Announcing the Red, the Brown, the Green

a free serialized novel appearing in its own email newsletter

I’m excited to announce that, in the near future, I will be launching the Red, the Brown, the Green, a novel that I will serialize in a separate section of this website that will function as its own newsletter with its own mailing list. The novel tells the story of a young woman living in a time of climate crisis who, in an effort to save her dying brother, finds herself caught between two factions vying for control of the world’s remaining technology.

Because this is all very different from what people have signed up for here, I will not be automatically adding everyone on the main email list to this new newsletter, nor will people who sign up for the emails in the future automatically be signed up for the Red, the Brown, the Green. Unfortunately there’s no way to provide you guys with a one-click subscribe button just for that newsletter, though Substack suggests that they may be working on it. In the meantime, if you are already a subscriber (paid or not) you can go to and click Edit next to my newsletter under My Subscriptions.

From there you’ll see these dialogue boxes, where you can select the Red, the Brown, the Green to receive those emails. If you’re new and only want to follow the novel, you can subscribe here and follow the same process, being sure to unselect the Freddie deBoer checkbox if you don’t want to get the main emails. The novel will be free, so you don’t have to start a paid subscription just to follow along, although of course if you’d like to support this newsletter financially you can do so.

Or you can simply follow along via the website; I’ll post each chapter’s link as they go up in the header post with the cover illustration, so they are listed in the correct order and you don’t have to go scrolling through the archive in reverse order to find the next part of the book. I’ll also briefly note when chapters have been added in our weekly digest emails, which come out on Saturday afternoons.

I am excited to share the text, but I am equally excited about the illustrations. I have hired a very talented illustrator, Vika S., to do illustrations for most chapters. The image that you see at the top are her mockups for the cover image. Even in that sketchy format you can clearly see her skills, but be sure to click over to the newsletter page to see the final version. Look at how gorgeous that is! It’s a lot of fun to see images I described rendered so effectively, and I’m happy to be putting some of the subscription money I’ve been earning to use hiring another creative type.

Serializing the book this way stems from failure. I wrote the novel in 2016-2017 and shared it with my agent in, I think, early summer of that latter year. This was before I had even written the proposal for my first nonfiction book, let alone sold it. And after reading the novel my agent was not really interested. We had some discussions about what he thought could stand to be improved, and I made some major revisions in line with his suggestions, but it was clear that he wasn’t enthusiastic about putting it on the market. There were a few dynamics there worth mentioning. For one, though I did not write it to be a Young Adult novel, and still don’t really think of it in that genre, he thought that YA would be its most natural home for publication. But he also felt that, given the political realities in that world, there was essentially no chance of someone with my politics signing with a YA imprint. And there was a broader concern that, since my protagonist is a woman of color and I am a white man, there could be objections along those lines in other genres as well.

However, it’s important to say that it was clear to me at the time that he just didn’t think it was very good.

Which leads to a point that I want to stress: there’s really no reason to think I’m good at writing fiction. None. I care very much about my abilities as a writer of prose, and I believe that after decades of work I have developed considerable skill in that regard. But that’s almost exclusively been done in the realm of argumentative nonfiction, mostly short form. The ability to craft a novel is quite different simply in terms of how prose is utilized, and of course there’s plot, and characterization, and dialogue, and symbolism…. For the first time in a long time I find myself worrying whether writing I put out into the world will be any good - good on my own terms, that is, which are the only terms I’ve ever wanted to satisfy. The text has substantially evolved in the years since I shared it with my agent but there’s no particular reason to think it’s gotten better. Still: I enjoyed writing it, I like the story, and I’m proud of it, and people ask me to write fiction all the time. There’s a second nonfiction book proposal coming along, which I think (I hope?) will eventually get sold, and for me the desire to share this story exceeds the motives of profit or prestige that would compel me to try and publish it in a traditional format, even if I thought that effort would be successful.

I figure that I could pretend like I never wrote this book, which would be cowardly and waste the effort; ironize it by referring to it ruefully as some embarrassing mistake that I now look back on sardonically, as some people do, which would be a lie and a cope; or just throw it out there and see if it finds an audience that values it.

As I said, the serialized novel will be free for everyone, although I reserve the right to remove the archive from the website if I see fit in the future. There will however be a tip jar link on the bottom of every chapter. I will be splitting the tip jar money 50-50 with the illustrator. Please note though that my main Substack allows me to live comfortably, and I’m paying the illustrator on a per-illustration basis as well as bonuses at the beginning and end of the project, so make sure that if you use the tip jar, that’s how you view it: as a tip.

As far as logistics goes, I think it’s still a wait-and-see. I would certainly like to turn around a couple chapters every two weeks or so, but it’s going to vary. Producing these illustrations is a lot of work, though most will be black and white and thus take less time. Regardless, I’m going to respect the illustrator’s need for time whenever necessary. The general plan is for an email with one chapter to appear in your inbox every Wednesday, but I can’t promise there won’t be deviations from that schedule. We’ll see. My rough estimate is that it will take about a calendar year for the novel to be fully serialized. We’ll wait a month for people to sign up and to bank a few more illustrations to build in a little buffer.

It’s an odd thrill to feel nervous about sharing writing again. It’s been a long time. I am happy with how The Cult of Smart turned out and in an abstract sense I’m proud of it, but I felt nothing when it was published. Perhaps had 2020 not been so weird, I would have enjoyed it more. In hindsight I have few regrets, and I guess that’s the best you can ask for. In any event, I am constantly telling young writers to hang it out there, so here I am. Some will enjoy reading the Red, the Brown, the Green, some will enjoy dunking on it, and I will feel relieved that it will finally be available for other people’s eyes. So if you’re interested, subscribe and the first chapter should appear in your inbox in around the third week of July. Cheers.