretic, I’ve read all of the HH novels again, and in several cases twice (with a couple of exceptions I really just can’t stand – re-reading them again once was punishment enough). The way each novel reveals the primarchs is interesting, sometimes disappointing, and sometimes incredibly daunting in the sense I need to follow in those footsteps. I remember in Horus Rising when we first saw Horus himself. I went back to read the scene again, and then put the book down to make some coffee. I needed a breather after that. I needed to calm down. It was killer. Man, it was beyond killer. It left killer in the dust, and didn’t even look back to laugh.
A Thousand Sons and The Flight of the Eisenstein portrayed their primarchs beautifully, but nothing has quite matched Horus Rising yet. At least some of that has to be because it showed Horus for the first time ever, in his existence as a dutiful son and loyal primarch, rather than a Chaos-bloated [EXPLETIVE DELETED] who drools his way into an early grave because he doesn’t want to get [EXPLETIVE TOTALLY DELETED] by the Ultramarines. But naw, most of it – all credit to Dan – is the writing.
Those of you who came here before Marketing sank its putrescent, soulless claws into my handsomely-shaped skull may remember I dared to use rude words above. Look, Marketing. Look. Watch me jump through your hoops, dancing to your madman’s tune. Watch me sell out, so you can link this accursed post. Watch me think of the children.
We now return you to the Dan Abnett Lovefest, which is a daily ritual here in the Dembski-Bowden household. Don’t judge me. Don’t you dare.
After 20+ years of waiting and wondering what Horus was like, we got this:
— — —
Inchoate light, green and dazzling, sputtered into being on the platform in front of his clawing hands. The teleport flare became too bright to behold, and then died, revealing a god standing on the edge of the platform.
The god was a true giant, as large again to any Astartes warrior as an Astartes was to a normal man. His armour was white gold, like the sunlight at dawn, the work of master artificers. Many symbols covered its surfaces, the chief of which was the motif of a single, staring eye fashioned across the breastplate. Robes of white cloth fluttered out behind the terrible, haloed figure.
Aboive the breastplate, the face was bare, grimacing, perfect in every dimension and detail, suffused in radiance. So beautiful. So very beautiful.
For a moment, the god stood there, unflinching, beset by the gale of force, but unmoving, facing it down. Then he raised the storm bolter in his right hand and fired into the tumult.
The echo of detonation rolled around the tower. There was a choking scream, half lost in the uproar, and then the uproar itself stilled abruptly.
The wall of force died away. The hurricane faded. Splinters of glass tinkled as they rained back down onto the platform.
‘So will I deal with all tyrants and deceivers,’ rumbled a deep voice.
Loken looked up at the god standing over him. ‘Lupercal…’ he murmured.
The god smiled. ‘Not so formal, please, captain,’ whispered Horus.
— — —
I’d like to take a break from what I’m doing right now, which is writing a scene with two primarchs and the Emperor. Every line I write triggers my brainjunk into overdrive. Is this as good as Horus Rising… Is this as good as Horus Rising… Is this as good as Horus Rising…
I’d like to take that break, just to say these words:
“I hate you, Dan.”
That is all.
The First Heretic is starting look like it’ll be longer than I’d planned. This is good, and this is bad.
It’s good because I like long Horus Heresy books. A Thousand Sons was about 3,000,000 pages long, and that was ace. But yeah, regarding The First Heretic? Mostly, it getting longer is bad. Which brings me to another aspect of this “just starting out” lark, and that’s the feeling of those early days where you live advance to advance, jobless in all other ways, watching your bank account erode day by day under the claws of invisible finance goblins.
My original expectation was for this bad boy to be the length of Horus Rising, at a chunky and solid 400 pages, with Fulgrim and its 512 pages as the cushioning fallback option. The problem with me and planning is that I suck at it, and figured I could hit my deadlines with the 400-page goal easily enough. So that’s what I made time for.
512 pages? Naw. Screw that. I’m going to build a desk instead, and go to Amsterdam, and take a week off after Helsreach, and plan some short stories, and start a new blog, and… so on.
Now, in a classic move of swinging and missing on the last stretch of a midpoint deadline, every chapter of The First Heretic is longer than I thought it’d be, and I’m worried that 512 pages is the eventual, inevitable outcome. We’re talking “longer”, not “too long”. If it was “too long”, I’d cut the thing to pieces and spare myself the headache.
So I’ll be approaching my midpoint word count deadline, and only 1/3 through the book, instead of 1/2. A delay at any stage will bombard the works with spanners, clanging them off people’s heads and fucking up the otherwise benevolent flow of their chi.
Helsreach was late. No, Helsreach was Late. Almost Biblically so. Even if my eyes fell out and my hands caught fire, The First Heretic wouldn’t be that late. We’re not talking career-killing levels of intense tardiness, here. But still, if The First Heretic is much later, two things happen. Other people make sad faces at me, and I don’t get other chunks of my advance until it rolls over the finishing line.
Me and Katie took a pretty big risk in the 2009-2010 spread, deciding to live advance to advance until I get royalties. I’m still so new to this that I don’t get royalties yet, and that’s largely okay. She works as well, and is in the middle of what looks like it could be a soul-saving jump to a better gig with better money. But still, we’re talking about my half of the deal. Living advance to advance means I need to work fast, but that’s cool – I always write fast. If I write slow, it tends to suck and I lose my grip on what’s going through my mind. My thoughts outpace my fingers, moving on from what I’m doing day to day, and I’m left in the dust between them both, trying to get them to hug and make nice so I can get my shit back together.
‘Remember the good times,’ I’ll say. Stuff like that. It’s all very emotional.
The First Heretic going slower than planned is a bad thing, and I don’t have it in me to rush – I’m already working eye-bleedingly hard on this, so piss off. I can round out my finances with short stories here and there, and I’ve got some insanely killer ones to write for the Black Library soon, all to be jammed in various sexy anthologies. But doing those – especially to cover for the missing cash of a late novel – is even riskier. They take about a week each, which slows the novel even more, and they anger the pantheon of editorial gods if you spend your time diving after a quick buck instead of finishing the main thing you’re supposed to be finishing, like the professional you’re supposed to be.
Black Library Live 2010 is in one week, and is the deadline for a few things, as well as being a plane-hopping jaunt of intense sociability. I may just be beginning to narrow my eyes in the first, creeping beginnings of terror.
On the plus side, it looks like we’re pinpointing a date for the wedding next year, and the perfect place to do it. There’s also talk of getting my parents over in a couple of months for an engagement party, so the opposing teams of parental units can rubberneck for the first time and swap stories over their spawn bouncing into wedlock. I look down the misty paths of the unwritten future with an expression of manly and rugged defiance. This expression adroitly covers the fact I’m panicking behind my eyes – which, by the way, are a rather handsome arctic blue.