The first review for The Town Built On Sorrow is up!

From Kirkus Reviews:

A Midwestern town’s dark past meets its grisly present.

Sassy, journalism-inclined, 16-year-old Harper Spurling’s family are the descendants of her hometown of Hawthorn’s founders. The white teen runs track, loves hanging out with her friends, refers to her parents as “The Mom” and “The Dad,” and adores her best friend, Eva Alvarez, who is a mixed-race (Mexican and black) party girl. When her history teacher assigns the class to read the diary of one of the town founder’s daughters, Harper becomes entranced by her story, wondering why it ends so abruptly. Enter mysterious, Nordic, white Olav Helle, who also attends Harper’s high school. He’s also seemingly touched by the magic of the town and its surrounding woods. It also compels him to off members of the local population using various gruesome tactics; from the get-go readers know he is the town’s Tender Heart Killer. Oppegaard pens an intense, page-turning, often harrowing nail-biter that may leave readers with stomachaches as they move through the story, alternating between Harper and Olav. Some plot parts may feel stretched, but the magic is subtle enough to walk the delicate line between what could be hallucination or the supernatural otherworld. The tension that builds toward the eventual meeting of Olav and Harper, however, is very real, and that’s what will keep readers hooked until the end.

Pretty gross but pretty great. (Thriller. 13-18)


Selling Books in the Apocalyptic Year of 2017

So. 2017 in the United States of America. Some interesting stuff going on, amIright? Maybe we’ll all live to see 2018, maybe not. Check in on Twitter to find out!


In the meantime, we’re all still hoping civilization is going to continue onward, and part of that hope in my own squirrelly little life is releasing a new novel this fall. 2017 will actually mark the 10 year anniversary of the publication of my first novel The Suicide Collectors with St. Martin’s Press. I think it’s fair to say at this point that promoting and selling a novel has been a quixotic process in my experience and I’m finding it harder than ever to gear up for another campaign, especially in a world where it seems like people read, and care about books, less and less.

Living on the road my friend,
Was gonna keep you free and clean
And now you wear your skin like iron,
And your breath as hard as kerosene
 -“Pancho and Lefty”

But then again, everybody warned me writing would be a hard road. Yet I persisted, like some kind of lunatic cat attacking a scratching post. So what the fuck did I expect, right?

Last night I stood by a table for 4 hours in attempt to sell copies of my novel The Firebug of Balrog County and handing out free bookmarks.  I don’t mind talking to people, but selling something as personally meaningful as Firebug, much less anything at all, tends to make me a little queasy, even after a decade of practice. I started out the night feeling proud and cocky, wondering aloud to my buddy how many of the authors gathered at the event were published by mainstream presses (as if it really fucking mattered, right?) and ended the long night with a grand tally of three books sold. Ah, the swift reality check that is trying to sell your work to the public! No matter how many great blurbs and reviews it may have garnered! No matter how cool you think the cover is!

I often tell beginning writers that they better love editing as much as the initial process of writing or otherwise they’ll be bound to burn out long before the process of polishing their work is complete, not to mention the process of becoming a good writer. So does it follow that if you want to be a published author who makes a decent income (through product sales) that you must love promoting your work (and thus yourself) as well?

By necessity, a novelist spends a lot of time alone and withdrawn from the world. Even the ones who write in a coffee shop, surrounded by keyboard clacking and the ritualistic banging of espresso machines, are still very much alone in their inward process. Either by natural inclination or through the learned habit of repetition, a novelist embraces the solitary side of their nature, which, you’d think, would cause you to drift further and further from the more extroverted traits a good salesperson calls upon.

(Is it just me or  do the authors who are very slick, with shiny hair and gleaming lupine smiles, often write forgettable schlock? Is there some kind of correlation between how good you are at sales and the level of authenticity in your work on the page? Does the blunt relentless self-assessment that aids good writing detract somehow from your sales ability? Or is this just my own bias speaking? My own jealously at how slick and best selling these writers tend to be? Probably. Though I think there’ some kind of kernel of truth here, nevertheless.)

Of course, there are plenty of great writers who are also great at the promotional side of bookselling. Personally, I’m still a promotional work in progress. (Or maybe I’m just kind of lazy?) If my publicist Megan is reading this, I just want to say thanks for bringing the new The Town Built on Sorrow bookmarks to the event last night and chatting with me far longer than required by your profession. I promise to pull my share of the publicity load as much as possible, writing all the blog posts and interview responses required, pestering my long suffering friends and family (hey, this will be book #5, I get it folks!) and standing in front of an audience or two, wondering in the back of my mind how it was again that I ended up here, reading a book with my own personal feelings in it to a crowd as if I’m asking a longtime crush if they’d possibly, maybe, perhaps, want to go on a date with me, the sweaty bumblefuck.


I’ve sold my 5th novel!

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while, but I’m finally signing and mailing the contract today-I’m happy to announce I’ve sold my 5th novel THE TOWN BUILT ON SORROW to Flux! Currently, the release date is slated for sometime this September. Big thanks as always to my literary agent Jonathan Lyons. Here’s the rough copy I’ve written for the book:

The Town Built on Sorrow
By David Oppegaard

Welcome to the strange, haunted foothills town of Hawthorn, where sixteen-year-old Harper Spurling finds herself increasingly obsessed with the diary of a 1860s pioneer girl while a serial killer runs unchecked through the area, dumping his victims into the town’s dark river. When Harper’s curiosity eventually leads her into the Tender Heart Killer’s company, she’s forced to think fast or join the killer’s growing list of victims…

Because in Hawthorn, a town built on sorrow, the barrier between life and death is as fragile as an old forgotten skull.

The Canary


Beloved local musician and storyteller Jack Pearson died yesterday at the too-young age of 63. I first met Jack in 1998  through his son, Peter Pearson, my friend and fellow Great Con student at St. Olaf College. In the summer of 1999 I went to an outdoor Bob Dylan and Paul Simon concert with Pete, Jack, and Kari, Pete’s sister. It was a great concert (Paul and Bob played “The Sound of Silence” together!) but one of my favorite memories from it was Jack pointing out after the show that, from a technical perspective, Dylan was a crappy harmonica player. It was an eye-opening revelation about the importance of craft to me, no matter how famous you were, and also the only unkind thing I ever heard Jack, who was like a Twin Cities musical version of Mr. Rogers, say about anyone in all the time I knew him.

A lot of people loved Jack, who recorded many albums and traveled around to schools and other locales and entertained children, bringing the joy of live music to their lives with a rare mixture of skilled craft and happy exuberance, but what always struck me most about him was the philosophy of kindness and acceptance he embodied. I’ve long surrounded myself with a thick shield of dark humor and sarcasm, most likely hardened and significantly enhanced during my mother’s long battle with cancer during my teenage years, but Jack didn’t need any of that. He was naturally earnest. He was open to all the currents. We’d discuss philosophy, me playing the nihilistic devil’s advocate, and he’d consider everything I said carefully, even though I was a hotheaded college student. He was a strong Christian who didn’t necessarily believe, or need to believe, everything in the Bible was literally true. The idea of practicing kindness was all the truth he needed.

Kindness is a hard truth to truly learn and practice-being kind to both myself and others is something I struggle with on a daily basis. It’s something our country, and the world, is struggling with to a seemingly greater extent than ever. It’s hard, on this cold January day, to not think of Jack’s sudden passing as the embodiment of the old “canary in a coal mine” (old-timey miners would take a canary with them down to the deep underground mines they worked in-if the canary stopped singing and died it would alert them to the presence of poison gas in the mine). On the eve of a Trump presidency, with the prospect of so much hate and toxicity before us, Jack has stepped out and left the room (he coincidentally passed away in the same cancer ward as my mother). It’s up to the rest of us, even the damaged snarky fuckers, to step up our game and keep the torch of kindness and generosity burning.

Some New Q & A About Writing

I just did this little written interview with Alex Kies, a faculty assistant at Metropolitan State University, and thought I’d post it.

To whom would you recommend graduate school?

That’s an interesting question. Getting your MFA in Writing (or PhD) isn’t cheap but I found it invaluable in refining my skills as a writer. I suppose I’d recommend it to anyone who feels like a structured format, with writing workshops and professional instructors and deadlines, would help advance your writing. Going through an MFA program, like the one at Hamline University, allows you to join a great community of writers and thinkers as well. My big caveat is don’t expect you’re going to be a big time published author just because you get your MFA, though it is reasonable to expect your chances for landing a writing-intensive teaching job of some kind will increase.

What is your experience with the Twin Cities’ so-called literary scene?

Everyone I’ve met has been very nice and inclusive and the Loft Literary Center serves as its heartbeat. You can attend several literary events a week around here if you feel like it and there’s actually very few cities in the U.S. where that’s possible. To truly be a part of the local scene you need to put your time in, attend various events, and try to be sociable with strangers, even if sociability doesn’t come naturally to you.

You have a regularly updated blog.  Has this helped or hindered your writing?  Is having a consistent, non-promotional web presence beneficial?

Well, I’ve been blogging for over a decade now and my urge to post regularly has died down considerably. I’d say for a long time it helped me as writer in the sense that I don’t keep a private journal so it both allowed and encouraged me to work out my thoughts on writing in a public space and made me feel like I was contributing to the general writing conversation. Nowadays my mind has quieted down a lot in this respect-maybe I worked out what I needed to work out and can move on now without blogging much.

Blogging hasn’t done much for me career/professional wise, but I’ve enjoyed it.

Now you’re a writing professor.  Have you seen traits, good or bad, that students share? 

I think the biggest issue the writing students I’ve taught (which isn’t that many in the grand scheme of things) share is a difficulty with detaching themselves from their writing. They live and die with every story they write, even if it’s only their second of third story ever, and I do my best to encourage them to look at the bigger picture-improving your writing is such a long and laborious process you shouldn’t worry too much about an individual story, or even a novel, failing from a technical standpoint, as long as you worked as hard as you could and can detach yourself enough from what you’ve written that you’re able to learn from your mistakes. If you’re writing and writing without learning from your own work, good and bad, you’re just treading water instead of moving forward.

Your work has been exclusively in genre literature.  How does this market and audience differ from literary fiction, and does that alter your creative process? 

Actually, my fourth novel The Firebug of Balrog County is what you’d call literary fiction and I’ve written a few other literary novels that never got published. My process is the same no matter what genre I’m working in (and indeed in my work the genre lines blur a lot) but I suppose when writing in horror or sci-fi I tend to find myself constrained to maintaining a tighter, faster plot to some extent, while in literary fiction I focus more on unspooling the characters in the story and allowing the plot to serve this purpose.

You’ve written both “adult” and YA fiction.  How did that effect your writing process?

It doesn’t really change much for me, process-wise. Whatever I write I try to make interesting for all age levels (down to about eleven years old, I suppose). I’m always worried about boring my audience.

You’ve mentioned before that you have several novels you decided not to publish.  What about them makes them unpublishable when compared to your other works?

Well, with my earlier unpublished work it simply wasn’t good enough to be published, along with a few later works as well (and now I’m glad they never were published). Undercooked characters, bad dialogue, etc. However there’s two or three I still think deserved to see publication but simply never found a publishing champion. One of the hard lessons I’ve learned is that a good book doesn’t always see the light of day. Hell, I know lots of good writers who never get one book published. Writing can be as rough as it is rewarding.


Mid-Summer Drowse

It’s hard to work in the summertime, isn’t it? Right now I’m typing this while the window AC in my office/bedroom roars three feet away from me and my cat slumbers on the cool floor. Along with the summer weather has come a slight summer writing slump, at least compared to my normal twenty-five pages a week habit when I’m really cooking. I’ve turned in novel #16 to my agent, who liked it but asked for a rewrite with more overall world building, and instead of doing that I’m futzing around with the beginning of a different novel and trying to figure out how this new work might go. I’ll get back to the other novel, no doubt about that, but sometimes taking a step back and doing something else for a while can be helpful.

Well, usually.

There have been plenty of days this summer when I haven’t written at all, or only written 300 words, or only changed a character’s name. I used to feel like a useless human being on these non-writing days but somehow I haven’t been as bothered about them this summer. Maybe it’s just growing older, maybe it’s just realizing the world doesn’t end if you don’t produce. A dangerous notion, though, isn’t it? Nobody else is going to write for you. No one else is going to create for you, or notice if you’re not creating. Writing is a self-starting field and even as the sun beats down and it’s scorching hot outside you better remember to bring it as much as you can.

Because both life and summertime don’t really last all that long.



(I recently wrote a book on writing call The Glorious Grind: Meditations on Crafting Fiction & The Writing Life and have decided to simply publish it in installments here.)

Chapter Twenty-Eight



I’ve had this poster of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) hanging above my toilet in every place I’ve lived since 2000. I purchased it at a museum in Staraya Russa, Russia, which was actually the summer house where Dostoyevsky wrote Demons and The Brothers Karamazov. The poster looks ancient now but the water stains are actually from a bathroom pipe leak and the tear in the lower right corner is from when an old girlfriend of mine thought it would be funny to stick a maxi pad on it (when she removed the pad its adhesive side ripped off a big poster chunk).

Dostoyevsky was by no means a perfect man—for instance he hated Jews and basically all foreigners and he also gambled like a fiend—but if nothing else he was a true Grinder. He worked and he worked and he worked. He followed his dark visions and he wrote for money. His mother died when he was fifteen. He endured a realistic mock execution, ten hard years in a Siberian labor camp, the onset of epilepsy, and came out more inspired to write than ever. He was a man of faith, but it was not an unexamined faith by any means. Dostoyevsky knew what he was about and went about it. He worked at night while the world was sleeping.

I like having his dark Russian eyes staring at me every time I visit the bathroom. They remind me that no matter how tough life may be at times you can always be a little tougher yourself. New characters and worlds are always sitting inside you, waiting for extraction. You can find them if you’re willing to put the work in.

The Glorious Grind

(I recently wrote a book on writing call The Glorious Grind: Meditations on Crafting Fiction & The Writing Life and have decided to simply publish it in installments here.)

Chapter Twenty-Seven

The Glorious Grind


One of the most baffling occurrences in the course of humanity’s creative history has been the glamorization of writing. You tell somebody at a party you work in an office on a computer all day while music plays faintly in the background and you drink too much coffee and they’ll be all like yep, yep, sounds like you work as an insurance actuary or perhaps as a claims adjuster or maybe a certified public accountant. What kind of salary does that pay and what are the benefits like? Do you think Patty has any more shrimp stashed in the kitchen?

But tell this inquisitive person you’re a writer and you’ll get an eyebrow raised and a set of certain expectations. What do you write? Are you published? Would I like it? Is your life filled with sun drenched villas and ocean vistas or are you one of those poor and tortured writers who live in cockroach infested studio apartments, living on Spam, Doritos, and absinthe? Rarely will their first thought be “I bet this guy was hanging around in sweatpants until eight PM today” or “Hey, I’m likely the first person he’s spoken to in three days! Lucky me!”

The fact that authors and poets used to be renowned super-celebrities in the late 19th century and the early to mid-20th century just goes to show you how little television and pop music we had back then. As we all know, humans love to set apart certain other humans with various talents and deify them—with the invention of the printing press a whole new order gods and goddesses was created in the hearts and minds of the public. Suddenly pale, weird looking dudes wearing spectacles could suddenly get laid pretty easily if they said they were a writer and everyone was agog when old Charlie Dickens came by to have a reading in their town (some even consider Dickens to be the first pop star. Weird idea, right?). Writing was cool, like being a painter, or a musician, or, later on, an actor in the moving pictures. Writers, known for their drinking, howling, and love of reading, suddenly had a little extra sparkle to them as they walked through a crowd, a little heat in their pocket.

The 21st century has seen this sparkle fade from the profession. The Internet and television have so bedazzled your average citizen with serial programing and cats doing awesome shit that your average mid-list author now possesses the glamor somewhere between a local used car dealer and a well-respected mortician. And you know what? This is probably a good thing. A really good thing. Writers should think of themselves as craftsmen like carpenters and stone masons and leave the crotch grabbing shenanigans to the reality TV stars of this saturated new world. They’ll be better for it, less distracted and feverish in their efforts at being cool and hip. Less vain. Most importantly, they’ll be able to focus more on the task at hand, which is writing their hearts out and making peace with life to their satisfaction before death all too quickly swallows them whole.

I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with a way, in this cumulative essay, to explain once and for all both the glory and the utter grind I’ve encountered in the life of the author struggling to establish a career in modern day publishing. It has occurred to me, after many false starts, to simply follow the standard advice to any author and show instead of tell—here’s a list of all fifteen of my novels, the vast majority of them unpublished, with a brief description of each and their role in my growth. This is basically a roadmap of twenty years of long nights, scorched earth, and blissful creative escapism.

Novel #1

The Nebula Quest

Genre: Sci-fi (quest, space opera)

I began The Nebula Quest when I was fifteen. It started as a short story and I had no idea it would grow into a four hundred page book. It’s your classic quest/coming of age story, owing much to Star Wars. The hero of the story is named Zil and he hails from a race of hairless, gray skinned bipeds called Trindles. For a first novel it has a rather complex, sprawling plot and features a large cast of characters. My mother surprised me one day by getting the novel printed and bound at Kinko’s with its own laminated cover and everything. That was about the extent of my expectations for The Nebula Quest, though I rewrote it several times.

Novel #2

Other Dreams (originally titled The Dreamer & The Ogre)

Genre: YA fantasy[1]

I wrote Other Dreams during my senior year in high school. Quite literally—I started it in September and finished it in May. This book was the first time I’d put a work through over a dozen drafts. Other Dreams follows a twelve-year-old boy named Wesley Vaughn in the early 1990s who has contracted the HIV virus through a blood transfusion years earlier, after a motorcycle accident that also killed his father. Wesley, as the virus blooms into full-blown AIDS, experiences a series of vivid, fantastic dreams in which he’s being chased by a nameless ogre, and as he gets sicker the dreams grow more intense. For several of my in-house readers this is still a much-beloved novel and I did send out about a dozen query letters for it to agents before moving on to focusing on college and writing short stories for the next few years.

Novel #3

Torch Lit

Genre: Literary

Written in the months after Sept. 11th, 2001, I consider Torch Lit to be the worst book I’ve written. It’s about a movie cinema owner named Gabriel who lives in the fictional small town of Paris, Minnesota. Gabriel is sort of this driftless thirty-year-old guy who is still chasing one moment from several years ago where he felt he was “truly happy”. My first stab at literary fiction, I can tell from the summary of this novel alone that the book was doomed from the start. The protagonist never has a clearly defined goal, the plot’s paper thin, and the only real drama comes from the family next door, not Gabriel. I was trying too hard to write a Great Novel

Novel #4

Knocking Over the Fishbowl

Genre: Literary comedy

Knocking Over the Fishbowl started as a fifty page unfinished short story, a really crazy, raw piece of writing, that I wrote after my mother’s death to cheer myself up (and it helped, somehow). I still remember my professor holding the manuscript in his hands and looking at me with a puzzled look on his face. “What is this?” he asked.

Knocking Over the Fishbowl takes place in the surreal suburb of Hungry Hollow. It follows the adventures of Wilson Scraggs, a Vietnam vet recently escaped from a mental hospital, and the eccentric cast of characters he encounters as he tries to rediscover his place in the world. I returned to it after graduating from college and flushed it out into a full-blown comedic novel. After much work and luck, it landed me an agent. While it never sold to a publisher, it paved the way for The Suicide Collectors and the rest of my career. Out of all the books we never managed to sell, I get the feeling my agent still likes this one best.

Novel #5

The Suicide Collectors

Genres: Post-apocalyptic speculative sci-fi, horror

The Suicide Collectors was my first published novel. I started The Suicide Collectors as a side project while I was waiting for Fishbowl to sell, a sort of challenge to myself to see if I could create a new post-apocalyptic world. The book took a major turn for the better when my agent suggested killing off a main character and upping the “grit” factor in the book.

Novel #6

The Cobalt Legacy

Genre: Literary

The Cobalt Legacy was my thesis novel while a graduate student at Hamline University. Uh oh, here again I wanted to write a literary novel, a serious Novel! The Cobalt Legacy is about a young man recovering from a shattering history of domestic violence (his father killed his mother, then himself) who inherits a castle in western Pennsylvania (did you know there are over one hundred and twenty castles in America?) I did a lot of castle-based research for the book. My agent sent The Cobalt Legacy around to some editors but we got no serious bites. Looking back at The Cobalt Legacy now I wince at its naïve earnestness—like Torch Lit, I was trying too hard to be whatever my conception of “literary” was at the time, which was very grad school-esque.

Novel #7

Wormwood, Nevada

Genres: literary, science fiction

Wormwood, Nevada was my second published novel, part of a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to come up with something equal to The Suicide Collectors but stubbornly avoided writing a similar book, something that would have been much easier to market than literary sci-fi. The initial reviews weren’t great and the book didn’t sell much and St. Martin’s Press never really put their shoulder behind it. I still love Wormwood, though, and I am proud of how it turned out. I wouldn’t change a word.

Novel #8

From the Void

Genres: Thriller, Dark Fantasy

From the Void tells the story of Derrick Woods, a young man who wakes up with amnesia and escapes police custody. He goes on a very unglamorous cross-country quest to figure out who is he is and what he’s done. He’s followed (or believes he’s followed) by a menacing giant named Carthage.[2] He learns that he was a gunman in a deadly campus shooting and must somehow come to terms with this.

From the Void had some great scenes and Carthage was a top-notch dark fantasy villain but the whole thing never really came together despite a lot of revision. This was post-Columbine but pre-Sandy Hook, when the real world gave us a horror no editor would have thought to be “believable” enough to “carry a novel”.

Novel #9

The Ragged Mountains

Genre: YA Fantasy

The Ragged Mountains, a fantasy adventure story about three young people on a rescue mission, almost sold as the first in a trilogy to a Big Five publisher. I actually took a phone meeting with an editor who told me how excited she was to be working with me etc. only to learn the next day the publisher would have to pass. Some big fish in the marketing meeting didn’t like the sound of the book and overruled the editor. This was the second time this had happened to me—I also took an “it’s going to be great working together” phone meeting with an editor for Knocking Over the Fishbowl, so I’ve had the pleasure of my heart being uplifted and then promptly stomped on twice!

Somehow that meeting spread bad mojo and the book never sold. I liked it so much, however, that I published it myself as an e-book and did a whole (mostly useless) round of PR for it. This novel is my big never-made-it-through-traditional-publishing regret.

Novel #10

The Floating Luminosity

Genres: Literary, Fantasy, Surrealism

Even trying to describe this book is difficult and a sure sign I hadn’t yet mastered the idea behind the elevator pitch concept. The Floating Luminosity was set in a fictional town on the Oregon Coast and is its main protagonist is a lonely retired guy named Gordon Locke. When a luminous blue light starts rolling in off the ocean strange things occur in Gordon’s life and he befriends a young woman with a kid. Things grow stranger from here on out as the story veers into surrealism.

My agent sent the manuscript to three editors to test the waters before declining to represent it and I couldn’t blame him. The Floating Luminosity doesn’t exactly scream marketing potential but it was an interesting experiment (though, alas, it was another year of labor without monetary recompense).

Novel #11


Genres: Literary, Horror, Dark Comedy

Set in the burned out edges of Detroit, Special was about an amiable, specially-abled fella named Tompkins who finds himself under his murderous older sister’s thumb after the death of their parents. He escapes the house with one of her would-be victims and events escalate from there.

Special is weird, really weird, and I shouldn’t have been surprised that it never sold, despite some great feedback from editors (one editor wrote, “I can’t say I loved this novel (doesn’t feel like a novel that even wants to be loved), but I admired the hell out of its ambition…”) but I consider Tompkins one of my best characters and he’ll always have a special place in my heart. Sometimes you just write what you have to write.

Novel #12

And the Hills Opened Up

Genre: Western, Horror

Neither Westerns nor horror novels are selling spectacularly these days so of course I wrote one that spans both genres and goes all in. It never sold to a mainstream press but And the Hills Opened Up did eventually become my third published novel, ending a hard, endlessly churning period of five years in my career without outside publication. The publisher was a micro-press called Burnt Bridge, founded by Jason Stuart with the later addition of Mark Rapacz, who, besides being my good friend from grad school, was my editor for And the Hills Opened Up and a great champion of the book. Without Mark this book never would have seen the light of day or been so beautifully published in the spring of 2014. The day Hills received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly was a great day for micropublishers everywhere.

Novel #13

Genre: Literary YA

The Firebug of Balrog County

My fourth published novel, this one was picked up by FLUX, which is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide. As I type this it’s due out in the fall and I’m holding my breath that it will make some noise and allow my career to progress. Otherwise it’s back in the cage for old Dave Oppegaard!

Firebug is my most personal novel and draws on my own youth and the trauma of watching your mother slowly die. It’s also very humorous and crazed. It is the novel I decided I would write if I knew I only had time to write one more novel before the world ended.

Novel #14

Bring Her Back

Genre: Thriller

Still trying to get my finger on the pulse of publishing and go big, I wrote my first straight up thriller/crime novel. A Russian mobster’s fiancée is kidnapped and it’s up to PI Blake Boon to bring her back. There’s some great action scenes in this one but I was obviously out of my genre element this time and it shows. My agent said it would take a lot of work to punch Bring Her Back into prime shape and I decided to cut my losses after six months of writing and move on—I just wasn’t interested in the story enough for that kind of commitment.

Novel #15

The Town Built in Darkness

Genre: Literary YA, horror

My current project. As described in the earlier chapter about revision, I’ve written roughly 1,100 pages, or three full nearly-from-scratch drafts, to come up with a 270 page story. Hopefully this project will have sold by the time you’re reading this but, as you can see from this very history, that’s not exactly a sure bet. It’s YA horror with a dash of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So that’s the list! If you think it was exhausting to read fifteen descriptions of some dude’s work just imagine writing every one of those motherfuckers. Sweet fancy Moses, looking back at some of those descriptions I have to wonder if I secretly didn’t want to get published or establish a career. Was I self-sabotaging or following my bliss? I guess we’ll never know. Or maybe sometimes they are the same damn thing. Maybe I’m a modern day Ancient Mariner, doomed to wander from wedding to wedding babbling about strange lights and dead birds. Maybe I am insane. Maybe the Grind has finally driven me mad!

But I feel pretty good. If this is madness, it’s not so bad. Despite all the desk time, I have had many a writing adventure and look forward to many more. I have invaded the Flat Iron Building in Manhattan for one morning and I’ve hung out with my agent at his favorite Brooklyn bar. I’ve taught writing to kids in the Boise foothills while the owls slept above us in the trees. I’ve driven around central Nevada for research purposes and bathed in its alien light. I’ve read at the Turf Club in St. Paul and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and at my mother’s hospital bed. I’ve loitered in many a coffee shop and library. I’ve flown out to Burbank for an award ceremony and ended up getting drunk on the roof of a hotel, staring out at the sparkly fog. I’ve spent a weekend autumn camping in Decorah, Iowa while attending a writing conference, where I listened to migratory geese pass above my tent all night, softly honking. I’ve gotten very kind emails from readers who my work resonated with, readers who have dealt with suicide and depression, and I’ve helped at least a few students improve their writing and approach the publishing scene with their eyes a little wider.

I’ve also studied under some of the smartest and generous folks you ever want to meet, the kind of people who make you want to be better and kinder yourself, even if you often fail miserably. Though I am no perfect human being now, I can only imagine what kind of shiftless dolt I would have become without having writing in my life for so long and in such a focused way. Writing has been my great solace and my sexy tormentor and it has made every aspect of my life a little more interesting. Really, I am so lucky to have gotten this far I can hardly believe it.

There is glory to be found in the writing Grind, true, glory of many kinds, but when all is said and done you need to remember that nobody cares about what you’ve gone through to bring your work to the page. Writing is truly a nobody-wants-to-see-how-the-sausage-gets-made industry. Once your work is out there, shared with the world, it must stand or fall on its own without you. All the hours spent alone, grinding out word after word, toiling in the austere face of futility, belongs to you and you alone—this is the writer’s burden and great treasure.

[1] Though I didn’t know what Young Adult fiction even was back then. I just thought it was fantasy.

[2] It occurs to me only now that Carthage is an echo of the unnamed ogre in Other Dreams, though I’m no longer surprised by how much I plagiarize myself.