SKULLDUGGERY (A Free, Serialized Novel by Tim Byrd)


The name alone conjures dark images of spilling blood, of blackest magiks, of lawlessness and chaos. Throughout the kingdom children hear stories of this evil city and are told they must never go there — and they wish with all their hearts that one day they will. For children are the custodians of wishes, of dreams; they know in their hearts, in their souls, that only in the darkest of pits can the brightest adventures be found…

Years and years ago, when I had a bit more spring in my step and fewer callouses on my heart, I got out of a misguided stint in the U.S. Army and plopped down at a cheap portable typewriter to begin living the life I always intended to live, that of a dashing and prolific novelist.

I was living on savings, shacking up in Kassel, West Germany (there was still an East Germany then) with a wonderful girlfriend named Rike (whom I’d met the very day I’d arrived at my Army post), who was deep in her own university studies while I took the time to write.

It was a happy year. It was the most productive year of my life, too.

First, I wrote a short fantasy adventure novel called The Road to Adventure. It was sort of stock fantasy — knights and elves and hot pagan priestesses — mixed with sheer swashbuckling and quite a bit of eldritch horror. Took me just over a month to write, and I got it in the mail and started the next project.

The Road to Adventure damn near got published too. A senior editor at one of the big science fiction/fantasy publishers took a liking to it and went to bat for it with the editorial board. See, getting a book published isn’t just a matter of getting a “yes,” it’s a matter of getting a series of “yeses,” and if you get a “no” in that series, you’re screwed. According to the editor, I had the majority of folks wanting the book, but got two key noes; I was screwed. But hey, pretty good for the first shot.

Of course, that resolution took a while, during which I wrote my second book. This took a lot longer than a month. Whereas I’d written Road with a detailed outline, I started this one with a setting, a couple of character ideas, and the notion that I was gonna write a “hardboiled fantasy,” mixing standard sword and sorcery tropes with gritty crime fiction. And I had the title:

Skullduggery. A Tale of Thieves.

I dove in with reckless confidence, writing five pages a day, then rewriting the previous day’s output, and the book grew and grew. The setting became a real place in my mind, gaining complexity and mass. The cast grew almost out of control, until the book became a weave of subplots crossing and clashing. And things happened. Damn did things happen. Small, personal, violent things. Big, dark, scary things. Portentous things with repercussions beyond the everyday reality of that world.

The novel became a big treasure chest I kept throwing cool stuff in. Thieves. Gypsies. Ninjas. Musketeers. Highwaymen. Madmen. Pirates. Treachery. Monsters…

By the time I typed “END,” the book was roughly 600 pages long. And as I geared up to revise it, I got a call from that editor in New York, who’d already delivered the bad news about Road’s non-publication a while back, but had liked my writing so much she wanted to know what I had in the works. I told her, and she had me send a copy of the first draft.

Well. She liked the writing. But she didn’t like the book, and had another editor read it for a second opinion, and that editor hadn’t cared for it either.

Or, more precisely, they didn’t think it was publishable. For one thing, it was pretty fucking big for a first novel; it costs more money to print a thick book, and they couldn’t be sure about making production costs back on a big book by an unknown.

The other thing was, they thought it was too profane and violent for a mainstream fantasy book. I thought I was bringing in something vibrant and raw from crime fiction; they thought I was gonna scare all the questing unicorn readers out there. Mind you, this was the mid-eighties, and since then, the fantasy genre has changed quite a bit (though not, entirely, for the better), and content like mine isn’t so outre’ any more.

I disagreed with them, and while I respected their opinions (and recognized their bottom line issues with publishing such a big book), I also thought they were being sort of condescending to their readers by trying to protect them from such a harsh fantasy world.

But…this woman loved my writing, and had been my main cheerleader at the one publisher who had shown solid interest in Road to Adventure. Getting shot down by her, at that stage, before I was even really getting a grip on the first revision, was crushing. I’d seen her as my shot at glory, once the book was truly ready, and now the shot seemed stillborn.

I floundered. I set it aside, always meaning to go back and bash it into some highly wonderful shape that would overcome all of a publisher’s objections, but I never did. But I still remembered living that book as I wrote it, and while it was a very big book for a fledgling author, it really did have a lot of cool stuff in it.

Now, realistically, with the Doc Wilde series and other projects, I have too much on my agenda to think I’m going to get around to revising it after all this time. But I figured I’d put it up here in weekly chunks for the interested. It’s rough, and the product of a much younger me, but you might just enjoy it. And if not, whaddayawantfernuthin? Rubber biscuit?

Anyway, I hope you like it.

Go HERE to discover Drogarth, the City of Thieves.

UPDATE: As of March 3, 2012, I am back at work on posting this. Not much content yet, but I’ll be adding it from here on out.

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