Pardon me if I’m a little emotional. Generally I’m not that way at all, but this is a special occasion. Tomorrow is a really special day for me as an author, and I wanted to say something about it before I hammer you all with invitations to the Launch Party and reasons why you should by a book.
Tomorrow is the launch of Tales from Pennsylvania, a short story anthology of Pennsylvania fanfic all set in the New Pennsylvania world of The Pennsylvania Omnibus. Tomorrow I get to watch a book get published filled with stories written by some of the top speculative fiction authors writing today, and those stories all take place in a world I created in my head. Think about that for a minute.
So pardon me while I spend a moment in this moment. There is a tear in my eye somewhere. Believe it, even if you can’t see it. I can think of nothing more rewarding than to see people who I respect and honor both as friends and as some of my favorite authors, choosing to write books in the world of Pennsylvania. I’m still astounded by that. A year and a half ago I had some authors ask me if I’d write some fan fiction in Hugh Howey’s World of Wool, and as a total fanboy I jumped at the opportunity. Almost two years ago (I was in the middle of writing WICK, Part 1) I remember the excitement as I watched WOOL go nuclear, and as a completely unknown author, I wondered what it must feel like to have so many people… even other authors, really loving and respecting your work. The big WOOL fanfic surge hadn’t started yet, and I was just a fan and an author, dreaming of bigger days.
But I eventually joined the WOOL fanfic bandwagon, and I remember releasing my WOOL fanfic in its compiled, finished edition (The Silo Archipelago) and I remember being shocked as people would read the book and compare it to Hugh Howey’s work (sometimes even favorably!). I remember early 2013 when I first pushed out Pennsylvania 1. I was a complete unknown, and was still thinking that maybe some day I’d have a hit book too. Pennsylvania 1 was just this short story I jotted down almost as a lark just to see if anyone would ever even read something branded as “Amish Science Fiction.” I had an idea of where that world could go, and I had a general outline in my head, but I knew it would take reader support to even get me to write another part to the story.
I remember walking around Worldcon 2013 in San Antonio with my daughter Jennifer and with Hugh Howey, and Hugh – my indie author hero – was introducing me around as “the Amish Scifi author.” It was surreal.
Toward the last half of 2013, a lot of things started happening for me. WICK was doing well, but people were really falling in love with my little Pennsylvania short story. Amazon came calling and asked me to write a commissioned novel serial in their Kindle Worlds. More fanfic, but this time it was in the world of Kurt Vonnegut, and someone was not only asking me to write it, but they were going to pay me! The first commissioned and sanctioned full novel to be written in Kurt Vonnegut’s world… ever. So in addition to a next part of Pennsylvania, I wrote Osage Two Diamonds and it was released as a commissioned serial by Amazon publishing. Like I said, it was surreal. People were actually mentioning my name with some of my heroes. Authors were writing me, private messaging me, etc. asking for advice and help and asking me to read their books (more about that later.) The business of being an author really started taking over more and more of my days. Just after the first of the year in 2014 I really started pumping out some of the things I’d been working on, and in April I released the full Pennsylvania Omnibus. I still had no inkling that anyone would ever want to write Pennsylvania fanfic. It just had never occurred to me.
The point is that I was just a total fanboy and wannabe author not too long ago. It seems like yesterday. I never really thought any of the great things that have happened to me in the last year and a half would ever happen. I hoped for some moderate success, but I never dreamed of anything like what has happened.
I don’t remember exactly when it was that Chris Pourteau asked me if I might be interested in putting together a PA fanfic book. At that point I’d had several authors ask me if they could write PA fanfic, and several of them were already doing it, and of course I’d said YES every time. Yes, please do. And please sell it and make money on it, too. Anyway, I got a message from Chris asking me if I’d do a fanfic anthology if authors were interested. So I said “OF COURSE!”
Interest came in two ways. Several authors contacted me and asked me if they could write fanfic, and when they did I’d point them to Chris. I’d say, “Sure! And if you’re interested, Chris Pourteau is putting together this fanfic book.” Other authors were proposed by Chris or somehow we came up with their names and we’d cobble up a way to ask them if they’d be interested. Meantime, even more authors were asking for permission. I think at one time there were well over 20 authors writing PA fanfic!
I mentioned that by the end of 2013, the number of authors contacting me and asking me for help or to read their books had really become something of a deluge. I’d gotten some advice about this from other authors, and the advice didn’t always match up perfectly. One author told me, “It’ll overwhelm you if you let it. Contact your readers and fans through social media, but don’t get bogged down trying to talk to all of them privately. They’ll eat you up.” Another author told me, “Listen man, authors are like any other voracious, aggressive predator, they’re all for you now since you can help them, but if they ever sense weakness and get a shot to take you down, they will.” Still another said, “Do all you can, because that’s all you can do.”
I took the last bit of advice. I figured… help everyone you can possibly help. It is impossible to read every book that you’ll be sent, but read all you can, and help as much as you are able without just destroying your own ability to write and work. Along the way, I tried to deal fairly with everyone. To be honest with everyone. And to help as many people as I could possibly help along the way.
Well, it turns out that all three pieces of advice I received were correct. When the business gets overwhelming, you do need to try to protect some of your time so you can continue to write and produce your work. And YES, some authors will take your friendship and your help and then they’ll stab you in the back or throw you under the bus at the first opportunity. This I found to be painfully true. And yes, you should do all you can to help as many people as you can, because that’s all you can do. And the truth is, the great majority of fans, readers, strangers, and authors I’ve dealt with are just solid people who I sincerely enjoy dealing with day after day. It’s been a fun ride, and frankly I’m very satisfied with it. I’ve always been something of a student of anthropology and sociology and I’ve definitely gotten a crash course in human behavior over the last few years. I’ve seen the best, and some of the worst, representations of human nature at work. So there’s that. All of it is fodder for the imagination and for books yet to be written!
So tomorrow, November 21st, a book will be released that is a strange and wonderful collaboration between some really special people. Tales from Pennsylvania. 11 authors and a couple editors who came together to do something marvelous. And for that reason, this book and these authors are truly special to me. I love them all, because they are all talented, unique, generous, and wonderful people.
No matter what happens for here on out in my career… whether I soar or stumble, reach the stars or return to the dirt, I will always have a special place in my heart for the Tales from Pennsylvania, and for the fantastic authors and editors who are represented in it. For someone who is not generally emotional at all, believe me, you all are very special to me and it means a lot to me that you’ve worked with us and that we’ve hung together to finish this terrific work. I pray that all of you find success, and that readers will read your stories and know how good you really are. To my readers, every one of these authors is worth their weight in gold, plus some. Every one of them is the kind of person you can feel comfortable supporting. And every one of them is truly talented, big hearted, and worthy.
To my friend Chris Pourteau, it has been a fantastic and bumpy ride. I wouldn’t change a moment of it. Thanks for all your work, and for the diligence and care you put into making something we can all be pleased with. And thanks once again to my editor and friend David Gatewood. Once again you’ve done a terrific job, managed a herculean effort, and you made the whole project better.
Thanks again to all of you… readers, fans, authors. I am truly thankful for all of you.