I’ve got a special treat for you today, word nerds. But first, let me tell you a (short) story.
Four years ago I was a tiny freshman at Taylor University in the Professional Writing program. Two years ahead of me was another student, Chandler Birch. I didn’t know him terribly well, but he was obviously very passionate about storytelling.
Last week, Chandler’s debut novel came out.
That’s right folks, you can find The Facefaker’s Game online or in a bookstore near you. I think it’s pretty incredible.
I reached out to Chandler and he kindly agreed to answer some questions for me, and by extension, you.
How long have you been writing? Can you remember writing your first story? What was it about (if it’s not too embarrassing)?
I’ve been writing more or less since I learned to print my name. I can’t actually recall a time when I was physically capable of writing sentences and not writing about made-up things. I started with from-memory summaries of TV shows I watched, but that progressed pretty quickly—I have vivid memories of writing a short story about holiday-themed superheroes in second grade. (They were, if I recall correctly, working together to defeat “Hallowoon,” since All Hallows’ Eve was the most sinister thing I could think of at that age.)
You wrote your first draft of The Facefaker’s Game during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. What was that experience like? Is it something you’d recommend doing?
Exhausting, but incredibly valuable. Prior to that point, I had written exactly one long-form project and a handful of vignettes. I was good with language and characterization and texture, but I had next to no experience developing a plot bigger than five thousand words, and that’s not the sort of thing you can accomplish without a lot of practice. NaNo helped me build up the muscles to tackle huge writing projects, and it made me more comfortable churning out huge word counts consistently. (This turned out to be a very valuable skill, since I ended up writing 160,000 words over three months during the Simon & Schuster Novel Contest.)
I would, and do, recommend it to absolutely everyone who wants to write books, although I don’t think NaNo’s slogan of “The world needs your novel” is at all healthy. You’re not doing this for the world. You’re doing it for you. You don’t go to the gym because “the world” needs you to be hot; you do it so you don’t have a heart attack at 32 (at least, that’s the case for me). If it makes you more attractive, hey: bonus.
Who have been some of the biggest influences on your writing, both inspirations and mentors?
Multiple teachers at Taylor, for one. The most formative was Dr. Housholder, but there were quite a few others. And there have been a bunch of writers whose work has had a huge impact on the way I write, but the top spots are probably Pat Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Chris Wooding. The best stuff in The Facefaker’s Game is stuff I stole from them.
What have been the strangest, best, and worst parts of the writing and publication process?
It is incredibly weird to see my book in Barnes & Noble. Awesome, to be sure. But weird.
Best part of the publication process: undoubtedly the moment when I finished the manuscript and sent it off. That was hugely satisfying.
The worst part of it was the scheduling and logistics—I have a wife and a full-time job, so carving out opportunities to write are dramatically more difficult than they were when I was in college.
Was there a particular scene or character that you just loved writing?
All of them, really, but if we’re talking Top 3, I had an incredible time writing the prologue. Previous versions were so terrible that I had started thinking seriously about axing a prologue altogether—and then, in the middle of writing another chapter, I switched back to the beginning and wrote that first line, and twenty minutes later the prologue was just there. I also really enjoyed writing the letters from Jack that appear briefly at the end of Parts 1 and 2.
For characters, I have an abiding affection for Synder and Blimey, but Jack is the most fun to write.
Rumor has it there might be a sequel in the works. Is that true?
Yup! My pitch for it is due to the publisher before the end of the year. Expect death and deep magic and feels, assuming the publisher picks it up.
What was the most difficult part (or parts) of writing this book?
The first revision. The manuscript I submitted to the publisher was 160,000 words long and had fully five different plots, all of which needed more development to be halfway readable. The publisher recommended that we cut the book in half and focus on only one or two of the original plots, which should have been easy—except, in practice, it worked out to a full rewrite of the book because everything was so interconnected. This was grueling. I can say with confidence that it was the most difficult thing I have done (which is not a low bar, given that my first submission was 700 pages long and written in the course of a summer, during which I also graduated from college, got married, and moved to a new city).
There were a lot of different factors that combined to make it difficult. First off, I was recovering from the aforementioned Summer of Terrifying Productivity; I wanted a couple years’ worth of sleep. Added to that, it’s not easy to finish a full-length book and then face the possibility of starting it all over from scratch, while also knowing that this is going to be published, and real people are going to see it. There’s a lot of pressure.
The last and biggest element was the fact that I got laid off from my day job during the rewrite period and had to go back to working at a fast-food place. This torpedoed my productivity in a pretty serious way, despite the fact that I now had quite a bit more free time than I’d had at my old job. Productivity, for me, depends a lot more on mindset than on free time, and my head was in a bad place.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write a bunch. Read a bunch. Give your stuff to people who are smarter than you and ask them to tell you how it made them feel.
Get really good at taking criticism—when people tell you they didn’t like something, it’s not because they hate you or because they’re jealous or because they aren’t smart enough to “get it.” When they point out things that bug them, resist the urge to tell them that it’s actually fine. It’s not their job to unmuddle your genius. It’s your job to communicate well and build a great story.
For those who haven’t read The Facefaker’s Game yet, what’s one thing they should know about the book?
Oliver Twist with magic, folks. Buy ‘em while they’re hot.
Wanna hear more from Chandler?
I got my copy of the book in the mail over the weekend. I’m trying my hardest not to dive into it just yet (because NaNo is eating all my free time), but I can’t wait to read it. And when I do, you can expect to see a full review.
You can also read Chandler’s account of his writing and publication journey. It’s pretty epic.
Have you read The Facefaker’s Game? What did you think of it?
Until next time, word nerds!