I told a variation of this story at GenCon not too long ago, so I figured I might as well share it here. We’re family, right? So this can stay just between us.
A few years ago, I had one of those encounters that writers ALWAYS have. It’s that conversation that goes “hey, I got an idea. You write it and we split the profits.” Anyone who’s not a writer thinks it’s the ideas that we have trouble coming up with. Well, anyway, at the time I was rather at the mercy of the person who had the idea as it was my barber and he literally had a straight razor to my throat. So he had my full attention.
Actually, his pitch wasn’t bad. African American romances were white hot at the time and he thought he should jump on that bandwagon. The problem was he was great with coming up with plot and sex scenes, but he needed someone to do the actual writing. So he proposed that we write this thing together, and by “write” he meant he’d pitch me ideas and I could do the writing. And as long as I was producing pages, I could get free haircuts from him.
*does math* Ten dollars a week. Figure to drag the thing out a year. SOLD!
So we began hanging out. I’d listen to his stories, his fantasies, his theories on women and relationships … and realized pretty early on that if I put my name on this thing, I could schedule the pitchfork and torch brigade showing up at my doorstep. I can put my name on anything I write, but this fell into one of those “I should use a pen name” scenarios. After agonizing over this (I suck at names and titles), I came up with the name Marquis Stylez.*
So I finish the book. He asks me to send it to Zane’s publishing company. Since it has no chance of getting published, I send it. Then it is held for another round of reading. And another. And suddenly visions of my writing career go through my head. I know it would be a pen name, but that’d still be me. And I’m just whore enough to write more if someone backs up the money truck. So I panicked, withdrew it, and put it in a drawer never to be spoken of again.
So at the World Horror Convention in Toronto (2007), a group of us had slipped out of the convention to go to a bookstore. Wrath James White standing in front of the African American romance section when I wander over. He says “you know, if I had any sense whatsoever, I’d write one of these and sell a bunch of copies.” I don’t know what possessed me, maybe a sudden wave of being in a sharing mood, I say “you know, I actually wrote one. Even came up with a pen name to write under. Marquis Stylez.”
There are moments in your life when you say something, you can see the words leave your mouth, and you want to try and catch them before they reach anyone else’s ears. This was one of those moments. Because Wrath got this look in his eyes, that big brother devilish glint, and all he said was “I’m gonna tell Keene.”
Yes, Wrath is huge. Wrath is also surprisingly fast. And I used to run track. He might as well have left a dust cloud outline of himself in the store, cause by the time I caught up with him, he was standing at an author booth … behind Brian Keene. Both of them with disturbing Cheshire cat grins. And all Keene says, while standing there like a James Bond villain only missing a cat to be stroking, is “So, written again good stories lately … Marquis?”
And, OH they have not let me forget it. You don’t know the horror of what it’s like to get calls in the middle of the night from Keene doing his Marquis Stylez bedroom voice routine.
Who knows, Marquis may rise from the trunk drawer one day, to write again.
I guess if it’s any testimony to how I feel about my “big brothers” in writing, I did name the main character in my Knights of Breton Court series “King James White” (and now Wrath demands to be referred to as that). And I did make the mistake, in another moment of weakness, to later confiding in Brian that the working title for Knights of Breton Court used to be “Black Camelot.” It wouldn’t be so bad except that every time he says it, it’s like a chorus of our friends pop up and begin playing bad seventies theme music …
*Pronounced either like the Marquis de Sade, my preferred pronunciation, or as Marcus, as I have a friend who spells it that way.