Recently I was asked on this blog why Refuge: Doppleganger is so disconnected in time from the rest of the Refuge series. I have been asked this question before, and thought this was a good time to answer it, and at the same time tell the story of my early writing career, and how it did not go as planned.
In 1996 I was discharged from the University of Alabama Clinical Psychology Program, just short of going on internship and getting my PhD. I only needed that internship and to complete my dissertation, and I would be able to add the honorific Dr to the front of my name. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. At the time I put all the blame on them, and have since come to realize that I definitely had a part in it. Newly married and looking for work, I was able to get a job at the Tuscaloosa Drug Treatment Center, a methadone clinic, as a counselor. One day the clinical director, who was also the only other therapist at the center, told me I was spending too much time with clients, and should just show them videos while catching up on my paperwork. I told her that she might have a better handle on things if she did, in fact, do therapy. I was fired that day. Ouch.
So I went home, really pissed at the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa Drug Treatment Center and the field of mental health in general. I sat down at my home computer, opened up a word doc, and proceeded to write an expose’ about the whole ‘damned crooked enterprise’ as I thought of it at the time. In two weeks I wrote eighty thousand words, and had my first book. Another two weeks to polish it up and I sent it to agents in the Writer’s Marketplace. I didn’t get much interest, which I now see as a good thing, as that book, even with names changed, might have hurt a lot of people. But the seed was sown. I had proven that I could write a book. In fact, it had proven much easier than I had thought. I had always wanted to write a book, and here I had done it. So I immediately started on my first work of fiction, an alternate history titled The Convoy. Now The Convoy was very well researched, tightly plotted, and totally awful. The dialogue was the worst part. Years later I looked over the manuscript, hoping to self-publish it, and decided it would take more work than writing two new books. I finished the novel and sent it off to a major publisher, expecting to get a fat check in the mail within a month. A year later I got my rejection letter on this turkey.
For my second work of fiction, I decided to write an epic fantasy. But not just any fantasy. After getting married, I was exposed to church again, and the concept of witnessing and saving souls. So I wanted to write a fantasy that promoted Christianity. I came up with the idea of Earth humans whose ancestors had been transported to another dimension, a world of magic. The idea was that all of the myths, legends and archetypes of our world would exist in this world, Refuge. And that people who still followed the old Earth religion of Christianity would be immune to the truly awful effects of magic, though they would also be deprived of the benefits. I could go into all the authors who influenced the development of this world, but suffice it to say that the major influences were Tolkien, Turtledove, Howard and Robert Adams and his Horseclans novels. I decided that the different races would not be good or evil in and of themselves, but could go to either extreme through their own decisions.
The hero of the novel was an Orc named Morgathius, who, though a Christian, and so supposedly unable to use magic, was also the Orc of the Millennia, the most powerful natural magician of his people. I had planned for him to become the new Messiah of this world. The novel was titled The Cross, The Quest and The Sword. The plot revolved around Morgathius going on a quest to the Valley of the Gods, a location on the Kraslas continent guarded by thousands of undead, mummies, ghouls and zombies. Instead of a small party like most such stories, an entire brigade of IFN (Imperium of Free Nations) cavalry would ride through the wilderness, supported by airships, and explore the valley, looking for the sword, a God artifact of Arathonia. The novel was in the form of an epic with many characters, switching scenes from the quest to the many battles going on in the escalating war between good and evil, between the IFN and the Nazi Empire of Tarakesh.
That novel topped out at 269,000 words. At the time I didn’t understand that most publishers really didn’t want anything over 120K words. I decided to send this one to an agent, and searched the classified section of Writer’s Digest to find one interested in taking on new clients. Now, I can’t way that all agents advertising in Writer’s Digest are crooked, but the one I contacted sure was. He first suggested that I use a book doctor he recommended, at the cost of over a thousand dollars. I balked at this, and he said he couldn’t represent me, but suggested another agent in California, Royal Gillette. Remember that name. If this man ever contacts you, run, as fast as you can. But at the time I thought I had hit the big time. That this book would hit the bestseller lists. I had already done quite a bit of world building. Pantheons of Gods, maps, histories, magic systems, you name it. If you look on my website, http://dougdandridge.net , you will see many of the original maps I drew for the novel, including continents and hemispheres. I wrote a million words of background and descriptions in Treepad. And I started to work on the second novel of the series, The Ravening Blade. This was the book where my Orc hero was to make the ultimate sacrifice and become the Messiah.
My agent sent me letters, talked to me on the phone, and basically stroked my ego. I was told a good tale, about how they were dissecting my novel page by page, sending samples to large publishers, and preparing the product for a major push. Then came the scam, though I couldn’t see it at the time for what it was. I was told it would take it three thousand dollars to make the presentation, but the agency could only come up with a little over $2,500. I volunteered the rest, sure that it would be a good investment. Two weeks later I received a letter from the parent agency of Mr. Gillette, informing me that they were moving operations from California to New York, and would be communicating to clients with their contact information shortly. That was the last thing I ever heard of them, and a search for the agency yielded no results. I was soured to the whole idea of submitting to agents, and would not do so again for over a decade. And the idea of Refuge died, at least for the moment.
Next Segment: The Return to Refuge.