Before the Darkness: Thoughts on Earlier Writing

Don’t ever let them tell you life is short, Ty. Life is long and people do lots of things. Some of them good. Some of them bad. And sometimes these things catch up to people. And sometimes that takes a long time.  – Evelyn Kydd, from Then Came Darkness

The arc of a writer’s life is long, too. You have to write a lot of bad stuff (and read a lot of good stuff) before you learn how to write well.

I’ve been writing since I was seven years-old (my first story was a melodrama about a jewel heist) and I’ve shoveled my fair share of crap, including countless twisted tales during middle and high school, and three highly questionable and amateur novels I rushed to market during the infancy of the self-publishing craze right after college before I finally wrote some good stuff, The Thief Maker. I’d like to think my latest, Then Came Darkness, is good stuff, too. It laid dormant for a number of years as my favorite unpublished work, and then on a delirious whim fueled by exhaustion and inspiration while on parental leave last year, I thought to myself, “What the heck, let’s dust this off and publish this thing!” It was equal parts a lark, and a test of the new waters.

A lot has changed in the twelve years since I self-published my first bit of good stuff, The Thief Maker. In the years between that and Then Came Darkness I’ve been busy with blogging and short stories (some which have been published), and big life stuff like advancing in my corporate career, multiple trips to Europe, getting married, buying a house, and having a baby. It’s easier now than ever before to self-publish thanks in large part to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, but it’s probably ten times as hard to find an audience as it was twelve years ago (not that I was very successful then either, though the small audience I did find for The Thief Maker seemed to like it).

I was honestly lost this time around until I found the #WritingCommunity on Twitter and started making use of my neighborhood Little Free Libraries, which I have tirelessly stocked with autographed copies. The one at the end of my street has been restocked at least five times…so thanks, neighbors, or whoever you are out there reading Then Came Darkness!

The early reviews from fellow indie authors, book bloggers, and readers have been slow to come, but mostly positive. People seem to love the characters (which brings up a feeling of pride second only to having my actual child praised by strangers), and my favorite blurb thus far has come from C. D. Tavenor, who stated “the rising conflict and relationships between characters reminded me of one of the classics I read in high school, but this time, I was reading it for pleasure!” He also loved the cover designed by my wife (thanks, hun!)

All of this made me want to take a little trip up to my attic full of boxes which store much of my earlier writing, which as terrible as most of it is, was fun as hell as to write at the time. I fondly remember the days of middle school friends fighting over who got a character named after them, and furious scribblings in notebooks during torturously boring high school classes that got passed around like gossip. Many of the techniques used, character types birthed, and themes explored later were present there from the start: fractured non-linear timelines, unreliable narrators, feisty women, tortured men, and resourceful orphans all trying to survive personal tragedies amidst larger chaotic (often apocalyptic) events.

So here, for fun, are some delicious tidbits from all that crap I had to write then to get to where I am now.

The Middle School Years:

  • From Framed (c. 1993), which, I kid you not, had a tagline that word for word written by me at the time, and I quote, was, “Sometimes a little thing called murder can change or ruin a person’s life forever, especially if they are….(wait for it…wait for it)…FRAMED! Yes, which sucks so much more than it does for the person who was…MURDERED! But I digress…here is the searing closing passage – “Jeff didn’t look back. He knew if he did he would see Natalie crying and stay, so he just kept on walking as Shauna’s coffin was covered with dirt and Natalie continued to cry. Not looking back, he walked off into the sunset leaving behind the one he loved.”
  • From The Doctor (c. 1994) – an incomprehensible globe-hopping international thriller about…corporate espionage??? Just get a load of this exchange of dialogue! – “You killed Clarice?” “Yes.” “How could you? You bastard!” “I work for the government, Jack. I’ll kill anybody who gets in their way.” “Do you work for Bruce Benson?” “No. I work for the French government.” OH! BUT OF COURSE! That explains everything! Bruce Benson, by the way, later gets punched in the face after being called an asshole.
  • From Westmount (c. 1995) – an X-Files/Twin Peaks inspired small town murder mystery/soap opera. Apparently in this scene, the prime suspect’s alibi is that he couldn’t have murdered the girl because he was being abducted by aliens at the time of her death – a classic excuse! The lead investigator: “Well, how do we know he wasn’t abducted by aliens? He was under hypnosis.”  Another sterling piece of expository dialogue – “Well, this isn’t exactly the most popular form of religion. For it to be prominant in two small towns where ritualistic murders have occurred isn’t just a coincidence.” DUN DUN DUN!

The High School Years:

  • From Happy Cadavers (c. 1996), which was told from the point of view of an amnesiac who was caught up in a conspiracy involving an evil ice cream company and an impending alien invasion…though this passage could’ve been from an early draft of the script for The Hangover – “I opened my eyes and found myself sitting upright on a bench up against the wall in the emergency room of a hospital. I had no idea how I got there. Initially, I felt fine, buy my head and stomach began to ache as images flowed through my head. Did Ulric really fling himself off the top of the hotel? Did I really lose over two-hundred thousand dollars gambling?”
  • From the “Oh, I wish I could just edit the crap out of this right now!” opening of Paparazzi Kissed the Princess (c. 1997, 1998), which I’ll still be damned if I know what it’s about (totally woke ghosts…maybe?), though many of the characters seem prototypes for ones that appeared later in The Thief Maker – “Like some schismatic, new-fangled religion formed in retaliation against the supremacy, so was the friendship that grew between Caleb Odesyss and Camilla Langdon. It started early one morning in November with the smell of raw strips of pig flesh and noises from the kitchen awakening young Caleb from his coma-like slumber. The smell reminded him of his dead mother, who still visited him at night…”

And now, here are some titles to novels never written…

  • The Dazers – Or The True Meaning of Fear (as opposed to the false meaning of fear?)
  • Necropolis (still has a creepy ring to it, no?)
  • American Lobsters (there were actually a few chapters for this one…don’t ask)
  • Amputation Nation (say what?)
  • The Totally Fucked-up Tale of the Goat Sucker and Other Werewolves of London (was this supposed to be a Warren Zevon-inspired short story collection? The world may never know…thankfully)
  • Vegas Falls (wasn’t that a cancelled show on NBC in 2008?)
  • My So-Called Colony (as opposed to…Life?)
  • How to Make an American Conspiracy (as opposed to…Quilt?)
  • Delayed Reaction Man (still could be the title to my auto-biography, though apparently this was a high-concept sci-fi satire)
  • Goats in Budapest (where else would they be?)

Happy reading and writing, y’all!

Catch all the latest good stuff about Then Came Darkness at the official site!

Written by D. H. Schleicher


  1. Dave,

    This was a great read. I’ve severely neglected my own blog, so this may be a topic I can use to reinvigorate it. I know I’ve got some howlers in my past too. Recently, I started converting the student films I made in college from VHS to digital and…wow. I will say I got better, and I even held a big premiere for one of them during my senior year, but my earliest efforts reeked of “I watched ‘Clerks’ and ‘Dazed and Confused’ way too many times.” As long as I can help it, they will never see the light of day again. However, I will say that if you go chronologically through them, you definitely see me getting better. I ditched the pop-culture references and attempts at slapstick (remember, this was the late 90s) and focused more on story, and my films definitely improved after that. If only I didn’t hit that dry spell that lasted nearly two decades…

    As for actual writing, I remember once having an idea for a screenplay called “Convenient Guy,” about a convenient store clerk (Kevin Smith would’ve sued me) who’s held hostage by bank robbers and becomes a cult hero only to piss away his fame and end up the target of terrorists. I also had a real howler set in the 1920s called “Protégé,” about a boy who becomes a pupil of a gangster (can’t remember the name I gave him but he was basically Al Capone) and somehow it all leads to an attempted assassination of the Pope.

    I also attempted to start a comic label with a friend of mine in grade school. We never got past the idea stage, but I produced several short comic books that I’m sad to say are lost to the ages.

    • Chris – as always, thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience reading through the stuff chronologically. A friend remarked she thought my writing really took off in high school (half-jokingly, as we all agree it was AWFUL) but you can see that clear progression. Some of the passages (with a little editing) aren’t that far off from what I write today…it’s just they are interspersed with over the top (and really bad) dialogue, ridiculous situations and characters. Many of those characters, however, became my personal archetypes, and many of their conflicts repeated from work to work. It just took me many iterations and lots of practice to get them right and make them feel real…and I’m sure some characters still need a lot of work.

      Writing is a process…and much like therapy, I’m still processing a lot of stuff, but I’ve made progress and hope to continue to do so and evolve even more.

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