I often tell people I pay attention to a rubric that goes something like this:
If you do something you hate and you’re successful with it, you’ll still be stuck doing something you hate. It’s a 50% satisfaction situation. Because you’ll be successful, which is great, but you’ll be doing something you hate, and that’s not as much fun. That’s one bad thing and one good thing wrapped up together. There’s a ceiling on your awesome, even with success.
And if you do something you hate and you fail at it, then you’re going to be really bitter. It’s a two bad things wrapped up together. Double ‘argh!’
But if you do something you love and fail at it, then by definition you are already at one good thing and one bad thing and so the failure level of a passion project is already the best case scenario of the hate/success plan.
And if you do something you love and you succeed with it, then that’s the sweet spot we’re all looking for.
Writing my novel The Trove was a passion project that failed in an interesting way, but that I really loved writing.
Collaborating with a dead author
I was testing some eBook design and an eReader when I snagged some classic novels from Gutenberg’s online repository. I started reading Treasure Island, and I suddenly realized that the version I read when I was a kid had been sanitized. All the dark stuff with drunken pirates had been edited or altered.
I was outraged, but then also drawn in to re-reading the book and seeing a drunken Billy Bones bully and beg Jim Hawkins into enabling him into a spiral further down into drunkenness. There was the violence, and outlandishness of the pirates that caught my attention as well.
I thought about the flamboyantly dressed pirates, drinking, violent, alien to the polite and mannered towns folk, and I began to wonder how you translated that into another setting.
Right away, the opening chapter presented itself to me. Transhumanist pirates, with cooling vanes on their shining heads to dump waste heat for the supercomputers in their heads walking into an Inn on Earth as respectable folk stared.
I loved the image so much that I wrote it, and within a night I had a first chapter mirroring the first chapter of Treasure Island, but with space pirates, and Jane Hawkins.
It quickly became a passion project. I began writing The Trove wherever I could find time. I was obsessed with it. The novel came hot, and all the twists and turns as I made my own version of the classic tale made me entirely happy.
I would re-read a chapter of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, and then I would write my own space opera cyberpunk version. Chapter by chapter I alternated reading with writing, following the classic along with my own crazy version. It was liberating, easy, the entire book flowed in a way I hadn’t flowed into a book in a while.
I was in the middle of a strange call and response with an author who had died a long time ago. And yet, in a strange way, it was a collaboration. It was like nothing I had ever done before, and it was one of the cooler writing experiences I’ve had.
It was 2012.
Writing the book was fun, writing the book was passion, writing the book was the easy part. Nothing else after that was.
But I would always have that six months of crazy passionate fun. And I loved the book.
Damn it, Disney! Treasure Planet
I couldn’t sell the book to a publisher, frustratingly enough. It was the Treasure Planet thing. Treasure Planet was a Disney animated film that came out in 2002, and it did $109 million at the box office but was considered a failure and panned by many, and also cost $140 million to make.
It’s also Treasure Island in space.
We came close, but, Treasure Planet.
There was also the fact that The Trove danced somewhere between YA and Middle Grade in its feel, I hadn’t set out to make it one thing or another, I just wrote it as I read the Treasure Island chapters and reacted to reading things I had forgotten or where never in the version I read.
It was just a hard sell, I guess.
I was a little hurt. It was the most fun I’d had on a project up to that point. I felt I’d done something special, and that with the Treasure Island background, a project a lot of people who would otherwise not get me might check it out. I thought it had so much potential.
But Treasure Planet. So many people I would talk to would go ‘oh, it’s like Treasure Planet?’
But it’s got trans humanist pirates, and sparships that rip along at the speed of light and crews that join their minds together to sail the ship and the Black Spot is viral code and and and…
…’no, it’s not’ just doesn’t quite encompass my reaction to that comparison.
But, at least I had fun writing it. I learned a lot. And that, in and of itself, was a win.
Kickstarter and my readers come to the rescue!
So I decided to Kickstart the book last December. That’s a bad time of year to do it, honestly, but I was facing something of a cash crunch, trying to get my Patreon growing a bit, and in between some freelance stuff and publishing contract stuff. The time worked well for me. Or so I thought.
But I wanted people to get their hands on The Trove. Six years after writing and revising it, I still enjoyed opening it up and reading what I’d done. It still made me happy that the book existed.
Almost 250 readers got on board with the plan, I released the first 3 chapters for people to read for free, and The Trove got rolling with its second life.
I got the eBooks out promptly, but a family emergency I could not have predicted meant I had to duck out. The physical copies were delayed a couple months, as were the bookmarks. But I did get them all out in April, a four month turnaround.
And now, The Trove is available for all to read as an eBook or trade paperback this August.
It was a winding road to get here.
But we got here.
The Trove is a stand alone book, a strange one-shot I did because I was captivated by the original book and wanted to have this conversation with it. Out of that came a science fiction adventure about Jane Hawkins that I hope you will find as fun and rewarding as it was for me to write.
I know I enjoyed doing this, even when it was frustrating, I hope everyone else finds even a fraction of the joy I had in this project.