Blackbird was first brought into the world on July 6, 1999, and will finally be published on November 7, 2017. Quite a long journey, but to see only the bookends you miss much of what went into making it what it ended up being. Perhaps it’s only interesting to me, but then I’m probably the only one reading this, so that’s what this entry will be about.
My recollections of the earliest days of working on Blackbird are the most sketchy. Not only was it at least five computers ago, but the early days were in an era before everyone stored everything forever. There wasn’t even any Gmail until 2004; when you started running out of space, you started deleting emails. Hence, a lot of things are a bit hazy. Nevertheless, tools like the Internet Archive do make it possible to piece together a rough picture of how things unfolded.
The first 4-5 chapters of Blackbird were written in the summer and fall of 1999, then serialized online on a website I was running at the time devoted to “all things dark”. I wasn’t doing very much editing of these early chapters, just cranking them out and sticking them online for people to stumble across them. Initially this was mostly just players on the MUD I was writing for, called Iconoclast, but then I hooked a few early adopters of a website called Fark.com that I did some graphic design for.
In early 2000 I moved cross-country to Silicon Valley, at which point Blackbird soon took a back seat to another little project of mine called Ninja Burger, which started spinning up in June of 2000 and didn’t really taper off until the mid 2000s. There were role-playing games, and the card game, and a comedy project which would become my first published book; plenty of things to distract me from finishing Blackbird. And that’s to say nothing of everything else that was going on: RPGs like Godsend Agenda and HELLAS; the dot-com crash and a period of unemployment followed by a bunch of job hopping; meeting my wife-to-be and then getting married; and so on.
Regardless, I somehow managed to get through the first part of the story (set in the Washington, DC area) and nearly to the end of part two (which is set in Buffalo, NY) by the time the summer of 2003 rolled around, at which point the obvious thing to do was send the characters to San Francisco to live with me for a while. Episode 17—the first to be set on the West Coast—was penned in March of 2004, and Episode 24 (the last in Part 3) was written around March 31, 2006. In a few cases, I even know where I was when I wrote a particular chapter: in Fort Bragg, or on the Sonoma Coast, or in the Russian River valley.
In-between those two chapters, a lot of little details from my journeys around the Bay area crept into the novel. Scenes from a pumpkin patch overshadowed by a cloud of blackbirds, visits to various restaurants, and the like. I also started doing some heavy editing during this period of time, working on the relationship between the two main characters as well as some of the broader thematic elements. But I was struggling. I had taken Blackbird offline, and I had so much other stuff going on, it was becoming difficult to find my way.
Two important things helped me along at this point. First, I moved the “Chronicles of Edison North” onto Livejournal, where they were exposed to a somewhat broader audience as well as some old loyal fans who had continued to express interest in seeing me finish Blackbird. Secondly, on January 20 of 2007 I began using an application called Scrivener to organize my writing, instead of the Word document I’d been using to that point. I can’t say enough about Scrivener; it helped me immensely, and by March I had a full outline of Blackbird through Episode 40 and a much better idea of where I was going. I’ve since used Scrivener to write three first drafts in 5 months (as opposed to the one draft in 10 years I managed with Blackbird), but that’s another blog entry for another time.
In 2008 I moved to Seattle, and again the characters of Blackbird moved with me, this time moving at an accelerated pace. With everything outlined, I found it relatively easy to quickly finish off the part of the book set in Seattle, and in the summer of 2009 I traveled to the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio and found the perfect place to wrap up the novel. Now writing at a much faster pace, in May I opted to remove Blackbird from Livejournal entirely so I could polish it off, and that summer I did exactly as I hoped to do. The final chapter was inked on July 22, 2009 at around 1:00 AM. It had taken almost exactly ten years to write, and I was finally finished.
But of course, I was wrong. This was not the end, just the end of the beginning. The first draft of Blackbird weighed in at roughly 146,000 words, and it still had a long way to go before—50,000 words and 5 chapters lighter—it would finally be published.