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Once More, Toward the Light
Part 2: Unleash the ants!
“The Light to Never Be Snuffed: The Ants Aren’t Just Your Imagination…”
The acceptance left a perma-smile on my face for the rest of the hike. With each rock I bound, I laughed off my no-mercy editing sessions. With each sagging branch I ducked under, the disdain for crossing off publishers in my spreadsheet vanished. The day was special and warm. But most importantly, the day was mine to rejoice.
After the high of the acceptance wore off, I responded with a signature on the contract. It was due to release in the early Fall through Alien Buddha Press. It was no surprise that I was able to talk shop with their publisher, Red Focks. Once the digital ink dried up, my mind went into overdrive. Not just in the marketing, but in the story itself.
As July arrived, and my 31st birthday passed, there were many sleepless nights. I skimmed company time to send emails or finish spot edits. Skipped workouts and ate takeout to reward myself with more screentime. I performed some cursory formatting one day and deemed the forthcoming novelette skimpy. The scope was too large for a bloated chapbook. I asked Red about elongating the story and he gave me the green light. The book had to earn its listing price.
Jack Grand was about to grow up.
I re-engineered Jack Grand’s story. Like a mad scientist, I added more plot beats, fleshed out sideline characters, assured consistent dialogue with each character, and elongated crucial scenes. The Pokémon references (i.e. Fire type) became the tiny Easter Eggs of my little book. The final touch was the separation of 4 major scenes, each with Jack in unique situations. Oh, and I can’t forget the ants. More, more, more ants.
I watched in awe as the short story-turned-novelette evolved into yet another stage. The word count edged closer to an astounding 20,000-word count. That's good enough for a novella! This deadline was more vivacious than the class deadline so long ago. This was more than just a grade. After lengthy final proofing & addressing beta reader comments, I was sending the email of the final draft PDF. I cracked my knuckles and prepared for the next phase.
It was time for the ant campaign.
A lo-fi ethos was adopted in the form of “Ant-Mail.” I was quoted 200 stickers and 100 bookmarks on the cheap. I got to work and crafted a ‘poem’ through the eyes of Jack, signed and folded on simple computer paper. Bookmarks were simple, striking, and designed by me. Some connections of mine led me to a Canadian artist, James Edward Clark. He has a knack for caricatures and eagerly accepted the commission. He even sent the original. Jack Grand, finally, had a face (and an adult body) for the first time!
There were many liberties taken to plant these stickers everywhere I could. Parks, street signs, light poles, billboards. Some stickers were planted in at least 4 states (and a few countries). A test of time for an indomitable story. I started coining the phrase ‘for The Colony,’ to encourage camaraderie amongst the growing fandom. I was having the most genuine, unabashed fun in recent memory.
August closed quicker than I thought and copies needed to be ordered for the launch. I placed the order with my publisher on Labor Day in early September. 20 books were ordered, and the delivery date was T-minus-0. Elliott from Main Point Books (a nice suburban bookstore) reserved the venue. Keeping tabs on an order is one thing, keeping track of the process was another. Wishful thinking and luck were all I had. Many irons were in the fire and I was sweating bullets.
One night, a lucky totem was discovered. A ‘vintage’ rubber ant mask. It’s dark, it’s strange, it’s creepy, and it’s perfect. Jack would love to hate it! A few clicks away in eBay and I forewent a tank of gas for the mask. The date of delivery was much sooner than the books. I was primed to take the reading to new levels. I wrote a script and practiced it. Repeatedly, I drilled The Holy Text into my brain.
The days before the reading, strife hit me like a ton of bricks. I paced my apartment while on the phone, wondering why the Amazon reps were stringing me around. Nothing they could do except a mere discount coupon. The cake was picked up and chilled in my fridge. The mask and swag pack were in a tote bag. Everything was in limbo. On the day of the reading, I stared out my window, waiting until the last possible minute for the box.
The box did not come.
An amalgamation of anger, failure, and anxiety lingered as I drove to the bookstore. With everything but the books in hand, I couldn’t cancel this moment. I came too far and sacrificed so much. No way. I was doing this, with or without the book, and I was going to have fun. Plus, the cake wasn’t about to go uneaten. It was from Philly’s own Bredenbeck’s. If you know, you know!
Inside, I greeted everyone that showed up (about a dozen) and conversed with the guest features. I instinctually had to fall back on my emcee skills when I discovered I was hosting. No big deal; I’ve hosted many readings before. Just never my own. After 45 minutes of listening to poetry and stories, I disappeared into the bathroom. I was amped; the ants were crawling behind my eyes. It was time to read from The Holy Text.
I heard the special cue from my girlfriend, Jen, and burst forth from the bathroom. For once, I was not Josh Dale, but Ant Dude. With nothing but loose-leaf paper in my hands, I portrayed my vision for the novella. I read my preamble and then the opening scene with gusto. Being the master of these characters for years, I nailed every line, all of the inflections, and tones. Inside the mask, echoes pierced my eardrums and my breath boiled me alive. I was dying and resurrecting all at once.
Afterward, photos were taken and the cake was consumed. The Light to Never Be Snuffed was officially born. Yet, as soon as the lights were shut off, and we all went our separate ways, a hollow cavern was all that remained. The volcano of passion, building magma for months, became expelled, extinguished, and empty. I drove through the September night with the windows down to cool off. I kept thinking to myself the same, insipid phrase any artist loathes to hear:
“Now what do I do?”
This is Part 2 of a projected 3-part essay on writing and publishing my first novella, The Light to Never Be Snuffed. If this series intrigues you, my book is here on Amazon.
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