Today I am happy to be a stop on the blog tour for Mike Robinson, author of Green-Eyed Monster. The book was released October 23rd by Curiosity Quills Press, home to some of my other author-guests.
I have often spoken about the writing and gestation process, the long hours it takes to bring something to completion (I am, after all, still tweaking a tale I began at age 11…but who isn’t?) Mike has kindly offered to say a bit about his own writing journey for Green-Eyed Monster. Welcome, Mike! And thank you for giving us your thoughts on the writing life!
Mike Robinson has been writing since age 7, when his story Aliens In My Backyard! became a runaway bestseller, topping international charts (or maybe that was also just a product of his imagination).
He has since published fiction in a dozen magazines, literary anthologies and podcasts. His debut novel, Skunk Ape Semester, released by Solstice Publishing, was a Finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Currently he’s the managing editor of Literary Landscapes, the official magazine of the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (glaws.org). His supernatural mystery novel The Green-Eyed Monster was published by Curiosity Quills Press on October 23rd, 2012.
“Are We There Yet?”
The 18-Year Odyssey of the Novel The Green-Eyed Monster
by Mike Robinson
I was fortunate never to have encountered, in any schoolyard or hallway, the traditional bully. My lunch money — metaphoric, as I usually brought lunch — remained untouched, and no bulky meatheads and their chuckling, pull-string sidekicks shoved me towards some fated after-school confrontation behind the cafeteria. While many factors went into this relative peacetime, and while I’m sure such caricature meatheads exist in this city, I think a lot of it had to do with growing up in west Los Angeles. For I met not jock-bullies, but art-bullies.
“I can draw better than you,” or “So-and-so can draw better than you”, became staple soundbites of my childhood and early adolescence (and I’m proud to say it always came to me, not from me — at least I’m pretty sure). I had multiple challengers, including one kid in 5th grade who just wanted to draw Tyrannosaurs and chimpanzees. He did well by the small circle of moist eyes that huddled and watched him, but never drew anything else. God knows why they were his creatures of choice.
But in elementary school I had my main rival, my Professor Moriarty, so to speak. My antagonistic equal. This dynamic was thrust on me by our peers, who parsed themselves into camps Mike (then Mikey) and camps Moriarty (not his real name). We would have draw-offs, our respective fans watching loudly behind our shoulders. “Mikey, you’re kicking his ass!” I would sometimes hear, which was better than the dispiriting, “Mikey, I think you’re losing your touch”, whispered in my ear.
All this silliness culminated in an unofficial “truce”, when the school asked both of us to design our graduation banner. On one end, Moriarty drew Garfield. On the other, I drew Calvin and Hobbes. In a subtle way, I like to think I emerged victorious.
So on comes middle school, and with it a few more neural connections. At the time, I was edging more towards creative writing, and, in one of my regular bouts of daydreaming that would nowadays enlist me as a “special” candidate for one capsule or another, I realized how much such rivalry had charged me artistically, to improve and to impress. I thought, What if an artist took it too far, and sought violence against his competitor? Basically, what if that schoolyard dynamic were applied worldwide?
The result, at a formidable nine pages, was The Green-Eyed Monster, about a bestselling author, John Becker, who flies into a rage when outperformed by a new, bourgeoning author, Martin Smith, who was initially inspired by Becker. The title, of course, comes from Othello, a juvenile edition of which we’d just read in English class. I thought I was being highly cultured, adding some obscure Shakespearean allusion. Not so when I discovered The Berenstein Bears and the Green-Eyed Monster.
That spring, we were assigned to write a short story. Once all were graded, they would be put on a nearby table, where, for weeks thereafter, we were to take one for silent reading time. The idea was to have each classmate read your story. Feedback was encouraged.
The Green-Eyed Monster proved popular with the class. “Is John Becker coming back?” asked one stern-eyed buddy named Chason who, three years later, would rouse us with his thunderous, Malcolm X-infused graduation speech. “Your story gave me nightmares,” chimed another, named Sarah. One friend even made copies to distribute beyond the classroom. “I can be your agent,” he told me. “I can totally sell your book [if nine pages can be a book] for $10,000.”
Ah, L.A. children.
To my microcosmic mind, I had a giant hit on my hands. While such a reaction no doubt helped spur my love for The Green-Eyed Monster, I’d always felt there were deeper, vaguer reasons for the love. Something about it was very personal and true. Beneath its simple words sprawled a catacomb of unexplored themes, and I knew nebulously that one day I would don the miner’s hat and plunge below. But that time would have to wait — for I had to churn out the sequel, of course, imaginatively dubbed The Green-Eyed Monster II. At fourteen pages, it promised even more epic goodness. Chason’s prediction of Becker’s return was half-right: this time, Becker’s vengeful son wielded the knife, or hatchet, or whatever I gave him.
The Hollywood bug seeped into me and I adapted the original story into a screenplay, of which I filmed maybe five minutes with my dad’s prehistoric JVC camcorder. I had visions of a mammoth premiere, an event bordering on a national holiday that would see millions of fans to the theater. Such blind creative ego would, with playful darkness, be explored in the book’s final form.
High school happened. For nearly five years I wrote no actual fiction, which to this day I still regret. Reading was also down, too. My mid-adolescence was fun, but experienced through eyes which were a fraction comatose. I knew little beyond friends, videogames, and movies.
Winding down high school, I began reading again. Immersed in Stephen King’s IT, I realized with gradual revelation that I ought to get back to the written word — and I didn’t mean more instant messaging.
In a literary sense, my first attempt at a novel must have emulated the Wrights’ first pass at flight — sputtering, jerky, maybe a little lift, then a fragmenting crash offering stark lessons and some reusable material, some of which I saved. I proceeded to change gears towards another, totally new book, which saw me to the finish line.
All throughout, The Green-Eyed Monster’s unexplored, subterranean dimensions awaited in my consciousness. Riding the high of finishing the first draft of my first novel, I took the crash-debris I’d saved from my initial project and put it into what became a suddenly grown-up (relatively) Green-Eyed Monster. It was a novella now, maybe 60 pages, and rather than giving all villainous intent to John Becker, like a good Marxist* I spread the love. Now both authors, Martin Smith and Becker, were notoriously at odds with one another . Blind to virtually all other concerns, they followed an all-consuming, demiurge-like drive to create, and to outcreate one another. Along for the ride were newly-discovered ideas of metaphysics, philosophy, and surreal imagery even I couldn’t totally discern.
I was 19 at this point. Not long after turning 20, and on the heels of a somewhat emotional period, I channeled a lot of raw energy into pumping some narrative and thematic muscle into the manuscript. This time, I thought I’d brought out its underlying potential, the dormant spirit of the story that had kept patient those years, awaiting light. Opinion was divided — some loved it, others didn’t get it. I sent it out prematurely to agents and publishers (sadly, my 6th grade “agent” and I had lost contact; at that time, as a sergeant in the U.S. Army he was busy checking out the inside of Saddam Hussein’s palace).
I began to sense I still hadn’t done it total justice. But as I’d gleaned way back in middle school, there was something there. I knew I was on the right track, if only because I got encouraging personal rejections from the likes of Ballantine and Tor. A novel imprint of Wizards of the Coast was close to considering a deal, but the imprint went belly-up. Retrospectively, all for the better. I now look back at that wonky draft and think, “Were they under Quixotic enchantment when they read that and thought any part of it was good?”
But I still believed in the book. And it wasn’t just me — something about it pulled at interested parties, more than other books of mine. I’d venture to guess that, of my numerous manuscripts, it’s in the running for the most requested partials or fulls.
From 2004 to 2010, I subjected The Green-Eyed Monster to innumerable lashes of my red pen, bleeding from it corny dialogue, unnecessary scenes and passages of hopeless excess. For much of that time, I admit, I still had some blinders on. I thought the book was fundamentally sound, and all blemishes were surface-level, any adverse reaction purely subjective. For extensive periods the book lay untouched, forced to listen to the clacking labor-and-delivery of numerous other manuscripts.
Finally, in 2011, I started to get serious. The true spirit of The Green-Eyed Monster would emerge not partially, not halfway, but wholly from the white soil. No more of this “Oh, it’s basically done” hackery.
Coffee mug steaming and red pen in hand, I sat down to work, line by line. Not long into this process, I said to myself, “Screw it. I’ll just grunt it and rewrite the whole damn thing”. Which I did, using the original as a template. A good 20-25,000 words were massacred, their presence given due homage in their infinitely sharper replacements. Ideas for creepy new scenes came to me, and I added those, too.
Finally, I felt that hastening of pure completion, that cathartic sense of having done pretty much everything I could for a project. I’d felt this way before, too, so I was cautious. But at that point, with about a dozen manuscripts under my belt, another dozen incomplete, and having written cumulatively about two million words, I’d earned a little more conviction through my experience and perspective, and so understood the feeling as more authentic, at least artistically, than it’d been eight or nine years ago.
I don’t mean to diminish this final stretch, because relatively speaking it actually took a while. The total rewrite of The Green-Eyed Monster spanned five months, exceeding that of some newer novels’ first drafts. For a couple subsequent months I sat on it, tweaking things here and there. I wasn’t in much of a rush to submit, although I knew I wanted to start afresh with it. My other novel Skunk Ape Semester was about to debut from Solstice Publishing. I wasn’t sure I wanted to submit The Green-Eyed Monster to them, though. Undergoing corporate restructuring, Solstice was on submission hiatus, anyway. And unlike Skunk Ape Semester, The Green-Eyed Monster belongs more to a classifiable genre, and I foresaw broader options before me.
The fresh round of submitting didn’t last long, a testament either to its improvement or to luck. Probably both. Rejected by the first publisher I approached, the second, Curiosity Quills Press, lapped it up. The acquisitions editor read the whole thing in a day, maybe even one sitting depending on how one reads the heartening email.
After years at home, John Becker and Martin Smith and all entailing characters would see official daylight. To quote a line from the book, “The rest of the world awaited them now”.
*The author would like to give sworn testimony that he is not, nor has he ever been, a Marxist.