How long did it take?


As I have told people about the book as the release date approaches, one of the most common question I’m asked is “how long did it take?” I’m never sure whether the person is asking how long did it take to:

Write BIG MOTHER 40?

Find a publisher?

Get from contract to finished manuscript?

There may be more “how long did it take” questions, but in this blog, let’s start with the first one.  The flippant answer is decades if you include all the false starts and stops and early attempts.  Now, looking back, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and reading some of that early writing is painful.  I just wanted to write a novel but didn’t know how.

Here’s the weird part.  BIG MOTHER 40 emerged from the first one I actually completed which, if you go look at the series outline on my web site, is FLIGHT OF THE PAWNEE.  Since the beginning, I had a series in mind and FLIGHT OF THE PAWNEE takes place toward the end of the series, at least as it is currently planned.  As I was writing it, I had lots of stories from Josh Haman’s early career and out of those vignettes, came the outline for BIG MOTHER 40.  It is not logical, but it is the truth.

The actual writing of BIG MOTHER 40 took about a year considering I was doing it on airplanes and in hotel rooms while I was on the road doing my day job.  Early advice I got from books on writing novels to attending a series of workshops strongly recommended that I not write another WAR AND PEACE but try to keep the book around eighty to ninety thousand words.

The year also included doing a lot of research.  What I tried to do is, even though the book is fiction, is to be as realistic and accurate as possible.  Yes, I did take more than a few liberties with the performance of the H-3 but everything in the book is within the realm of the possible.  I found it ironic that about thirty years after my last flight as an helicopter aircraft commander in the H-3, I was sitting with my NATOPS manual – that’s the big thick blue book on the aircraft’s systems, performance and operating procedures – on my lap as I was pecking away on my laptop.

I also spent a lot of time reading and researching material on the internet on missions and operations flown by the Army, Navy and Air Force because as a junior officer, you rarely get to see the big picture.  All you really know is what you where you are told to fly and what you are supposed to do when you get there.

The first complete draft was close to one hundred thousand words so I spent a great deal of time tightening it up and cutting out stuff so when I was ready to start contacting agents and publishers, it was in the magic eighty nine thousand word range.  Now, as we’re in the proofreading stage, the published novel will be close to one hundred and fifty thousand words!!!

Why the difference?  A couple of things happened on the way to the book being released.  Fireship Press’s Michael James said it is a great story, but you need to keep building tension and action as the book proceeds.  So, back into the book went much of the material I cut out as well as a lot of new material and characters.  He thought that when all said and done, it’ll be about one hundred and forty thousand words and he wasn’t far wrong.

Once I signed the contract it’ll be about six to seven months before we’ll be done with the re-writing, making the changes that the book editor suggested and the proofreading.  So, I guess I’ve answered the first and third questions.  The answer to “how long did it take to find a publisher” will be the subject of at least one, maybe several blogs that will come later.

Marc Liebman