Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Into the Frying Pan

A blog reader asked a good question the other day. Exactly how did I get myself into this mess, anyway? Okay, maybe mess wasn't the exact term used, but...basically, who the heck am I and how did I get into the writing gig?

Without going into my life history and boring everyone stiff, here's the short version. I started writing at about age five--short stories and such. Nothing all that stellar, but at least it established the habit of writing creatively. I wrote my first novel at the age of sixteen--a short, sweet little confection about unicorns, which shall forever remain in my closet--unless someone drags it out after my death just to see how bad it was. I messed with that for about eight more years, as I went through college and tried to have a "normal" career as a nurse. About the time I got burnt out on the nursing, I got married and decided to have a couple of kids. During that time frame I wrote another novel--another closet feature I'd be embarrassed to have anyone read nowadays. Good practice, though. I racked up lots of rejections from agents during that time--thank goodness. If anyone had actually picked up that turkey of a book, I'd be really worried about his or her judgment.

The real training ground began during the period from 1997 to about 2001, while my two kids were small. As soon as I could reliably leave them with their father for entire weekends without me, I started attending writers' conferences and pitching my third novel to agents. A few looked at it and I got a few encouraging compliments. No takers, though.

During this time I also got a few good comments (one was even from Marion Zimmer Bradley) on short stories I wrote and sent to the various fantasy magazines. But again, no sales. With MZB, I apparently missed it by a hair. I got the rejection letter that read, "This is a perfectly good story...unfortunately I have already purchased something similar...."

When I could not sell any of my short stories, I started a miniature book business, Pookatales Press, and sold the short stories in mini-book format for mini-book collectors and collectors of dollhouse miniatures. This didn't result in a large print run, as I hand-bound the volumes myself, but it did give me a way to be paid for my stories at last, and gave me experience in running my own small business.

My fourth novel was called Aspects of Illusion, and garnered some attention from an editor at Roc, who said if I revised it, she'd look at it again, or alternatively, she'd look at anything else I wrote. Now I was finally getting somewhere! I went to more conferences, took more classes, notably agent Don Maass's "Breakout Novel" classes, revised again, and finally hit the jackpot. The revised fourth novel gained the attention of Bob Mecoy during the fall of 2002. He became my agent and has stuck with me ever since, for which I am eternally grateful. Aspects of Illusion is the first of an epic fantasy trilogy. I have since written the middle book, called Shadows of Memory, and currently I'm halfway through the third book, Shifts of Perception. Unfortunately, all we've managed to get for these books are compliments partnered with regrets from publishers that they did not have a spot to offer us in the lineup. Epic fantasy has proven to be a hard sell, and these books are fairly lengthy, which no doubt doesn't help matters. First-time authors have a hard time publishing at lengths of more than 100,000 words. I am finishing the trilogy because I still believe in it, and because maybe at some point its day will finally come.

In 2006-2007, I wrote a new book in the urban fantasy genre, called From the Ninth Wave. This one is sleek and fast, and happens to be in a genre that is still hot and still doing well in the marketplace. In December of 2007, I completed the last revisions that Bob asked for, and by now it'll be going out to publishers. I'm at the wait and see stage with this one, so while I'm waiting to hear the initial feedback on it, I'm finishing the epic trilogy so it's done and out of the buffer. Next on the docket is to plot a second book in the urban fantasy world of my character, Brenna Callahan, so if someone picks up the first one, there'll be the possibility of more Brenna books in the future.

That's about it! No awards, no legitimate publications, no track record except that of hard work and stubborn, stubborn persistence. My entire career to date is riding on this new book--so any positive energy sent in its direction is greatly appreciated! In a few months, weeks, or days, we'll have a much better idea of just how much longer I'll be an unpublished writer. The one sure thing is that I'll be a writer for the rest of my life, and one day, my books will be on the shelves. Then I'll be out of the frying pan and into the fire.


carmsmars said...

I'll definately buy one of your books Pooka, when they come out.
best regards

KHurley said...


Adrian said...

What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing it. I drew courage from reading about your tenacity. It helps to know I'm not alone in persistence.

KHurley said...

Thanks, Adrian, I'm glad it was useful! I've heard that the writers who make it into print aren't always the ones who were high-school phenoms or who broke out while barely through college. Those are rare. More often, the ones who make it in this business are the ones who refuse to give up. Best of luck to you, as always!