Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writer Wednesday: Dan McNeil

I didn’t start out wanting to be a novelist. The truth is, I wanted to be a songwriter. I play music, I write music, I love music. It seemed to be a natural – write songs. However, after about a decade of creating pop ditties with my cousin and song writing partner, I realized that that particular dream wasn’t going to materialize any time soon (too bad – some of the tunes were pretty catchy.) It was then that I got the idea for “The Judas Apocalypse.”

Okay, I thought. Let’s do this. Let’s write a book.

Now how the heck was I going to do that? Song writing was tough enough and now I want to do this? Man, I wasn’t a novelist. I didn’t even know the first thing about it.

So, being a creative masochist, I forged ahead.

The plot was going to span two thousand years, so it was clear that I was going to have to do a ton of research – both historical and theological - for this story to make any kind of sense Research? That was like school work and as I recalled, I was a horrible student. What was I thinking?

Forget it, I said to myself. You don’t have the dedication to pull this off. Who are you kidding? So I put away the idea of being a writer.

The problem was that I thought the idea was killer. It gnawed at me and I thought that it should be written. I ran the idea past anyone who would listen. On the surface, I thought that maybe they would tell me how fantastic it was and that I should write it. Secretly though, I was hoping someone else would run with the idea and write it instead of me.

Of course that didn’t happen.

Since no one was taking me up on my subtle plea to write it, I decided (damn it!) that I would have to do it. Who knows? Maybe I could pull this off. With a deep breath and much trepidation, I started to do the research. I hoped it would take me a couple of weeks to research and about the same amount of time to write it.

Oh man, I can be an idiot sometimes. What was I thinking? For about a year and a half (actually way more than that, if you count the time from the actual idea inception) I pored over books, magazine articles and websites about the Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Nazi obsession with the occult, and the Crucifixion. And that was just the tip of the friggin’ iceberg. Song writing was starting to look good again.

Finally I was finished with the research. I had everything that I thought I needed and it was time to begin the actual writing process. All I had to do now was start.
Well, that was easier said than done.

After a few (many) false starts, I began. I soon found that I could write better in the morning, so I would get up early and try to write for about an hour before I had to get ready for work. It was tough for the first couple of weeks, but by now I had fallen into some kind of “writing rhythm.” Once I had the first few chapters out of the way, surprisingly the whole process seemed to take off on its own.

I was writing. Maybe I could pull this off after all.

For close to a year I wrote, edited, polished, re-wrote, re-edited and re-polished. I wrote during lunch hours, before dinner, before bed, even at work, thanks to a poorly thought out schedule that gave me an hour a day where I was doing nothing – every available second of the day was used (maybe I was more dedicated than I thought!)

Finally at the end of May 2006, I typed “The End,” hit “save” and printed out a copy for posterity. I asked some of my friends to check out my efforts. To my delight (and surprise), they told me that they liked it (even the hard asses were enthusiastic). Then they ruined it by asking me if I was going to try and have it published.

Published? Now, I’ll admit that the thought had crossed my mind a couple of times, and I had checked it out, but it sure wasn’t something I was really interested in pursuing. Getting songs published was impossible, but getting a novel published? What’s harder than impossible? Initially I shrugged it off but after much cajoling, I decided to take a look at this publishing business. I began to look up agents online and saw I needed a query letter and a synopsis.

Oh wow - writing the damn book was way easier than writing those two things.
So I wrote a query letter. Then I re-wrote it. Then I re-wrote it again. Why is this so hard? The funny thing is it was easier to compose the query letter than the damned synopsis. Once these heinous jobs were complete, I began to flood agents with the queries, requests for chapters and synopsises (synopsi? What’s the plural for synopsis anyway?)

For a long time it was a predictable exercise in futility. If I printed out all the rejections, I could have wallpapered the bathroom (with extra to replace the roll of Royale.) Was I discouraged? I suppose if I hadn’t been prepared from my earlier song writing endeavours, I would have been, but nevertheless I continued this increasingly quixotic-like pursuit.

Eventually I came across a website for a publisher holding a contest for novel manuscripts. Since I hadn’t gotten anywhere taking the agent route, I thought I’d give this a shot. At least, I thought, this way I can get a realistic critique of the book. With no real expectations of winning, I fired it off, and then promptly forgot about it.

In March 2007 I received word that I had won. My story was going to be published by I Publish Press.

I was stunned. It was to be published in print, as an e-book and even an audio book. How cool was that? I was going to be an actual published author. Now I could sit back and rest on my laurels.

Over the next few months we corresponded, discussing edits, changes, title possibilities more changes and more edits. What happened to sitting back and resting on my laurels?

I didn’t know it yet, but now the real job had begun – we needed to whip the book into publishable shape and that was going to take another eight or nine months.

If I had known that this whole process from beginning to end was going to take close to four years, would I have even done it? Looking back, it’s quite probable that I wouldn’t have, but then I would have missed out on an incredible experience. I wrote the book just to see if I could do it and much to my surprise, I found that I could. It was a tough, tiring and at times, a really damn frustrating job but ultimately it was immensely satisfying. And it’s kinda cool to say I wrote a book too.

I remember when I got the first copy. As I held it in my hand, I was asked if I was going to write another one. After all the trials and tribulations I went through, the long hours, the constant re-writes, the rejections, I said I would have to be crazy to do all that all over again.

So I must be crazy – I’m shopping the second one right now.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thanks Dan for being my guest today and thanks to all of you who took time out your day to stop by. More information about Dan and his writing can be found through the following places.

Twitter: @DanMcNeil888

If you would like more info about this series, or would like to be a guest please follow this link Writer Wednesdays: The Intro .


Kristin : )


  1. This made me smile. Yes, I think we must be mad, but it's a glorious madness, is it not? Good luck with the second book!

  2. Fabulous story, Dan - thanks for sharing. Crazy how long the whole process takes, isn't it? But you seem to have weathered it and settled in nicely. I'll be looking for your first book soon, and wish you much luck with the second! :-)

  3. I love your story, Dan! Especially since you did get published, but I really admire the dedication you showed with the effort you put into the research and actual writing. I'm happy to hear that you've already finished another one! Don't you love Kristin for doing this series? Thanks to both of you.