The Story of Requiem Eternam

How the book came to be

12/17/20234 min read

As with most of the stories that come to me, this one started at night as I lay in bed trying to sleep. At first, it was images of recruits going through virtual basic training while on their way to a distant planet. They worked together to overcome challenges, ultimately having to defeat an adversary behind a hardened wall. For some reason, everything in the virtual world was tinged blue. No idea why.

But I’m not sure when I first put finger to keyboard. It might have been sometime between 2014 and 2015, after I returned from Afghanistan and before my life really became a cautionary tale for others. I had deployed twice to Iraq while I was still in the Air Force, but Afghanistan was a different beast. The recipe was as follows:

· Active imagination

· Access to tons of threat reporting

· No meaningful mission

· Family propensity to depression (unknown until after I returned)

Put those four ingredients in a mind blender, and you get exactly what you would expect: raging mental disease. It was this cauldron which informed the story of those recruits, eventually narrowing the field to a main character: Coren Slade.

Somehow and somewhen, I got to 35,000 words and stopped. I believe Coren was at the end of basic training. I was also doing a significant amount of community theater while undergoing upheaval in my personal life, which is to say I have great excuses, but doesn’t everyone?

I never thought I could write a book, having started multiple projects but never finishing them. During my instructing days in the Air Force, I met a guy who had just returned from a six-month sabbatical during which he tried his hand at a novel. He failed and opined (while also giving his opinion) that he just couldn’t. I thought that was me as well.

Then covid. My work went to one-week-on, one-week-off, and even during the on weeks, we were encouraged to go in, get what we needed done, and get out. I was living alone with a whole, whole lotta time on my hands (some, including Styx, would say too much, but I digress).

I hadn’t planned on writing, but then I came across two things.

First, I read about an author who said that he let no one read a first draft. This helped me because I would always criticize what I just wrote, trying to fix everything before moving on. As a result, I moved on very slowly. But if I wrote and then fixed it later… It was freeing.

Second, I read an interview with Adam Duritz, lead singer of the Counting Crows. Now, I like the Counting Crows a lot a lot, but the lyrics can be torturous. Adam also has an acknowledged personality disorder. Being a fellow sufferer, his songs tell my story. In an interview, he said something along the lines of: “You can have a bad day and not write music, or you can have a bad and write music.” He chose to write. I would too.

I dusted off the ol’ computer and started writing again.

By early 2021, I had a book! There it was! A book! It had all the book-y parts: a beginning, a plot, and an ending, all captured in words! I even started it off with a preface modeled on the Alistair Cooke introductions to the old Masterpiece Theater shows on PBS. Yes!

No! In February, I started editing the first draft with no idea it would take me six months. And those pesky typos! Eventually, though, I had what I thought was good enough and sent it off to a real, honest-to-goodness sci-fi publishing company—one which said they were looking for hard science fiction with a philosophical bent. That’s my book.

Lo and behold, just when I thought I would never hear from them, they e-mail me to tell me my book had been pulled from the slush pile and was under consideration for publishing! Hey! Not too bad! My book doesn’t entirely suck, right?

Then the wait began. No need to touch the book—it’s under review. I began writing the sequel. Still no word. As we approached a year, I reached out to make sure they hadn’t forgotten. They hadn’t; it was just moving slowly. Finally, after sixteen months… rejection. They were serious, too: don’t contact us, we aren’t interested in a rewrite, goodbye. I’m guessing there have been multiple very negative reactions to being rejected, so the publishing house has good reason to do what they do.

The book sat. I didn’t write. But the publishing house had given a list of anonymous feedback from their beta readers. It was both good (‘as prior service myself, I resonated strongly with the narrative voices’—yes!), and soul-crushingly and accurately bad (‘the training chapter seemed extraordinarily and unnecessarily long’).

Sometime during December 2023, I decided to self-publish. Easy! Except first I needed to address the negative feedback from the publishing company. In January, I started the rewrite, addressing the criticisms and converting large sections of descriptive text into dialogue. This editing also changed the point of the basic training, de-emphasizing the barriers they need to overcome and going more for a psychological experience. Finally, I dismantled the single-chapter-per-character until we switched characters construct (which made the chapters immense) and chopped the book into 1,500 – 4,000 word chapters. I spent a lot of time finding Latin mass phrases for each of them.

Almost there? Yes! Maybe! Getting beta readers is hard. A number of people volunteer but then don’t come through (and that’s not a criticism: I get it. It’s a big commitment. No hard feelings). But a lieutenant colonel at work said she wanted to read it, and I printed up a copy. Whoa! She gave feedback! Great feedback, actually, and I added three chapters because of her.

So… Where are we? Hopefully almost there.


27 May 2024

Mr. Jones sat beside me while I wrote most of the book. He was my buddy.