They say "write what you know", a challenge when you're young and don't really know anything.
I've mentioned before that The Just Beyond is not my first novel. It will be my first published novel, but I began this quest years ago, at age 20. In fact TJB is not even my second book. A couple of years ago I wrote a nonfiction work about how each of the U.S. states got their names (this image is my wife's painting of Illinois for that book). It didn't sell to a publisher, but it was a project I had envisioned for some time and it was important that I do it.
TJB isn't my first published work, either. After the novel I sold two short sci-fi pieces to small magazines, and I could have sold another one to a major men's magazine had I not refused their request to "enhance" it with gratuitous sex.
At that point I stopped writing. Life with children and a taxing job became too demanding and exhausting to support the effort it takes to write and market. But I always knew I could.
Which brings me back to that first novel, The Judges of Beta Librae. It was a science fiction story about a dark ages civilization that discovers a stunning secret: it ibegan as a transplant from a dying Earth to a new planet, and has by design been made to forget its heritage.
Even at the time I wasn't sure it was very good. In retrospect I can see that the problem was not the writing but the lack of life experience. I was a young husband and a new father by the time the book was finished, yet I struggled with the mild references to sex and the complex dynamics of relationships. I know there are and always have been young writers who manage to pull off works of brilliance and maturity beyond their years, but I was never going to be one of them. I was only capable of stick-figure characters and a largely cliche plot.
Only one person, my grandfather, ever read the thing. His comment was that it wasn't any worse than much of what was on the sci-fi racks. I recognized this as a backhanded compliment, though it may not have been intended that way, but I chose to view it as a glass half full and an indication that I could write commercially viable material.
But writing a good book wasn't the most important point. The important thing was finishing. I only submitted to six publishers, largely because of the cost of printing and shipping 400+ pages, and probably more so from discouragement. But I had finished a 400 page book, and that alone provided a confidence and strength that served me over and over in life. I have a somewhat fanatical obsession with being exceptional, and here was physical proof: I'd stuck with it for three years, one writing and two editing, and completing the book elevated me from the crowd of quitters. That tangible proof that I could do it assured me that I could do it again. And that knowledge was golden.
The Just Beyond is a much, much stronger work and the main reason is that I've been around the block. I've had some rich, dramatic life-changing experiences (not all of them good) and many are reflected or alluded to in TJB. They say "write what you know", and that's a challenge when you're young and don't really know anything. :) Yet I may never even have attempted it without the assurance completing the first book provided. Even unpublished it was worth many times its intrinsic value.
I'll end with this. I never realized before writing this post that the first novel, if you stretch just a little bit, had the same initials as The Just Beyond. Coincidence? I'm really not sure. It's fun to ponder, though. :) - Mark