The following is an afterword for Pizza Delivery, but I'm not going to spoil the story and I'm mostly going to write about publishing, so this might be interesting to you even if you haven't read the novelette (though you totally should). This is basically going to be a regular blog post in which I happen to frequently mention Pizza Delivery, available now:)
Let's get two things out of the way up front:
1. The characters in this novelette swear a lot. Throughout. If there's a nasty word or phrase to say, the folks in this story probably say it. If that bothers you, sit this one out (The And Then Story is coming, MG readers). I don't swear on this blog and there was no swearing in All Together Now because it made thematic sense for there not to be. But if I'm going to continue to write horror geared toward older readers, and I am, I reserve the right to employ whatever language I deem necessary to best tell a story. I'll always warn you first, Esteemed Reader, so that if you find "bad words" objectionable, you'll know to skip that particular tale.
2. This a novelette. I love long novels and I intend to write some, but a novelette is nice too. It will get you through a study hall or a car ride and can be swallowed whole in a single sitting. If you're expecting a full novel, you'll have it soon enough, but this isn't it. Pizza Delivery is short and sweet and exactly as long as it needs to be.
Publishing is tricky and I haven't even been doing it a full year yet. One thing that's been made clear to me is that it's not worth spending promotion money without more titles available, which is one reason I'll be releasing multiple books this year (including a middle grade title, I promise). That coupled with the fact that I'm so excited to be able to reach readers, I can't get my stories out fast enough. Fortunately, I've been writing for professional publication for nearly two decades and I have no shortage of material to pull from. Pizza Delivery is a story I've been reworking and revising for 10 years.
The reason it stars a college student who delivers pizzas in a small Indiana town is because when I wrote the first draft I was a college student who delivered pizzas in a small Indiana town. Actually, the fictional town of Harrington, Indiana is the location for many of my scarier stories, including All Together Now, which begs the question: how are there still pizza delivery drivers working in Harrington when the town was clearly overrun with zombies?
Well, this story takes place prior to All Together Now, but in that book there's a cameo from a manager for Tony Sty's Pizza Pies, which was a reference to this story that no one but me could've possibly known until now:) But although zombies are still present in the upcoming All Right Now, I'll be writing future stories set in Harrington in which there are no zombies as I believe every story takes place in its own separate, though similar universe (and at the center where the beams that run through all worlds converge sits The Dark Tower).
It didn't seem to bother Ricky Genero and Michelle Kirkman that Harrington had previously been visited by UFOs prior to the zombie apocalypse in an 879-page epic tale that took me two years to write, a lot of ridiculous research, and which no one's ever going to get to read because I'm not publishing it (I can't even edit it, which is why books I've written since are much shorter).
And that's my biggest point for writers this post: just because you can publish everything you write, doesn't mean you should.
The main reason I'm not publishing my beloved UFO book is that, despite having scary parts, my wife, my writer's group, multiple agents, and everyone who's ever read more than a page of it assures it me it's terrible. Me, I think it's brilliant, but that's why we don't let me make these decisions:) As much as I love it, I know that book doesn't work so I'm writing new things that might and those 879 pages were just part of the many, many terrible things a writer has to get out of their system to get to the good stuff.
One downside to the indie publishing boom is too many authors being widely published and available before they're really ready. If I could've published this story, originally saddled with the vague and uninteresting title 2675 200 W when I wrote it, it might've done just fine because Pizza Delivery has always been a reader pleaser. But I have that original draft and I promise you it's less than half as good as the version available today despite being twice as long.
And if I had published that draft it would've been a shame because 10 years later I feel my talent has only just possibly caught up to my ambition. I've written a lot of novellas and novels that aren't going to be published, despite my love for them, but I always liked this story and it always gets the response I most want--wide-eyed stares from Esteemed Readers, frequently accompanied by the question, "What is wrong with you?" But after that, people assure me it's scary and fun. I've read this tale to crowded rooms who afterward gave me a standing ovation.
The story works. I've written plenty that don't (which is why you won't be reading them), but I got hold of this one and I know that publishing it now will excite fans of All Together Now and attract new readers to my zombie stories and the horror stories I have yet to write. If I published Straw Houses, the aforementioned alien-abduction saga (God, even the title sucks), it would probably sell some copies because I'd get Steven Novak to do a cover as creepy as the one for Pizza Delivery, but those duped readers likely wouldn't try anything else I'd written.
Quick aside, this is the scariest cover any book ever had:
Ahhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!! Kill it! Make it stop looking at me!!!!!! That cover was the source of most of my nightmares (or screen memories?) in childhood and I keep it hanging on the wall in my office so I can peak up at it (it's always looking at me) when I need a quick reminder of how terror feels.
Welp, anyway, as I was saying, proficiency at writing takes a lot of hours and a lot of work. Many of the things I've written were part of what I had to write to get decent at writing. Another book of mine was praised by editors and agents (it came so close to published that time I tasted it), but when I read it again, I found the story wasn't up to my standard and it won't be published for a while until I have time to completely rewrite it--which I may never do as I could spend that time writing a new book.
The good Robert Kent name means something to me. If it's going to appear on the cover of a book, I want to feel assured that the book bearing my name is a quality read worth Esteemed Reader's time and hard-earned money. Every novel or novella or novelette (I don't have the skill for a short story) I publish could be Esteemed Reader's first encounter with my fiction, so every story has to be of the same quality as the rest of my cannon (there's a lot more coming). This novelette has been professionally edited and formatted and I'm as proud of it as I am All Together Now. I think if Esteemed Reader enjoys this story and it scares them, they'll likely read something else I've written.
And Pizza Delivery is a scary story. It scares me. It is perhaps odd that I'm promoting horror fiction through my blog devoted to middle grade books, but I love both genres. My middle grade book will be out this summer, but All Together Now was proof for me that I'll never really stop writing horror. I love it as much as I love children's stories and so long as I'm in charge of what gets published, I'm going to write both. It worked for Roald Dahl.
The reason I know I'll always write horror is because I'll always be afraid of something. I think of that scene in the classic film What About Bob in which Bill Murray's Bob fakes Tourettes because if you fake it, you don't have it. And that's what writing horror is for me. It's whistling past the graveyard. If I fake these terrible things happening to fictional characters, they surely can't happen to me or anyone I love. And an irrational fear is more fun than a perfectly realistic fear.
On several occasions in college I found myself delivering pizzas to people who lived way out in the country. At one home, the owner kept wolves in a pen and they would meet me at the gate, snarling at the smell of pizza. Twice, I burst tires on drainage pipes poking out of driveways and was stranded until I could change them and my cell phone was always dying because I was always forgetting my charger. On multiple occasions, I found myself way out in the country with no phone and occasionally with car trouble and it occurred to me that if the universe wanted to take me out, I'd presented it with an excellent opportunity.
At the time I was delivering pizzas, being a deliveryman was statistically the fifth most dangerous job in the country. Even so, I miss that job (who wouldn't want to listen to audio books all night) and being constantly invited into stranger's homes made for great writing material. I saw a lot of strange things and met a lot of interesting people and no shortage of folks who greeted me in the nude--never did understand why. If a flying saucer wanted to quietly snatch me up where no one could see, I gave it plenty of chances, and if I'd kept delivering I might've eventually encountered folks like the ones Brock Clouser meets in this story.
One thing I could not duplicate today is the voice of Pizza Delivery. It's very clearly written by another me of another time, which is one of the reasons I haven't cut the swearing in this newest version, though I have trimmed it considerably. This is very much a younger man's story and I love that about it.
In revising this novella, I've cleaned up the prose and expanded a few things (and cut others) to give them greater resonance, though this story has long been on frequent submission and got some very kind letters from editors who felt it was too long for a short story, but not long enough for a novel. I rewrite this one every other year and I'm going to miss it in 2016:) I've also served as a kind of curator. Young me had something he desperately wanted to say and I haven't censored him these many years later. I think if he knew this story would one day be so widely available, he'd be thrilled.
And that's it, except I can't finish an afterword for Pizza Delivery without mentioning my mentor, the writer Will Allison. I've talked about Will before and his books What You Have Left and Long Drive Home are two of my absolute favorites. Will taught a writer's workshop I attended for a semester and he was the first real writer I ever got to know. He was the one writing teacher I had whose work I truly admired and I wrote the first draft of this story to impress him. I think it did and his encouragement and instruction were crucial at a time I needed them most. If I were going to dedicate this novella to anyone, I'd dedicate it to him. If you're a writer teaching other writers, know that that instruction is valuable and will carry farther than it may seem at the time. 10 years later, I'm still hoping to impress Will Allison:)
I'll leave you with a clip containing language as foul as the language in Pizza Delivery: