Guest Post: The Ultra Long Journey of “The Ultra Thing Man” by Patrick Swenson

The Ultra Thin Man’s road to publication survived a long and strange journey to say the least, even though I wrote the first draft in four months. Well . . . actually, I wrote the first draft in four months and twenty years.

The first words hit paper in the early 1990s. My brother Paul left Washington State for California, and we thought it might be fun to collaborate on a novel. My brother led off, sending me the title, a prologue, and a first chapter. “Here you go, bro,” he wrote. “I look forward to your chapter.”

We had no outline, and no idea what the other was thinking. We wanted it that way. I sent him chapter two. He sent chapter three, with tweaks of his previous prologue and chapter based on what I’d written, and I did the same for chapter four. All the while, we were both trying to figure out the mystery and think ahead. I’d throw a twist in there and shout, “Ah ha!”  He’d write the next and answer, “Oh yeah?” – and my earlier thoughts and theories would crumble.

Mind you, it took years to do all this. Sometimes, several years would pass before the next chapter showed up. We’d dive into our lives and forget about the book. But always, I went back to it, thinking: This isn’t bad. I really would like to find out what happens. At some point, about five years had gone by without a new chapter. We had written about 12,000 words each, roughly. I searched my computer recently and the oldest file of the novel was dated 2002. This file had the last chapter I’d written, chapter 12 (now chapter 13 in the final novel), and that was as far as the story had progressed. I read it again, thinking: there’s something here.

I don’t remember when I asked Paul if I could write the book on my own. He gave me his blessing and said I should definitely go ahead. Burdened with his own photography business, he couldn’t see himself putting in any more time on it. Even then, I dabbled. In the intervening years, I’d made my life even busier.

I started Talebones magazine in 1995, and the book line, Fairwood Press, rolled out in 2000. Whenever I returned to the The Ultra Thin Man, I had to make sense of everything the two of us had contributed, and a lot of tweaking and reimagining ensued. Cut here. Add there. Drop the prologue. Switch this, switch that. I updated the science and tech. (So much time had passed that I had to reconsider what life would be like a hundred plus years out for the inhabitants of the Union of Worlds.) When I sat down to work on it, the words never seemed quite right, and I’d end up just rewriting the opening over and over. I wasn’t getting very far putting down new words.

In the middle of 2009, I closed down Talebones to spend more time writing. I teach high school English, and that September, as the new school year got under way, I decided I would plan my classes before school, after school, evenings, weekends. I reserved my scheduled planning period to write. From September until January 1st, I wrote every day at school for at least 45 minutes. I still didn’t have an outline, but the book had bounced around for so long in my head that the rest of it came easily. Before heading back to school in January, I’d completed a 96,000 word first draft of The Ultra Thin Man. More drafts came after that. First readers looked at it and I edited some more. Then I sent it to Tor.

The rest of the novel’s journey is pretty standard for debut authors, and I was lucky enough to have a major publisher take it on after the first try. Still, a lot of waiting went on. My editor made his offer for it June 2012. A lot of work went into the book between then and now.

The journey is almost complete. In a handful of days, The Ultra Thin Man reaches its destination. After that, it’s in the hands of its readers.

In early 2012, I started a new journey for a proposed sequel, and I’m closing in on the ending. I couldn’t  afford the longer, arduous journey of the first novel, so this one kicked along at a faster pace. Call it a week-long vacation rather than an all-inclusive world tour. If I get a chance to write a 3rd novel in the series, the journey will be more like a day trip.

It will, however, be just as satisfying.

 

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