Fuse is very excited to announce a three-book deal with Orbit (Hachette Book Group) with our client, Dale Lucas. Here’s the details:
Orbit has acquired three novels in the Fifth Ward series, and First Watch will launch in summer 2017. You can give Dale a warm Orbit welcome on Twitter at @DaleLucas114.
Humans, orcs, mages, elves, and dwarves all jostle for success and survival in the cramped quarters of Yenara, while understaffed Watch Wardens struggle to keep its citizens in line. Enter Rem: new to Yenara and hungover in the city dungeons with no money for bail. When offered a position with the Watch to compensate for his crimes, Rem jumps at the chance.
His new partner is less eager. Torval, a dwarf who’s handy with a maul and known for hitting first and asking questions later, is highly unimpressed with the untrained and weaponless Rem.
But when Torval’s former partner goes missing, the two must consort with the usual suspects — drug dealing orcs, mind-controlling elves, uncooperative mages, and humans being typical humans — to uncover the truth and catch a murderer loose in their fair city.
Agent Emily Keyes (that’s me!) did the deal with editor Lindsey Hall. I spoke to Dale about his long journey to publication and his advice for authors who are where he was a year ago!
How long have you wanted to be an author?
Probably since I was five or so. I actually remember having this epiphany that books were written by someone, and that people made money for doing it. That epiphany led to me say, “That sounds like fun. Maybe I can do that when I grow up.” After that I started writing stories. I remember making the attempt, around the same time, to type stories on my family’s old manual typewriter. Over the years, I occasionally toyed with other vocations (archeologist and movie special effects come to mind), but in general, once I decided I wanted to tell stories, that was it.
My first serious attempt at writing something book length came in my teens. I spent most of my high school years writing and re-writing a pretty awful vampire novel that will never see the light of day. But I always liked the feeling of telling my classmates or teachers (or whoever would listen) that I was writing a book; and then, if they said they wanted to read it, handing them a printed copy. No matter how bad your first attempt at a book is (and I find first attempts usually are bad), there’s a real thrill in having this physical proof of the work you’ve done, and seeing people impressed by the fact that you say you’re a writer and that printed manuscript means you’re serious about it.
You were one of the first clients I signed up but your first two books didn’t sell. What kept you going?
My mother would probably say stubbornness. I’d like to say it was the unshakable belief that I was a good writer, who had something worthwhile to say. But the truth is, it was probably pure compulsion. Real writers–the sort who make writing their life’s work, even when it doesn’t pay a dime–usually don’t have control over whether they write or not. They do it because they can’t help themselves, because the act of making things up and writing them down and getting people to read them soothe and empowers some deep, subconscious part of them.
I had plenty of dark days and moments of existential crisis when I thought about giving it all up, but then I realized I wouldn’t stop, even if I wasn’t seeking publication. I’d just amass a lot of paper and enormous computer files that wouldn’t be doing anything for me. So (I reasoned), I might as well keep at it, and maybe sooner or later the compulsion would pay off.
There was a nugget of wisdom that got me through, though–a quote from the great Alan Moore, the comic writer and self-professed mage. “In order to be able to make it,” Moore said, “you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding. You have to do these things completely and purely without fear, without desire. Because things that we do without lust of result are the purest actions we shall ever take.”
I won’t say I managed to silence my fear of failing or my desire of succeeding entirely, but that quote really helped me re-frame my outlook and get my head right. I couldn’t control success or failure: I could only do the best work possible, get it out in the world, and hope that someone recognized it. So I guess you could say I gave up on being successful, and tried to just concentrate on being good. Lo and behold, that attitude brought success.
So maybe the wise wizard Moore is onto something…
I remember you once responding to a rejection saying, “Cool! It’s from Random House!” or something like that (correct me if I’m wrong). How do you stay positive in the face of rejection? Because I am still not as good at that, and it’s not my work?
I’m positive I’ve said that, just as I’ve also responded to rejections that came with comments–both supportive and critical–with, “Awesome, that was a good rejection.” When you start sending work out and getting rejections, you learn quickly that, 90% of the time, you’ll get nothing but a little slip of paper with a canned response and somebody’s hasty signature. Therefore, when you start getting rejections that come with encouragement (‘This was good, but not quite for us–try again!’) or even helpful comments (‘We couldn’t quite buy X aspect of the story, maybe if you shifted focus…?’), those are like gold. It means that, even though the reader didn’t buy your work, they at least took notice, and they were impressed enough to want to help you. That’s progress, however incremental. That means you’re not just spinning your wheels and wasting your time.
As for getting rejected by Random House–well, that’s Random House! The only thing equal to comments offered with a rejection is a rejection from a major publisher, because it shows that someone ‘in the machine’ actually read and considered your work. It means you’re a real player, and you’re in the game, not just some wanna-be on the sidelines.
I actually consciously acquired that attitude from another of my favorite writers, Steven Pressfield. Pressfield’s an absolutely incredible novelist, but he also publishes a lot of nonfiction on the labor and challenges of writing (or any endeavor, for that matter). He spent decades working for ad agencies, had a brief, mildly successful but dead-end career as a screenwriter, and then finally published a bestselling novel when he was 50 (a meandering model of long-term dedication that I admired because it made me feel like there was still hope for me). In his fantastic book The War of Art, Pressfield discusses his disappointment when, during his screenwriting career, a paying job (co-writing King Kong Lives) had turned out to be a public failure and personal embarrassment. While moping around at the not-so-glamorous premiere party for King Kong Lives, he lamented what that failure would mean for his career to another screenwriter. That screenwriter said, “Steve, you’ve arrived. You got paid work and it failed–but it was still real work. Better to be in the ring, getting gored by the bull, than just sitting in the stands watching.”
Reading that anecdote really helped me get through some dark, doubtful times. Maybe I was failing–but at least I was in the ring. I wasn’t one of those people who constantly think about doing something creative or crazy who never gets around to even attempting it.
One of my favorite parts of my job is calling an author and letting them know there is an offer on the table–that they are definitely going to get published. After a long haul what was it like to finally get the call that Orbit wanted your series?
There are no words to describe it. I had the merest inkling that FIRST WATCH (originally called THE FIFTH WARD) was good, and might actually be the book that got me in the door at a larger publisher, but I never, ever expected a publisher as large and influential in the sci fi/fantasy world as Orbit to make an offer like they did, asking for two sequels right out of the gate. That level of interest in and commitment to the series totally broadsided me. It also arrived at just the right time, when I’ve got a couple of major life challenges looming on the horizon. Receiving that validation–that all the work wasn’t in vain, that someone, somewhere, genuinely liked and wants to invest in something I created, and that hard work really can pay off in the long-term–there just aren’t words to express what if felt like to feel all of that at once, like a hammer blow, when you called to tell me the news.
By the same token, I’ve also been struggling mightily to remind myself that this isn’t the end of anything, but just the beginning. I haven’t crossed a finish line–I’ve earned myself a slot at the starting line of a new race–a big race, against tougher opponents, on a larger stage. So I can’t rest on my laurels: there’s still hard work ahead, and I need to be equal to it.
Yeah, I agree that Orbit is a great home for FIRST WATCH! What can readers expect from FIRST WATCH (coming in 2017 to a bookstore near them!)?
I love mashing up genres, and FIRST WATCH is a pretty perfect expression of that. Orbit’s billing it as LETHAL WEAPON meets LORD OF THE RINGS and I think that’s a great descriptor. Like a lot of Gen Xers, I grew up watching buddy cop movies, from 48 HOURS to LETHAL WEAPON to later, more self-aware entries like KISS KISS BANG BANG. It’s a tried and true form when done well, because it’s usually driven by mystery, filled with action, but at its heart, tells the story of a relationship–two guys (usually), different as can be, who learn to love and respect one another. My affection for and understanding of that form just collided with my abiding love of sword and sorcery, and FIRST WATCH was born.
While readers can expect some of their favorite fantasy tropes–humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, derring-do, adventure, an immersion in an alien world–I think it’s what they won’t find that might be more refreshing. There are no Dark Lords, no million-man armies, no years-long quests for magic rings or treasures, no kingdoms hanging in the balance, no worlds teetering on the brink of Armageddon. FIRST WATCH is about two working stiffs–a mysterious human drifter named Rem and a belligerent dwarf named Torval–nightwatchmen in a big, beautiful, grimy city, just trying to end their shifts breathing and upright while also maintaining order, navigating jurisdictional and racial tensions, and trying to see justice done in a world where the very definition of justice is fluid and arbitrary.
It’s chock full of mystery, intrigue, hard-hitting action, and, hopefully, stands some long-beloved tropes of the fantasy genre on their head. If they like old school sword and sorcery guys like Fritz Leiber or Robert E. Howard, or more modern, dirt-under-the-fingernails fantasists like Joe Abercrombie, Michael J. Sullivan or Scott Lynch, FIRST WATCH should be right up their alley.
Thanks so much, Dale!