An article by David Curfiss
How do I give the best advice on crafting a killer apocalypse story? I’ve been asking myself this question ever since I was asked to write this article. And after much thought and consideration, the only answer I came up with was this: Write what you want, how you want it. If it is good, others will think so too. But first, you have to like it yourself. So, writing something that you think someone else wants because you think it will land you that big seven-digit contract is the wrong approach. You’ve got to be selfish and want the book for yourself before anything else.
When I wrote my first novel A Thousand Miles to Nowhere, I knew one thing: I needed to read a zombie story that was filled with human emotion and not focused on how many different ways I could kill a zombie. When my main characters, Matt, Tara, and Steve developed in my head, I knew I was on to something. Something I wanted. Something I needed to read one day and maybe share. But ultimately, it was never about getting readers. It was about me and writing something I would read. I was tired of reading the same old stuff, so I took action. And let me tell you, that first draft was absolute shit!
I didn’t know the first thing about writing a story. Hell, I barely made it out of high school and quit going to college four different times. But that didn’t stop me. I figured that as long as I kept typing, good words would eventually form into great sentences. Sentences that would make me smile when I finished them. Ten thousand words later, I had a short story called Pathfinders. I was so happy that I wrote something different and couldn’t wait to read it for the first time. But by the time I was finished reading the first paragraph, I was embarrassed by myself. It was horrible. I’m not sure why I did what I did, but I did it and immediately regretted every bit of it. I stopped writing for a few weeks then asked my brother Matt (not Matt in the story) to co-write a zombie story with me. He was all enthralled, and away we went.
We would pass the story off to each other sometimes going weeks between seeing the material, occasionally writing new bits or deleting others. Eventually we finished a second draft. It wasn’t any better than my first draft or any longer. I realized then that this was a journey I needed to do on my own. I love my brother and love what parts he contributed, and I’m happy to say that I even kept some of it for the published edition. But the lesson here was this story was something I needed, not Matt.
The drafts kept coming. I rewrote the story seven times before it became novel length and changed the name sometime during the last few rewrites. Then I rewrote it twice more before I began my editing. In the end, I rewrote that book nine times and submitted it for edits five times. During those edits, I made multiple chapter deletions and rewrites. Character arcs were completely removed or changed in ways that forced a new revision. You can’t put that much dedication and work into something, if you don’t want and want it bad. Try to write a story in a genre you don’t like because it is trendy and you want to land that mythical seven figure deal. You won’t sustain that kind of endurance. I spent four years writing my first novel and now I am a year and a half into a novella. Writing takes time, patience and love. You have to want it.
I never planned on my novel ending the way it did. I changed the ending a few days before I published it. I literally wrote the entire epilogue just days before it went live on Amazon and IngramSpark. A wise decision on my part if I do say so myself. I also ignored a handful of editor recommendations during the developmental stages of editing. I just couldn’t stomach making the changes that were being offered. I felt that they took away from the elements that I liked. It was my story after all and because I was publishing it myself, it was my choice which leads me to my final point. When I say to write a book for yourself, I mean it. If you write a book
and your only goal is to land a deal, be prepared for that book to change significantly. Mainstream publishers don’t like true horror, they sell thrillers. Horror is an indie art. I have yet to read a horror story from the big four that was as raw and fulfilling as a small press/indie publication. As I said, do it for yourself and you will be successful.