Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

Science Fiction Novelist

The Long Fought Story of Transient
Posted on January 22, 2017
Category: Zeedub Inkwell
Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

When I mention that my debut novel Transient took 10 years to write and publish, people give me funny looks. I’m not being cute or overly dramatic, just stating the fact that I spent the better part of a decade building the world behind the words. It then occurred to me that few are privy to the long and arduous backstory that is Transient. And so, I thought it would be interesting to share it.

Back in the early 2000s, my future wife and I lived in Durham, NC. I worked as a Web Apps Developer and she was finishing a medical residency. At the time, my primary creative outlet was music any free time went to my band Sydewynder. The only writing I did was for work (wikis, manuals, documentation, etc.). After residency, my wife scored a fellowship in Seattle, WA. We moved across the country and I disbanded Sydewynder.

In Seattle, I founded a new music project entitled The Mayhematic, a blend of hard rock and techno. I accepted a new development gig and spent a lot of time outside enjoying the Pacific Northwest. I took long walks during lunch, where I would ponder ideas for the band. But one day I got a nutty idea.

At the time, vampire romance novels were hugely popular. And since the love story always took precedence, the lore always got explained away as cheesy mystical nonsense. I mean, I get it, authors needed to entice readers with brooding beasts and supernatural love triangles, but the world-building always suffered as a result. I knew nothing about writing back then and even I could pick up on that blunder.

So I asked myself, what if vampires were real? As in, scientifically feasible. I had no story in mind, I just wanted some better lore.

The idea stuck in my craw and I just couldn’t shake it. To satisfy my own curiosity, I started delving into research. My wife was a transfusion medicine physician and I started to bounce ideas off of her. What started out as amusing speculation had turned into a pseudo research paper. Before long, I had pages full of medical science and logistics. Then it occurred to me … this would make a great story.

And so, I wrote it. I didn’t plan anything or outline it, I just puked it out on paper. I created a first draft of a short novel, having no clue how to write fiction, let alone write it well. When I finished, I had a steaming pile of bad writing, but I didn’t know any better. And when I say bad, I mean really bad. I had abused every crutch and cliche in the book. If you did a Google search for the “most common amateur writing mistakes,” I did them all and then some. It was a study in how not to write. Once I learned how bad it was, I set the manuscript aside and went back to music, assuming I sucked at writing.

Then something magical happened … the American Craft Beer Movement exploded.

I know what you’re thinking. What the hell does that have to do with anything? Funny enough, I have to credit craft beer for teaching me how to write. To this day, I love quality brews and I love to chat about them. In fact, I’m enjoying one of my favorite IPAs while writing this. At the time, the main beer review websites had a snobbish undertone that I found distracting and distasteful. Being a web developer, I decided to create a competitor website that focused less on the objective side and more on the overall experience.

I dove into this project hard and strong, to the point where even music took a backseat. I began to cultivate a reputation in the craft beer industry. Over the next several years, I wrote hundreds of articles and gained a notable following. Breweries even mailed me beer because they appreciated my tactful approach to reviewing. That’s when it hit me. I’m actually getting pretty good at this. My writing had improved dramatically. As the old saying goes, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

The writing bug bit me hard. I started researching what constituted good writing (a very deep rabbit hole that I still haven’t emerged from). Around this time, I decided that it was a good idea to start reading more. Not that I didn’t read at all, I was just more of a non-fiction guy. I picked up Asimov’s Foundation series and the rest, as they say, was history.

Out of curiosity, I decided to revisit that first draft of Transient. Much to my surprise, not only could I articulate why it was bad, I actually knew how to fix it. And so, that became my new writing project. I rewrote it stem to stern at least five times. I put it through more rounds of editing than I care to admit. I joined a writers group and continued to edit in conjunction with new insights. Before long, I had revised it into a decent manuscript. But, I still had no idea if it was good enough to publish. With nothing to lose, I decided to query literary agents to see exactly where I stood.

Six months later, I had submitted over a hundred queries and received a great deal of positive feedback. But sadly, no takers. However, one agent cited a major flaw that I hadn’t considered. The manuscript clocked in at 60K words, well short of the standard 80-120K range for science fiction. On the flip side, it fit nicely into the young adult range. That got the brain wheels turning and I considered yet another rewrite as a YA novel. The more I thought about the story, the more it made sense for the protagonist to be a young adult. And so, I rewrote it … again.

Even at this point, Transient almost didn’t see the light of day. Having learned a crap ton about better writing, I wanted to apply it to a fresh manuscript. I had written the first few chapters of what would become Max and the Multiverse, which I viewed as a much better candidate for a debut novel. I shelved Transient, again, in order to focus on a more engaging project. I finished Max and the Multiverse and started submitting it to literary agents. While that simmered, I revisited Transient and finally decided that it was good enough to see to fruition. I opted to self-publish, using it as an experimental tuition. After all, Max was my primary focus and I considered Transient a side project. But, I thought it would be nice to have something to promote while Max was lingering in query hell. That is the one and only reason why I decided to publish Transient. And so, I put it through one final round of edits and started the process.

A few months later, Transient was available on Amazon and Kindle. Looking back at the effort, I am immensely proud of the accomplishment. It still feels a bit strange to hold the book in my hand and think back to those lunchtime walks back in Seattle. So if you ever decide to pick up Transient and give it read, know that a decade of trial and tribulation went into its publication (along with plenty of good beer).

As a closing note, I have to reiterate the dedication at the beginning of the book: “A plethora of thanks to Evelyn, Laura, and Cesar for your diverse honesties. This wacky project would not exist without you.” Evelyn is my loving and supportive wife. She gives me the harsh feedback that I need to better my writing. Laura and Cesar are our best friends. Laura is a librarian in Durham, NC and was the first person to read that first draft of Transient. Instead of laughing at the terribly bad writing, she offered some carefully crafted encouragement. Cesar is a longtime chum and Laura’s husband. He falls right in the middle of the feedback spectrum, not too soft, not too abrasive, just the right amount of balanced criticism. Together, they represent a powerhouse of personal critiquing. I shove manuscript after manuscript into their reading queues and they are always happy to oblige. I love you all dearly!

Learn more:
A Russian Reference for Transient
Transient 2.0: How a Fresh Edit Exposed a Hidden Writing Crutch
To The Horses! The Heartbreaking Reality Behind Doren’s Tragic Toast

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