I had planned to do a big promotional post about my new novel, The Big Sheep, which is out today, but frankly I’m a little sick of all this marketing crap. So instead, I’m going to talk a little about myself and what this book means to me.
About two and a half years ago, my life fell apart. I lost my job, had a book deal fall through, got separated from my wife, was forced to sell the house that I built, and moved across the country from my kids. Many of the people I thought of as my “friends” and “family” stopped talking to me. Everything I had ever worked for was gone. I was broke, alone, unemployed, depressed, and just thoroughly beaten down by life in general. Every time things looked like they might take a turn for the better, they got worse. The ebook bubble had burst and the income from my books had fallen to the point where I couldn’t afford rent, so I moved in with my mom “temporarily.”
At this point all my hopes were pinned on my latest novel, Starship Grifters, which was coming out in May 2014. I was convinced that Starship Grifters was the funniest book I had ever written, and the publisher, 47North, had come up with an absolutely fantastic cover for it. Starship Grifters was going to be a big hit, and soon 47North would be coming to me with a big advance for the sequel. I’d pay off my credit card and move back to California to be closer to my kids.
That didn’t happen. Starship Grifters sold okay, but not enough to justify a sequel, which meant no advance, which meant my finances continued to get worse. I swore I’d never go back to corporate life, but it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to be able to make my child support payments on my writing income, so I applied for a software development job in Oregon. I’d been out of software work for a while, but I knew someone at this company and the job seemed like an exceptionally good match for my skills. I got to the fourth interview before they said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” A few days later, a publisher told me that a book of mine they’d agreed to publish was too similar to something else they’d just published, so they were going to renege on the advance they’d offered me. I was nearing the limit on my credit card and was getting to the point where I could barely make the minimum payments, much less have any hope of ever paying it off. Bankruptcy seemed like a reasonable option. Suicide didn’t seem like such a bad idea either. Thanks partly to the stress I was under, I developed a chronic respiratory infection and back problems so severe that it was difficult to sit at my computer for more than a few minutes at a time.
The thing about me, though, is that I’m not a quitter. I kept getting up every day and forcing myself to write. I literally didn’t know what else to do. I had no job, no prospects, no options, no hope. It was write or die. So I wrote. I raised a little money with my Kickstarters for City of Sand and the Dis trilogy–just enough to keep up with my credit card payments. With the help of antibiotics and a few visits to a chiropractor, I managed to get past the worst of my health problems. I got a gym membership to get in shape and help my mood. I had my doctor double my Prozac prescription. But I was still in rough shape, both emotionally and financially. I was basically treading water, one health crisis or unexpected expense away from bankruptcy or mental breakdown. I saw my kids three or four times a year. I spent a lot of my time hoping for a brain aneurysm to kill me quickly in my sleep.
One ray of hope that penetrated this long, dark passage came in the form of an email I received one day from an editor at Crown, Julian Pavia. Julian, the editor of Ready Player One and The Martian, among many others, said that he had read my book Starship Grifters and loved it. He said I should let him know if I ever wanted to do a book with him.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I love Starship Grifters, but it remains one of the biggest disappointments of my life. I thought it was going to be my salvation, and instead it was just the beginning of a headlong plummet into misery. And here a very respectable, influential editor was telling me, “Hey, let me know if you ever feel like going through that experience again!”
I did my best to reply tactfully to Julian, and we started corresponding about a possible project. He ended up referring me to my current agent, David Fugate. Both Julian and David seemed to want me to do something similar in tone to Starship Grifters, but I just didn’t think I had it in me. So I kept trying to sell them on what I felt were more mainsteam, marketable ideas, and they kept politely declining. Finally I mentioned to David a silly idea that had been bouncing around my head for a while. “It’s really just a title at this point,” I said. “I was thinking it would be fun to do a sort of mash-up of The Big Sleep and Blade Runner. I’d call it ‘The Big Sheep.'”
David loved the idea and suggested I write a few chapters. I spent the next couple of weeks writing the first few chapters of The Big Sheep, in which a brilliant and eccentric detective is assigned to find a missing bio-engineered sheep in a dystopian near-future Los Angeles. The book is a loving hybrid of Raymond Chandler noir and Philip Dick weirdness, and while it’s not quite as wacky as Starship Grifters, it was almost as much fun to write. David urged me to finish it, so I did. It took a few months, but he eventually sold the book to Thomas Dunne, a MacMillan imprint. My editor at Thomas Dunne, Peter Wolverton, made a number of great suggestions to help ratchet up the drama and weirdness of the book, and the end result is a book I’m truly proud of.
As of today, The Big Sheep is available in hardcover, Kindle, and various other ebook formats (more links at the end of this post). The Big Sheep is getting great buzz so far; Library Journal compares it to Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books, and bestselling author Hugh Howey called it “as original a plot as I’ve run across in a long time.” That said, I honestly don’t have any idea what to expect in terms of sales. I just know it’s a good book, and I hope you’ll buy it and read it. There are some more excerpts from reviews here if you’re interested.
I don’t think I’m really supposed to talk about all this stuff. I’m supposed to act like a super-successful author who is really happy, succeeds at everything and doesn’t really need you to buy my books. But I’m not. I’m a bad novelist, like the masthead says. I’m just a guy who can’t stop writing and wouldn’t know what else to do if I could.
So to everybody who has stuck with me through the tough times: thank you! And to those who are new around these parts: welcome! I hope you enjoy The Big Sheep. It’s a good book. Buy it. Help me see my kids more often.
Options for buying The Big Sheep:
The Big Sheep is also available from the iTunes store, but I don’t seem to be able to link to it directly. Just go there and search, you big baby.
Publisher description of The Big Sheep:
Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.
But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.
Kroese’s The Big Sheep is perfect for fans of Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.