The Deep is a wildly imaginative bit of fiction anchored in universal truths and spun creatively from real trauma. It is simultaneously a collaborative work based on the mythology created in experimental rap songs, and a uniquely singular novella. Like its main character, the mysterious Yetu, it is both plural and one. It’s quite unlike anything I have ever read. If I tried to ensnare and then relay its essence, imagine if Toni Morrison wrote a piece of science-fiction. It’s that soulful, and that weird. But to reduce it to that type of blurb would do it a disservice.
A fantastic underwater utopia inhabited by strange sentient creatures (the Wajinru) who are descended from pregnant women tossed overboard during the transatlantic slave trade, communal memories, climate change, the end of the world…it’s all woven into the rich tapestry of Rivers Solomon’s tome which reads like an epic poem. Rich in metaphors and bold imagination, it channels both the grief and the triumph of the marginalized.
Love who you love. Own your past. Create your future.
For all the heartache, the novella builds to an amazing closing line that left this reader reeling.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since I released my historical thriller, Then Came Darkness. I dove back into self-publishing not only because I thought this was a novel worth sharing with others, but also because I desired to test the waters again, a long twelve years after the release of my last novel, The Thief Maker. I had nothing to lose thanks to the democratization of self-publishing—literally anyone can do it now…for free…through Amazon KDP, which is both a blessing and curse.
Overall I’ve been pleased with the reception. One always hopes for more (more reviews, more sales), but I can’t complain when some readers and reviewers clearly “get it” and the audience organically grows little by little.
Here are some of my favorite reviewer quotes from the first year:
“The catharsis of emotional writing in this book was incredible…I laughed. I cried. I had to take breaks because some scenes tore me to pieces. It’s dark, gritty, and I love it.” – Lo Potter Writes
“A page-turner with a dark slant, morally gray characters who were flawed yet likable, realistic and multi-faceted with certain twists I didn’t see coming.” – Jenna Moquin, author
“Tense and brooding…like (The) Grapes of Wrath, only creepier and with a lot more murder…a delightfully dark read.” – Margaret Adelle, booktuber
“Historical fiction at its finest. D. H. Schleicher is a master with words…I found myself holding my breath several times.” – Gina Rae Mitchell, book blogger
“Gritty, Real, Fiction…Schleicher thrusts readers deep into the early part of the twentieth century, with real people living real lives and experiencing a thrilling, suspenseful tale….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!” – C. D. Tavenor, author and co-founder of Two Doctors Media
In the hopes this might help others considering self-publishing, here are some lessons I learned over the course of this year.
ARC’s are Our Friends – When I release my short story collection next year, I want to send out Advanced Review Copies prior to the soft-launch. The first reviews are always hard to come by, and it took me awhile to find the right audience and support for Then Came Darkness. Doing the leg-work in advance and finding a select group of book bloggers and fellow writers already familiar with or open to my work to send ARC’s will hopefully get the buzz building quicker next time.
The #WritingCommunity is Great, But is There an Echo in Here? In Here? – The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is what you make of it, and it can be wonderful. Through this ever-expanding community on Twitter, I found my “people”—the book bloggers and fellow writers who wanted to read my work and who were genuinely supportive. I also discovered some great indie writers whose work I immensely enjoyed and I would not have found otherwise. But be warned, it can be overwhelming at first, and yes, a large portion of the community is locked into a bizarre “let’s get the biggest number of followers and retweets we can” mentality that leads to a very loud echo chamber. Be selective and strategic and look for those genuine connections—the good people are out there. It was also hard for me as most writers were pushing genres I don’t write or typically read: romance, erotica, sci-fi, fantasy, YA. But I eventually found those doing literary fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, suspense, and noir. You can also find a bevy of professional service providers (book cover designers, editors, etc…) and indie literary magazines (I found a home for three short stories), but just be careful and do your research to make sure they are legit.
I’d Never Join a Club that Would Have Me as a Member! – If you join the #WritingCommunity, you’ll likely find all kinds of #IndieAuthor groups and networks who (some for free, and some for a small membership fee) will make you an author page on their site and blast tweets of your work to thousands of followers. While most of these are well-intentioned and are truly trying to provide a book promotion service to indie authors, the majority of their followers seem to be other indie authors…not readers…and thus its becomes a social media screaming match where books are constantly on blast to a bottomless echo chamber. There is also no filtering of the good stuff vs. the bad stuff and very little audience segmentation. It’s a maddening free-for-all. For me, I found these quickly to be a waste of energy (and sometimes…money).
It’s a Racket, I Tellz Ya! – Contests are a numbers games you likely can’t win. With The Thief Maker I had some luck with contests, garnering honorable mentions in a few. I thought I could rinse and repeat with Then Came Darkness, and though I was able to score an Official Selection in the Suspense/Thriller category for the 2019 New Apple Summer E-book Awards, a lot has changed in twelve years and there are more contests and more independent and self-published writers entering them than ever before. Most have some kind of entry fee, and some pay handsome cash awards and/or provide free marketing. There are others out there in the community far more well-versed than I am about which ones are legit and which are scams. All I know is the odds of winning, even if you have a great book on your hands and the contest is legit, are slim. It’s a simple numbers game, and the odds are not in your favor. I’m likely not going to waste my time or money on contests the next go around. It would be better spent on very targeted marketing.
Treat Your Neighbors Well – If you know what you are doing, some controllable spending on very targeted digital marketing (FB ads, Amazon ads, targeted e-mail lists) can work if you keep realistic goals (we’re talking small incremental sales, folks)…but the best way to build buzz and find readers is to pound the pavements. For me, this was the digital pavements of social media (through real engagement and not just “buy link” blasts, which are okay if solicited), and the physical pavements of my neighborhood which is blessed with a plethora of #LittleFreeLibraries. I’ve dropped many personalized signed copies into these neighborhood nooks of knowledge and entertainment, and many I have had to restock. The one at the end of my street has been restocked half a dozen times. Which means when my family and I stroll downtown or around the neighborhood, there could be a passerby who has read my book, enjoyed it, and I would never know it. And that’s the greatest feeling in the world for a writer.
I’ve been on a big historical fiction kick lately. All three of the novels I’ve read recently in this genre jumped off the page and played like movie reels in my mind. There’s something about the genre (when done well) that naturally lends itself to adaptation for both big and small screens. In this golden era of “limited series” on TV and in streaming services, I couldn’t help but imagine how these novels would play.
Darktown by Thomas Mullen – This crime drama about the first African-American cops in Atlanta in the 1940s and the corruption and racism they had to battle would seem a perfect fit for TNT or FX. I could see it playing out similarly to the recent limited series from Patty Jenkins, I Am the Night. Heck, that series’ own Carl Franklin would be a fantastic choice to direct.
When It’s Over by Barbara Ridley – This tale of refugees from the Czech Republic and Germany fleeing to England during WWII would make a splendid PBS Masterpiece Theater series.
The War in Our Hearts by Eva Seyler – When I first read started reading this melodrama about Scots on the Western Front of France during WWI, it initially made me think about those searingly romantic mini-series of classic 1980’s TV (think The Thornbirds or North and South). But the novel ended on such an achingly poetic note that I couldn’t help but picture it as a cinematic moodpiece by Terence Davies.
What have you read lately that begs for a big or small screen adaptation?
And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing. – Toni Morrison
I was the only (dumb) white guy in the class. Maye the only wannabe writer, too. 1999. African American Literature at Elon College. I thought I was cool being the minority. We had to read Jazz by Toni Morrison. From the very first line…Sth, I know that woman…I was transported, and changed. It was, and still is, to this day, unlike any other novel I have ever experienced. It was wholly unique, a novel written like music…a looping chorus of tortured souls, a deepdown, spooky jazz song about people and places I had never thought about before…voices I had never heard and feelings I would never forget.
It was also composed in a way that broke every rule of
writing. Jazz is the reason all of my novels have roving, shifting, intertwined
Morrison shunned the idea of writing something universal…but
in her specificity and focus on the African-American reality, she tapped into
the timelessness of the human experience. The human frailty and strength she evoked
Margalit Fox of The New York Time’s wrote: “Ms.
Morrison animated that reality in a style resembling that of no other
writer in English. Her prose, often luminous and incantatory, rings with the
cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear,
spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire
weight of history to bear on their every act.”
I loved to hear her talk, her voice like a cool babbling
brook gossiping about the world it snaked through, and read her thoughts on the
craft. I basked in her wisdom.
If you don’t see the book you want to read out there, go
write it. Damn it.
I loved her thoughts on freedom.
Once you’re free, you gotta free somebody else…otherwise
what’s the point?
Her thoughts on leadership were no different…set the bar
high, and when you get some real power, use it to empower others.
I was lucky enough to see her speak and meet her in person
at the Free Library of Philadelphia with my wife in 2015. She was everything I
knew she always was.
Toni Morrison is, and always will be, all the things I have
She is the Greatest American Novelist, and she has left
behind a legacy of words and wisdom we are hardly worthy of. She is the best of
us. She is all of us.
I’d like to imagine that a thousand years from now when all musical
recordings are lost, the internet is unplugged, and the only clouds are those
in the sky…someone might wonder, what was jazz?
The only answer will be her book, whose opening paragraph
was sung like this…
Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, “I love you.”
“Most of the time in our world, truth is opinion.” – pg 101, Anil’s Ghost
In the chaos of war-torn Sri Lanka in the 1980’s, a Sri Lankan born forensic anthropologist trained in Britain and America, returns to her homeland on behalf of a human rights group and teams up with an archaeologist to solve the mysteries of unidentified skeletons, as likely to be remains from an ancient burial site as they are to be the recently desecrated and burned corpses of victims of terrorism left in a jungle ditch.
While reading Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, a novel so rich in immutable sadness and beauty I’m not even sure what happened at the end, only that it was beautiful and sad and unforgettable like the very best and weird dreams are, I started to think about the run Ondaatje was on when he published it. Most artists are lucky if they produce one great work in their lifetime, and the masters can typically eek out three great works if they are prolific enough over many decades. It’s absolutely staggering to think that Anil’s Ghost came directly on the heels of In the Skin of a Lion and The English Patient. There is absolutely no doubt that this tryptic represents Ondaatje at the very height of his literary prowess, and his ability to churn out these three masterpieces one right after the other is something of a miracle. How many novelists or film auteurs have performed this hat trick, having produced their three greatest works sequentially? I scanned across my favorite authors and filmmakers to see if anyone matched Ondaatje (realizing of course this would be a highly subjective exercise based on my own opinions), and I would dare my fellow writers, readers, and film buffs to do the same and see what they come up with… Continue reading →
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!
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. Continue reading →
Science fiction is a genre I have a love-hate relationship with. It so often has been co-opted by fantasy and rarely focuses on the science half anymore. Even my once beloved Star Trek, which used to explore alien lands and space exploration through the veil of politics and philosophy, has devolved into action-based space opera nonsense. Sometimes when co-opted by horror (see Alien) it can be fun as hell, but more often than not schlock. And when it’s just one of the flavors of something more satirical and speculative, ala the works of Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood in novel-form and Black Mirror in streaming serialized form, it reaches my preferred heights. Then, of course, there’s the guilty pleasure of something like Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers (action! satire! fascism! horror! gore!)
But it’s been a long, long time since we had something like 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick’s seminal film which turned science-fiction into a religious experience. Let’s not forget though, it was based on a dry, very serious-minded short story by legendary science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Which brings us to First of Their Kind…a novel I discovered while promoting my own during #IndieApril. I was nervous to approach it, as it was science fiction, and the last science fiction novel I read (Artemis by Andy Weir) was a huge disappointment. Thankfully, I took the gamble…
C. D. Tavenor’s debut novel, First of Their Kind, harkens back to the best work of Arthur C. Clarke. This is serious science fiction that focuses on well thought-out and researched science and its potential future applications. Continue reading →
Above: the only picture of Buddy Bolden (top, second from the left)
Coming Through Slaughter, a piece of poetic historical fiction that attempts to channel the mysterious genius and insanity of jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden, was Michael Ondaatje’s first novel (published in 1976) though one must use the term novel loosely. I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Ondaatje speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia this month, and he touched briefly on Coming Through Slaughter, and how it was a bridge between his earlier poetry and his later more refined (though still free flowing and organic) novels.
Along with Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje is probably my favorite living novelist. Coming Through Slaughter shares some stylistic and thematic traits with Morrison’s 1992 masterpiece Jazz (one of my favorite novels of all time). Both attempt to lyrically copy the cadence and spirit of the music in written form, but while Morrison’s work features many voices riffing on each other, Ondaatje’s is a singular voice that goes on a solo performance into madness. Morrison’s novel is slinkier, like forgotten notes from a dozen songs cat-pawing through a moonlit room whispering their spooky secrets. Ondaatje’s type of jazz is more gritty, virulent, like an unending trumpet blast ear-worming into the sweatiest, dirtiest, darkest spaces. Continue reading →