Guest Post | Douglas Hulick in the Trenches

Bringing up the rear, is Douglas Hulick, author of one of the most exciting novels of 2011, Among Thieves. I bought the novel electronically. After reading it, I was stunned to learn that it was limited to a mass market paperback. Similar to 2012 debut author Myke Cole’s Control Point (also an Ace/Roc mass market paperback), Among Thieves became a success due almost entirely to word of mouth as opposed to the big-six marketing machine.


Hulick’s novel adds a new chapter to the thief subgenre and it stands out as the best thing to happen to it since Scott Lynch’s masterpiece, The Lies of Locke Lamora. It’s also unique in the characterization of Drothe, Hulick’s protagonist and narrator. Namely, he’s not special. The result is a character that the reader can identify with in a personal way even while he accomplishes things way outside the purview of his natural ability.

Let’s see what he has to say about writing his sequel, Sworn in Steel
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For the last post in this series about debut authors and their second novels, it seems only fitting that I come at the subject from a slightly different direction. Where all my predecessors have talked to you from the perspective of someone who’s finished their sophomore effort, I’m going to talk to you from the trenches directly. See, I haven’t finished my second novel. In fact, it’s pretty damn late.

How damn late? Let’s just say I was expecting to have my third book in the series done and turned in by now.

Of course, it’s not like I planned for this to happen. As Mazarkis mentioned earlier this week, I was well aware of what was riding on the second book, not only for readers, but also for my reputation as a writer. Plus, I had the added advantage of being in a SF/F writer’s group that can count over forty professionally published novels among its seven members. None of what was coming, be it deadlines or marketing distractions or the limits imposed by a previous book, were news to me. I had, through my fellows, seen it all before. There should have been no surprises.

And yet, here I sit, 18 months past deadline, still carving my way through the forest that is Book 2 (otherwise known as Sworn in Steel).

What happened?

I could give you a blow by blow of my progress and stumbles and discoveries, but really, it all comes down to one thing: I forgot how to write. Or, to be more precise, I forgot how I write.

For a long while, I kept blaming my delay on my method of plotting. I was always a pantser, meaning that, beyond a general character and story arc, and maybe a bit of plot, I didn’t plan a whole lot. After all, I’d taken over a decade to get my first book on paper: surely it was my meandering about the page, following characters who at times seemed to be under the influence of too many tequila shooters, that had caused my delay. Couldn’t I point at my earlier process for my current downfall?

But then I looked at my legal pad, heavy with outline and plot points; at what I had of my first draft, directed and, if not tight, still arguably endowed with strong forward momentum. No, I couldn’t lay it at plot’s door.

How about speed, then? Lord knew I’d always been a slow writer. Doubling my daily word count after my first book had initially involved going from 250 words a day to 500. (That may not seem like much, but please understand that I have, on average, four hours a day to write, five days a week, nine months out of the year. So, yeah, sloooow.) If it wasn’t plot, then it had to be my sheer glacial pace.

Except, at the end of a year’s worth of work on Sworn in Steel I had generated almost 200,000 words in total. That was a full 75,000 above and beyond my target. And while not all words are good words, still…come on. 200K? It wasn’t lack of production.

So what was it? Blind alleys in the story? Too much verbiage? Too easily distra—oh, look a penny!

All were problems, yes, but none could explain the key issue I was having. None gave me a reason for my inability to *finish the damn book.*

And then, it hit me. In all the preparation, all the planning, all the daily word counts and plot points, I’d forgotten how I’d written the first (and my only, to date) book. In my attempt to get Sworn in Steel done, to get it ready to be handed over to my editor, I kept looking to the final version my first book, Among Thieves, as a guide post. That was the mistake.

Even though Among Thieves wasn’t on the bookstore shelves when I started Sworn in Steel, it was still a polished piece of work. It had gone through innumerable rewrites on my end before being submitted, and then edited and copyedited as well. The only problem was, this had taken place over the course of years–years which conveniently fell out of my memory. All I saw was the final product–the tightly plotted, fast-paced novel that had secured me a three book contract with a Big Six publisher. And that’s what I set out to write.

In short, what tripped me up was that I tried to write the final draft as my first draft. And while that probably sounds bad enough on its own, add on the fact that I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work (“a bit”? I can hear my wife saying, along with peals of sarcastic laughter), and, well, you can see where things went off the rails.

So, have I learned anything? Looking at the above, yeah, I think I can say that I have. (I damn well better have, or Book 3 is gonna kill me!) But even more than the nuts & bolts stuff, I realized that, as much as we may beat ourselves up as new authors, there are people who are still rooting for us (even when we’re horribly late). Editors, agents, and especially readers (oh, BLESS the readers, who have been unfailingly polite, not to mention the first ones to tell me to “take as long as you need”) who honestly want to see us and our books succeed. Fellow writers who nod and worry and call in the middle of the afternoon to say, “Dude, are you alright? You’ve gone missing for, like, three weeks….” Family and friends who grit their teeth and put up with us as we try to navigate this new career and all the stresses it can entail.

The second book is, in many ways, a much more lonely, terrifying, and frustrating slog than the freshman effort. It is our first real exposure to what it means to be a professional writer. And, as we’ve seen these last two weeks, it’s a different experience for each of us. But it’s also very much that same, in that we each learn not only how to push and stretch and believe in ourselves, but also how much we aren’t alone in this after all.

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You can find Douglas Hulick on the web and Twitter. Be sure to visit the former to learn more about the Tales of the Kin series. Hulick is a 17th century Italian rapier combat (in the tradition of Ridolfo Capoferro) hobbyist. Come to WorldCon and watch him teach it!

Unfortunately, because Sworn in Steel is deep in the editorial process, there won’t be an excerpt later today. I’m sobbing too. It’s ok. Instead, I’ll be announcing a huge grand prize giveaway to commemorate the end of Debut Authorpalooza 2012. Stay tuned.

Written by Justin Landon

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer’s Book Review. When he’s not writing things of dubious value to the world, he’s at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.