In December 1998, Robert R. McCammon wrote this letter for the old Lights Out! web site to let his fans know what he’d been doing for the previous six years.
First off, thanks for your interest in the site and in what I have done and am doing. I hope I can answer some of your questions.
For a long time I’ve wanted to write and let everyone here know what’s been going on, but I think you may understand why I haven’t kept in touch.
I’ve been reading posts here and there concerning what has happened to me. One person heard I was sick and dying, and another advanced the belief that I had inherited a major estate from a relative and was kept too busy running it to write anymore. This particular post ended with the statement that “this is what happens when writing is no more than a hobby”.
Okay. Here’s the tale, if anyone wants to hear it.
When I finished Gone South a few years back, I wanted to take some time off to be a fulltime father to our little girl, who was at that time a newborn. So I did.
Then I needed to think about what I had written and what I wanted to do next. Since about the time of writing MINE, I’d been moving out of the horror genre. I enjoyed working in that area for many years, but there came a time when it just wasn’t very appealing to me anymore. Bear in mind that my first book (Baal) was published when I was 25 years old. I was a kid, and I thought like a kid. But as I grew older I wanted to move beyond the horror genre, for the simple reason that I didn’t feel challenged by it. Also, the horror genre became to me like a box. It’s very limiting, in my estimation. Others may think differently, and more power to them.
After Gone South, I wondered what I could do that would be both challenging and would make me push myself as a writer. I’ve always enjoyed history, so I decided to strike out in the direction of the historical novel.
Well, I soon found out that with the research involved, the historical novel is much more difficult to do than what I’d been writing before. After two years, I finished a (very long) book set in colonial Carolina in 1699, called Speaks the Nightbird. It’s about a witchcraft trial and might be called a mystery but is not supernatural. But, anyway, I wanted it to be as historically correct as possible, right down to the language.
At this point I decided also to start fresh with a new publisher.
To make this long story shorter: I ran into (collided with, actually) an editor who wanted me to change the book to make it into (my opinion here, of course) an historical romance. I will be kind to the memory of this person. We did not see eye-to-eye on anything. I simply could not make the changes I was asked to make. The book is by no means perfect and does need to be edited, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
Well, I was kind of stuck at this point because no one else wanted Nightbird. I was told that publishers were expecting a certain kind of book from me, and this wasn’t it.
My choice was to remove the book from consideration. Then I had to get back up on the horse and try again. I had another story in mind, about a Russian theater troupe in World War II, and I began my research. Again, this was a hard road to travel.
I found myself snakebit, due to the problems I’d had with the aforementioned editor. Never in my career had I ever encountered a person or situation like this, and I had trouble coming back from the experience.
The truth is that I was afraid to work, for fear of another rejection. I did keep at the new book, called The Village, but only a few pages at the time. I got very depressed during this time period, and I wondered if I ought to just quit. I was wondering what else I could do, and realized I couldn’t do very much else.
I can tell you what depression is. It’s your mind trying to shut off pain. Unfortunately, it also shuts off pleasure. So for many months there I was a hermit in the house, trying to work a little bit, trying not to let anyone outside the family know how bad off I was, and trying to figure out what my role in the world would be if not as a writer.
I kept at it. I will not try to tell anyone how I emerged from this state of mind, or what I learned while I was in this sunless realm. This is for me alone.
But: I did find joy in life again, and I did finish The Village after three years. Just last week, as a matter of fact.
Now, this is not quite a happy ending because I don’t know who’s going to publish the new book, or if it will be published at all. I don’t know what will happen to Speaks the Nightbird, though I do hope it will someday be published. I don’t know if these books will be published under my name or under a pen name.
So, I guess the next chapter is about to be written. What will happen in it, I have no idea.
Thanks to all for your comments and questions. Thanks for keeping up and for reading my work. And also many, many thanks to Hunter for maintaining the LIGHTS OUT site and for being a great friend.
December 16, 1998