One of the questions I get asked most often when I mention Homecoming is “How long did it take you to write it?”
I don’t know.
I’ve been telling myself stories for as long as I can remember—at least since grade school. I hadn’t written much of it down, except for a few poems. But then I got my first computer, a Kaypro running CP/M. Writing wasn’t easy, but it beat the attempts to read my own handwriting, cutting pages up, taping and stapling them back together, and proofreading mimeograph stencils of my dissertation. Still, I didn’t write much for fun, and I don’t think I wrote any fiction.
The next step was a Mac Plus, running Microsoft Word 1. Writing got a lot easier. I wrote most of the Alaska Science Forum articles on that machine, as well as doing some FORTRAN programming on it and I suspect a few scientific articles. I may have started Homecoming on it. I say may, because I can’t find the earliest drafts that I actually wrote down. Certainly the characters were around by then, and many of the incidents. But the first drafts I can find, now resident on my old G3, were started in 1994. They may have been a rewrite of something I originally wrote on the Mac Plus; they may have started life after I got the Centris in 1993. I’m not even sure whether they started out as Word or Word Perfect, as I have used both over the years.
I started out thinking of one story, with the material now in Homecoming along with what is now in the sequel, Tourist Trap. Too long. I tried breaking it into three books—Smokescreen, Homecoming, and Falaron Trek, and that is the oldest version I still have. I joined a science fiction writers’ group, and had it pointed out that the stories lacked enough conflict, Smokescreen didn’t really end, and the name Falaron Trek sounded too much like a spinoff of Star Trek. (I’d actually been thinking of pony trekking.)
I rewrote the original Smokescreen and Homecoming as a single book, now called Homecoming, with the bits in chronological order. Unfortunately this kept the story jumping back and forth between Central and Riya, with neither knowing the other existed. Falaron Trek was eventually renamed Tourist Trap. I sent both out to several publishers and agents. I got rejected. I revised. Often. I did get encouragement from a local librarian, and from a brother-in-law I was sure would hate it
I retired, as driving to and from work was getting impossible. Lots of time to write, yes? Well, until the fire. “The dogs and the computer.” I told the firemen at two in the morning when they asked me what to get out. All but the two geriatric dogs survived—I don’t think those two ever woke up, as they had access to outdoor runs. The G3, which at that time had my only copies of my fiction writing, got dumped in a foot of snow at 20 below and it’s still smoke-stained. But it is operational and has my early files 12 years later.
The next couple of years I concentrated on non-fiction, mostly my website on Shetland Sheepdogs and genetics, and looking for a more permanent place to live—all on one floor, within walking distance of a bus line, and where I could keep all five dogs. I found it and moved in, still part of the writing group, but now writing mostly short stories. I even sold one. But the writing group broke up as people moved away. The parts of the story I’d written no longer bothered me, but the later years of the characters still rattled around in my head, wanting out. Bits got written at novelette and short story length, but I still couldn’t quite pull the bits together. Then one fall it occurred to me—suppose I changed the sex of one character?
The first draft of what was to become the middle book of my trilogy was written over the following winter and spring. I began taking writing courses and signing up for the creative writing section of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. The next winter I wrote the first draft of the first book of the trilogy, incorporating several of the short pieces I’d written earlier. Homecoming and Tourist Trap were laid aside, modified only when I needed to make them consistent with the trilogy. The third book of the trilogy took a little longer, mostly because it took me a while to find a unifying theme, but aside from an epilog it too was complete when I went to the Fairbanks Festival of the Book last summer.
I went to a session for writers, and heard for the first time about assisted self-publishing with on-demand printing. I hadn’t seriously considered self-publishing, though I felt I had something to say—the last thing I wanted was a few thousand books in my garage! But this sounded worth checking out. The handout gave the web addresses for iUniverse and LuLu, and I checked out both. iUniverse looked particularly interesting—their books were carried online on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, they offered editorial evaluation with the possibility of recognition and even some sales assistance for books their editorial review found worthy, and with a sale on, the price was low enough I felt I could afford to take the risk. The next step? Getting my manuscript ready to send them.