If you follow what we call “the industry,” you’re probably aware of a routine publishing phenomenon: a new writer appears, publishes 2-3 novels, and then vanishes. Frequently right in the middle of a promising new series.
Here’s another routine phenomenon: I discover them ten years later.
Fricken’ hell. Where do all these vanished writers come from? People puzzle over where they go; I just want to know how they keep popping up. Vanished writers. They’re all over the place, like discount car insurance.
Last month I bought a collection of 240 new science fiction and fantasy paperbacks (Told you I buy collections. They’re like boxes of Christmas.) This one was an eclectic mix of remaindered titles from the last ten years, all in terrific shape, at about a buck a book. The seller still has a few lots left on eBay, if you’re interested.
Anyway. One of the chief joys of buying books by the quarter ton is finding bizarre stuff you don’t normally come across. (The other is coming up with creative ways to sneak them into the house without your spouse knowing, but that’s a different topic.) One of the many interesting items I came across in the first lot was the 2004 YA novel Demon Witch by Geoffrey Huntington, with this intriguing description on the back cover:
Long before the days of Madman Jackson Muir, a witch named Isobel the Apostate waged war upon her fellow sorcerers, the noble order of the Nightwing. Burned at the stake for her crimes, Isobel vowed to return and conquer the world. Now that she is back, the only person who can prevent hell on earth is fourteen-year-old Devon March. In a battle that takes him from modern-day Ravenscliff to Tudor England and back, Devon must unleash the Nightwing power within himself and call upon friendships in the strangest places to stand against an evil that has waited five centuries for revenge. For at Ravenscliff, friends come in all shapes and sizes — and enemies are everywhere.
Witches, sorcerers, secret orders, and burnin’ stuff at the stake. That sounded pretty good. Naturally, the cover proclaimed it was Book II of The Ravenscliff Series. Which I’d never heard of.
This is why there’s an Internet. Amazon.com told me everything I needed to know about the first volume, Sorcerers of the Nightwing, including the fact that a handful of copies were still available for $6.99.
Amazon and I sometimes do business, and this turned out to be one of those times.
Sorcerers of the Nightwing arrived last week. It was originally published nearly a decade ago, in 2003, with a great cover by Victor Koen. The plot description for this one is just as appealing:
Every kid fears the monsters in the closet — but for Devon March, the monsters are all too real. At fourteen, Devon is sent to live at Ravenscliff, a dark seaside mansion where secrets abound and the dead just won’t stay that way. He learns that he is a sorcerer of the Order of the Nightwing, a three-thousand-year-old tradition of mysticism and magic — the roots of which run deep at Ravenscliff. In a house of mysteries, he’ll have to decide quickly who is friend and who is foe, because Ravenscliff’s worst nightmare — the Madman — is coming back, and he’s bringing Hell with him.
Woo. Dark seaside mansions, evil clowns, and dead that just won’t stay dead. That’s a winning combo right there.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that this was clearly intended as a trilogy. It is, just as clearly, not a trilogy.
A little digging reveals that the planned title of the third book was Blood Moon. Once I had that tidbit I was able to track down the French version, Lune de Sang, published in 2005.
Follow that link and you’ll find a comments section crowded with pissed-off US readers, grumbling about the lack of an English translation.
Amazon’s author bio for Demon Witch says:
Geoffrey Huntington lives in a house by the sea not far from where the ghost of a pirate is said to eternally walk the cliffs in search of his lost gold. Under another name, he is the author of several acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction.
“Under another name.” Uh-huh.
Back to the Internet. The always-invaluable Locus magazine tells me that “Geoffrey Huntington” is the pseudonym of William J. Mann, author of one story in Masters of Midnight: Erotic Tales of the Vampire, a 2003 original anthology of gay vampire stories, and maybe some other stuff.
Okay, that explains why he wrote the The Ravenscliff Series under a different name. But not why he’s refusing to man up and make with the third book in a language spoken by normal people. My high school French is sufficient to get me slapped in a Paris bar, but not to get through an entire novel.
(I tried to read a novel written in French once. Mystery novel, on a train in Switzerland. To this day I have no idea who did what to whom. Seriously, that’s messed up. Sometimes I’m tempted to try the English translation, but I’m half-convinced it still won’t make sense. Best if I never know.)
Well, this probably isn’t just William J. Mann (or whatever his real name is) messing with us. At least not intentionally. If his tale is anything like that of all the other Vanished Writers of my recent acquaintance, he’s been done in by the Stark Realities of Modern Publishing.
Somehow this promising new series, due to failed marketing, inadequate distribution, poor word-of-mouth, or just bad luck — it’s sure not a lack of mouth-watering plot summaries — failed to meet the necessary sales threshold, and Geoffrey Huntington’s writing career was cut short.
Another reason we find such a proliferation of pseudonyms these days.
So. It’s probably not Mann’s fault, but I’m still left holding the bag with these two paperbacks. One of which I actually paid real money for. And unless I shell out for a better French-English dictionary, the ending of the saga is out of my reach forever.
Oh, what the hell. Sorcerers of the Nightwing still looks pretty good. Maybe I’ll read it anyway.
If I’m back here in a week looking to hire a good French-English translator, you’ll know why.