Initially, I hadn't expected to write any novels. During the first few years of my career, in the early 1980's, I was working in Chicago as the Regional Training Officer for the Customs Service, and I didn't see where the time would come from. Moreover, I had serious doubts about my ability to hold together a 100,000-word narrative. And to be honest, I'd already achieved more than I'd ever anticipated, so I was happy. I wasn't inclined to push my luck.
During that era, Terry Carr was editing a year's best anthology. Periodically, when I arrived home from work, I asked Maureen whether Terry had called yet? Was he going to pick up "Translations from the Colosian" or whatever happened to be my most recently published story? It was a running joke.
Maureen always smiled politely back at me and said he'd probably call next week. Or something similar. Then one afternoon he had called.
"No. About an hour ago."
"He's going to buy 'Promises To Keep'? Beautiful!"
"No," she said. "I don't think so. Here's his number."
"Jack," he said, "would you be interested in writing a novel for the Ace Specials?" That was a series featuring new writers for whom Terry had high hopes. It was even better news than making the anthology.
Except: "How long can you give me, Terry?"
"How long do you need?"
I thought about my full-time job, spending two hours daily getting back and forth on the train, attending the baseball, basketball, and soccer games in which my kids were playing. And I had a pretty take on my efficiency. "About two years would be good."
I don't think he realized I was serious. "You want to do this, Jack?"
"Okay. You've got six months."
I wrote during lunch breaks. I wrote on the trains. I sat in the stands at the ball games and wondered how we would react as a society to the discovery that there was at least one other civilization out there.
I struggled with the title, finally settled on The Hercules Text, and made my deadline. Barely. Terry seemed satisfied, but my life never went back to the old version. Several weeks after I'd handed it in, the Customs Service decided to concentrate its training programs, which at that time had been located in nine regions, into a single site, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia.
We had to pack and move. Approximately a year after we arrived in the deep South, The Hercules Text appeared in bookstores. It got off to a good start: Sales were encouraging, although that could have been attributed to the reputation of Terry Carr, and the names of those who'd participated earlier. The list included Clifford D. Simak, Roger Zelazny, Ursula Leguin, Philip K. Dick, Bruce McAllister, Stanislaw Lem, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Lucius Shepard. I was in pretty solid company.
The book won the Philip K. Dick Special Award for 1986.
Eventually, I asked Terry if he saw a way it could have been improved.
To my disappointment he said yes.
"What would you have done differently?"
"The conclusion. It didn't pack enough punch. You don't ever want to haul a reader through 400 pages, and fail to provide a solid climax."
At the turn of the century, Meisha Merlin wanted to publish it along with A Talent for War in a single volume. I'd never forgotten Terry's comment, and I thought I knew exactly what the book needed. It got a complete rewrite. Part of it was an update because the Cold War, which had been a central feature in the novel, had ended. The rest was to provide a completely new climax.
This is the version which, with a few more updates, has just been released in a new edition. It was the only one of my titles which had gone out of print.