My debut novel, Toxicity,
was published last month by Post Mortem Press. The edition available to readers
right now clocks in at just over 78,000 words. When I hired freelance editor,
Richard Thomas, the book was standing at 110,000 words, and after he finished
with it, Toxicity shrunk to 96,000
words. After Post Mortem Press’s staff editor, Paul Anderson, dissected it, the
book shot down to 78,000. These are just the editing passes of what I consider
to be the final draft of the book. Before that? Man, it went through so many
different rewrites, I literally lost count.
actually took longer than any novel probably should to write, but I’ll
forgive myself on account of it being my first and how young I was when I
started it. Not a lot of people outside my personal life are aware of this, but
I am only twenty years-old. I will be twenty-one this July. So when I tell you
that I’ve been working on this novel for eight years, rewriting it and
rewriting it, that means I started it when I was twelve.
I wrote the first draft in the span of a few days. It
had nothing at all to do with drugs or robberies. It was simply about a trailer
trash dysfunctional family (the Desperations) who one day randomly wins the lottery.
Of course, the family was heavily based off my own family. I wrote about all
these amusing misadventures Johnny and his brother got themselves into with the
surrounding prude neighbors. The manuscript was page after page of only
Johnny’s storyline, and as readers of the finalized book know, Johnny’s
storyline is actually the least involved out of the three interweaving plots.
After a while of writing this then unnamed story, I
realized I didn’t know where I was going in it, so I decided to shake things
up. I had the doorbell suddenly go off, and when Johnny’s brother (who is
heavily based off one of my own brothers) opened the door, Maddox Kane (in the
first draft a professional hit-man, in the last draft an ex-baseball
player/drug dealer) was standing there on the porch with a shotgun, and blew
the brother away. The story then took a pause and rewound back to the beginning
of the book, but through Maddox’s point of view.
As multiple drafts of the book proceeded, I gradually
sprinkled more layers into the story—drugs, robberies, hallucinations, Harry
Potter-themed rock bands, etc. Obviously the plot changed drastically. A title
formed, based of the name of the fictional drug in the book: Jericho.
When I was thirteen, my life also changed drastically.
Our family lost the house and we (my parents and I) moved into a hotel. Over
the course of two and a half years we lived in various hotels and motels around
Northern Indiana. During this time I did not attend school of any kind, and I
was basically left to do three things: watch TV, read, or write. TV gets
awfully boring after a while, so I spent the majority of my time reading and
writing, which were two hobbies I was already obsessed with anyway. I used this
time to write more drafts of Jericho, along
with other short stories and half-assed books that will never see the light of
I joined a (now defunct) writing website called
StoriesVille.com. Members posted their writing online and others commented and
offered feedback. I quickly embraced the community, and many of the members I
am still good friends with to this day (I’m even in a relationship with one of
them). It was during this time that I started posting the then titled Jericho as a serial, chapter-by-chapter.
I received some excellent advice on the story, and eventually deleted all the
chapters just before the website went down under.
I took all the notes I’d gathered and rewrote the book
once again from scratch. Originally, it was told in three parts, going through
an entire point of view and then rewinding to the beginning to the next
character’s perspective. I scrapped this idea and started switching POVs
throughout each chapter. I deleted characters and added them. I gave them
wizard capes and made them accidentally do embarrassing things to their dogs. I
was their God and I was a cruel one.
I finished it again and immediately began sending it
off to agents. I expected to be rich by the end of the month.
Goddamn I was dumb.
So, so dumb.
It was rejected multiple times, and later I realized
only a con artist would have accepted it as it was. So I rewrote it again. Then
I rewrote it another time. Each new draft become better than the last. Each new
day my skill as an author grew. I was recycling sentences and characters and
slowly crafting together something worth talking about. I submitted it to a few
small presses, and it was rejected every time. So I rewrote it again and
changed the title to Black Cadillacs as
I feared Jericho would get confused
with the TV show, then I hired Richard Thomas to do a professional edit. At
this time, the novel was 110,000 words.
After receiving Richard’s edits, I once again rewrote
the damn thing, changed the title to Toxicity
(it just seemed to fit better), and submitted it to Post Mortem Press (who had
previously rejected the novel). They accepted it a month later.
A few months after that, I received new edits from the
editing god, Paul Anderson, and I for the last time went through Toxicity.
Rewriting a book is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is
something I personally find crucial for my own writing process. I cannot
consciously create an outline, but what I can do is create a badly written
first draft full of ideas needing to be better fleshed out. So the first draft
is my outline, and every draft afterward is one step forward to the finished
piece. Although, of course, no piece is ever finished. Just as no child is ever
finished being raised. One day you just have to realize it’s mature enough to
hopefully not starve to death on the streets, and you kick ‘em out into the
Max Booth III is the author of two
novels, TOXICITY and THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE, along with a collection of flash
fiction called THEY MIGHT BE DEMONS. He is the co-founder of Perpetual Motion
Machine Publishing and the assistant editor of Dark Moon Digest. The editor of
numerous anthologies, he has studied under Craig Clevenger and award winning
editor, Jennifer Brozek. He writes columns for Litreactor, Revolt Daily, and
Zombie POP. Raised in Northern Indiana, Max currently works as a hotel night
auditor somewhere in San Antonio with his dachshund and life
partner. Follow him on Twitter @GiveMeYourTeeth and visit him at www.TalesFromTheBooth.com