First Book Friday

First Book Friday: Mindy Klasky

Welcome to First Book Friday!

A long time ago, on an internet far, far away, there was an online writing bulletin board called the Rumor Mill. A young writer named Jim used to visit every day, learning about manuscript format and markets and writing scams. One of the people he encountered was a writer named Mindy Klasky (mindyklasky on LJ).

Mindy was a “real” writer, who had recently sold a fantasy series to Roc. I remember being in awe that this person had actually done it. Looking back, I think this was my first “Hey, I know that author!” experience. From my perspective, it looked like such a wonderful experience, all jellybeans and unicorns and rainbows.

So it’s fascinating for me to read the story from Mindy’s POV and learn what her journey was really like.

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Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. We’ll code name it NOVEL ZERO, for reasons you’ll soon discover. After a couple of weeks of poking around, I landed an agent. We’ll code name him Agent X, for more reasons you’ll soon discover.

Agent X tried to sell NOVEL ZERO for five long years, averaging one rejection every twelve months. (Yeah, I could write a separate post about how the wrong agent is worse than no agent at all, but I’ll spare you.) During my long wait, I broke up with Agent X twice, but I took him back both times.

Meanwhile, I wrote another novel, The Glasswrights’ Apprentice [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. It had all the things I love in traditional fantasy – a medieval city, strict castes, a thousand gods. And it had a thirteen-year-old heroine who witnessed an assassination and was accused of being the killer, necessitating her masquerading through her society’s castes to find the true murderer.

Agent X took twenty-four hours to (allegedly) read APPRENTICE, and then he said that it was flawed in all the ways that NOVEL ZERO was flawed, and oh, by the way, he was breaking up with me.

After great gnashing of teeth, I searched out other agents.  On March 31, 1998, I signed a one-year contract with Richard Curtis. Then, for one entire year, I waited. I started work on another fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE.

At the end of 365 days, no deal had appeared.

But on the 366th day, I got an email from Richard with the subject line “A Bite” and the content: “Roc wants APPRENTICE.  They asked about sequels; I told them you had two.”

I was thrilled.  Overjoyed. I leaped for the phone, only to find that Richard had left the office for the day. I started to plot sequels, spinning out story ideas that I had never considered before.

That night, I went to the theater, to see a lousy murder mystery. About half-way through the first act, I was pummeled with a brutal realization: The date was April 1, 1999. April Fools’ Day.

I quickly convinced myself that Richard Curtis was the cruelest man in the world.

I did not sleep that night. I phoned Richard’s office at 9:00 a.m. I held my breath as my call was transferred from the receptionist to my agent. I started crying when I found out that he wasn’t the cruelest man in the world.

Roc did, indeed, buy THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ APPRENTICE. My initial contract was for APPRENTICE, a sequel, and SEASON OF SACRIFICE. I quickly signed a second contract for three more Glasswright books.

Alas, the Glasswright books eventually cycled out of print. But this month, the Author’s Preferred Editions have been (finally!) issued as e-books. The series is also available, for the first time, as trade paperbacks. (You can read the first chapter of each book on my website.)

I’ve loved writing my speculative fiction novels, and I look forward to crafting many more. And I think that April Fools’ Day should be a national holiday.

First Book Friday: Peter V. Brett

Welcome to First Book Friday!

Peter V. Brett is a fellow JABberwockian, and was a special guest of honor at ConFusion earlier this year.  I could tell you more about him, or you could check out his character sheet.  Yes, Brett created a D&D character sheet for himself.  (He’s a neutral good seventh level human Bard.)  In other words, Brett is my kind of geek 🙂

His novel The Desert Spear [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] will be out in paperback in the U.S. soon.

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If you love reading, odds are you have a special book. Your first book.

No, not Hop on Pop. I’m talking about the first book, sans pictures, that you picked up and read of your own free will and spare time. The book that opened your eyes to the wonder of reading for pleasure. Some of you still have that book on your shelf, while others remember it wistfully like a long-lost friend, vanished at a garage sale even though you knew in your heart it was worth more than the $.50 sticker your mom put on it.

For me, that book was The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. When I finished reading it, I knew two things. 1) I wanted to be a writer, and 2) I wanted to write fantasy.

I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen. It was called An Unlikely Champion, and it was a fantasy/science fiction hybrid story, like Star Wars. It was also quite possibly the worst book ever written, and I never even dreamed of trying to sell it.

But I learned a lot writing it, and applied that to the next book I wrote.

And the next one.

And the next one.

It was that fourth book, The Warded Man [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], that first got the attention of my agent, Joshua Bilmes. He was intrigued by the dark, low magic world I had created, where demons come out at night. But he also pointed out some major flaws in the story that needed fixing. As a result, I ended up throwing out about 60% of the book, and writing the new sections from scratch.

The problem was that at this point, my “real” life was in full gear. I was recently married, and a new homeowner. I had a promising career in medical publishing, and friends and family to spend time with. There was never time to write, and when I griped about that, people didn’t seem to understand. Writing was just a hobby… wasn’t it?

I decided it wasn’t. It was a priority, and I needed to find a way to get it done.

I live in Brooklyn, and was commuting every day to my job in Times Square. On a good day, it was about 45 minutes on the subway each way. On a bad day, it could take two hours each way. Such is the capricious will of the subway gods.

I decided to try and make that time productive. I bought an HP iPaq smartphone with a big screen and a nice wide QWERTY keyboard. It came with a word processor that could easily sync to and from my desktop computer.

From the year, I wrote almost every day during my commute, listening to my iPod and thumb-writing on the phone. It was awkward at first, but I was stubborn, and as the weeks went by I got faster and faster. I began to make real progress, free from the distractions of the internet, e-mail, and phone calls. I was averaging 800 words a day.

I completed the second draft of The Warded Man in the first year, and started the sequel, The Desert Spear, while the first book went to market, all on the phone. I was close to halfway done with the second book when the series sold and I began to write full time from home, finally fulfilling the dream that had started so many years ago.

I still have that copy of The Hobbit on my shelf. It is a beaten up third paperback printing, missing half its cover, and bound together with so many pieces of tape that it might as well be laminated. It is also the most valuable book I own. The one I’d grab if there was a fire.

Sometimes I wonder if my whole life would be different if the first book I picked up had been horror or a mystery, a western, or science fiction. Might my imagination have taken off in a different direction, or would I have gravitated towards fantasy anyway? I guess I’ll never know.

First Book Friday: Anton Strout

Welcome to First Book Friday.

For several days now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to introduce Anton Strout (antonstrout on LJ).  I keep coming back to, “He’s just Anton.”  He signs goofy bookplates.  He cofounded werejaguarpunk with me.  He does booksignings with Amber Benson.  He usually wears pants.

He also writes fun urban fantasies, the fourth of which (Dead Waters [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]) is starting to show up in bookstores.  I posted a review of his first book here, but before you read that, check out Anton’s tale of how he wrote that first book.  And then give him a hard time in the comments.  He deserves it.  Because, you know, he’s just Anton.

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I’m four books into the Simon Canderous series now, but writing the first, Dead To Me  [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], was a far different experience that writing the later ones, because at that time I was untested as a writer.  Writing the first of anything is a scary, pants-wetting time.  I didn’t have contractual deadlines to make, never knew if the book would find a home, and my only motivations to write were simply proving to myself that my love of Ghostbusters, Hellboy, and Buffy counted for something.

I had written one previous unpublished book with The Dorks of the Round Table, my writing group that consisted of now-published authors Jeanine Cummins and Carolyn Turgeon.  That book was a serial killer techno-thriller, and once I was done it went into a drawer, and should never again see the light of day.  Next, I started on an idea about a guy with magic hands that kept him removed from others, ruining all his relationships.  Thus began the adventures of Simon Canderous.

One by one the Dorks of the Round Table joined a workshop run by contemporary fiction author Jennifer Belle. It wasn’t a genre specific one, but I joined because I wanted to be around others working on good writing.  I was glad to be in such a non-genre group, even if I got strange looks from time to time when I would bring in something like a combat scene between Simon and an enchanted, homicidal bookcase.

I was about a hundred pages into the first draft of Dead To Me, and the first thing they pointed out was that it would work much better in first person.  Converting it was a far more annoying task that it sounds, but well worth the effort as I think it strengthened the emotional connection to Simon for readers.

As to how I sold the book, well … my day job happened to be in Sales for Penguin Group, so I also knew a lot of editors.  I asked a friend from Ace/Roc to take a no-strings-attached look at my manuscript, just to tell me if I was going in the right direction.  I gave her every opportunity to say no, but she said she’d be happy to.

Then nine months passed.  In author time, that’s 72.9 years. I used that time to work on new ideas.  It was that, or go mad … well, madder, anyway. 

So cut to a day job meeting then with another fantasy imprint.  They started talking about how they really want to find a new urban fantasy talent to grow, and I had to bite my lip to keep from calling out “Me, me, me!”  I then asked my friend at Ace if they minded if I send my manuscript to this other imprint.  She told me to give her the weekend to finish looking over my work.  That Monday she came back to me, wanting the first two books in the series! Woot!

The strange thing I sometimes hear people say is, “Oh, he had an in … that’s why he’s published.” I’ve always found that strange.  I mean, the people at Ace have to work with me every day in a regular job capacity, so they better be twice as in love with my work if they buy a book from me, right? 

I think the important things I did was what anyone else submitting a manuscript should do — be professional in my querying, put my best work forward, and learn how to write while you wait. Tom Petty was right … the waiting is the hardest part.

First Book Friday: Lynne Thomas

Welcome to First Book Friday.  Today we have Lynne Thomas (rarelylynne on LJ), Head of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University.  That’s right, she’s a librarian, so don’t mess with her.  She’s fears nothing, except possibly desserts as big as her head.

Lynne brings us the story of her first (but definitely not last!) experience as a book editor.  A book which came about, in part, because of a T-shirt…

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Jim has asked me to talk about my experiences as a first-time editor on Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

I’ve been part of Doctor Who fandom for about a decade, thanks to my husband, Michael. I’m an academic rare book librarian at Northern Illinois University, who happens to archive SF/F literature as part of my current job duties. (Best. Job. EVER. Especially since I get to work with Jim C. Hines’s papers.)

The anthology’s title came from a t-shirt that Tara O’Shea, my co-editor, designed for her first Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention in 2006. There’s a pervasive notion in Doctor Who fandom (particularly in the UK), that the series is primarily pitched to and enjoyed only by male viewers. Tara wanted a book, aimed at both male and female fans, that told the stories of female fans, in a series of personal essays, who had been in the fandom all along, often behind the scenes. The subtitle could have easily been “No, really. Women like this series, too.”

Just after Tara signed the contract, her personal life imploded, and Tara and the Mad Norwegians realized that she needed some help to get the book done on time. This is where I was brought into the project as co-editor. The folks at Mad Norwegian Press had been friends of ours through Who fandom for nearly as long as I’ve been part of it. I had previous academic editing and writing experience (including a co-authored academic book, Special Collections 2.0). Editing creative nonfiction — personal stories — was new to me, even if the organizational skills for editing do translate.

Adding an editor changes a book, because we all bring different contributors to the table (this was an invitation-only anthology). Tara laid out much of the initial groundwork, getting Seanan McGuire into the project, for example. I brought in additional SF/F authors, (many of whom archive their papers with me at NIU) who also happened to be Doctor Who fans (Elizabeth Bear, Catherynne M. Valente, Jody Lynn Nye, K. Tempest Bradford, and Mary Robinette Kowal). Carole Barrowman, Captain Jack Harkness actor John Barrowman’s sister and writing collaborator, agreed to write for us, to my astonishment, when I cold-contacted her through her website. Our publisher also helped us reach contributors who had written Doctor Who tie–in books (Kate Orman and Lloyd Rose) and acted on the series (Lisa Bowerman). Through other friends in fandom, we got interviews with actors like Sophie Aldred, who played Ace in the Seventh Doctor’s era. (Tara had to interview her; I was too nervous. Ace is my favorite companion.)

We then filled out the rest of our roster with other writers who had interesting, positive fandom stories. Many focused on their Doctor Who inspired creative activities such as writing fanfiction, cosplaying, and creating fanvids and fancomics.  We were very lucky to get an original comic from the creators of Torchwood Babiez. Working with writers is great fun, but it is intensive. I see my job as editor as giving writers feedback that will make their own work better, while still retaining their voice and vision. With some of the fan writers, this involved numerous drafts to figure out how to best tell their story. Over the course of two and a half years from pitch to publication, the book came together, and debuted at last year’s Gallifrey One Convention.

I couldn’t be more proud of this little book. The positive reaction from our readers has been completely overwhelming. Reading events have been standing room only. Fans have made fanart, fanvids about the book, and have even cosplayed Verity, our cover chick — named for Verity Lambert, Doctor Who’s first producer — at conventions!

It was such a pleasure to work on this amazing project with Tara, the Mad Norwegians, and all of our fabulous contributors. Doctor Who has had a huge impact on my life, largely because of the community of fans, now friends, whom I have met through the series. Chicks Dig Time Lords is ultimately a love letter to my favorite show, its fandom, and the sense of community that comes out of being part of fandom.

Because fandom, you see, (much like the Doctor’s TARDIS), is truly bigger on the inside.

First Book Friday: Mark Terry

Mark Terry is a little different from the other authors I’ve featured here on First Book Friday.  For one thing, he writes thrillers, not SF/F.  But I like him anyway.  For another, Mark is the only one who’s tossed me around like a rag doll — he’s a black belt in Sanchin-Ryu, and we’ve worked out together a time or two.  (He’s not in my local class, but we see each other at regional events.)

Mark has been blogging about writing and publishing, and recently did a four-part blog series about book contracts.  Check out his blog here.  But first, read on for Mark’s bumpy publishing journey.

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I wonder if anyone has a “typical” first-book experience. Mine is, to say the least, weird. So much so I’m not even sure what to call my first book.

After a lot of effort and rejection, I finally sent a manuscript out back around 2000 or so, maybe a couple years earlier, to an up-and-coming independent publisher called Write Way Publishing. Write Way focused on mysteries, published in hardcover as well as trade paperback, and had several authors who had been nominated for major mystery awards like the Edgar and the Anthony. The manuscript was called BLOOD SECRETS and featured a forensic toxicologist. The publisher offered a ridiculous no-advance, 4-year publication window contract and was pretty much a total bitch during the so-called “negotiations.” I signed. Then she moved the pub date up, then did it again. I was now about 18 months or so out from publication.

Websites were just starting to be big, so I came up with the marketing idea to write a novella, a prequel to BLOOD SECRETS, called NAME YOUR POISON. It would have 12 chapters and I would serialize it a chapter per month leading up to the publication of BLOOD SECRETS. I wrote it. A friend of mine was teaching website design at the high school level, the kids designed some sites, I chose one, and off we went, one chapter at a time. This happily coincided with Stephen King’s serialized web-based publication of THE PLANT (which has a rather strange publication history itself), so I was getting some traffic and media attention and even the occasional review, thanks to riding on Mr. King’s coattails.

And then Write Way Publishing, right around month six, declared bankruptcy, released the rights to me (thankfully) and I was no longer going to be a published novelist. I was not happy, although to be fair, WWP released the rights to me. Other authors were not so lucky and found the rights to their novels tied up in bankruptcy court for a couple years.

Right around that same time, POD publisher company iUniverse came onto the scene and offered a deal to active members (of which I was one) that was hard to pass up. For a six-month period iUniverse would publish any members’ book for free! I quickly wrote another prequel called CATFISH GURU, also featuring forensic toxicologist Dr. Theo MacGreggor. They came up with excellent artwork, which is not always the case with iUniverse, and a collection of mystery novellas titled CATFISH GURU was published.

So I suppose that is my first published book. I don’t always view it that way, although I find that the writing and the stories hold up reasonably well. The next book, DIRTY DEEDS, had a far more traditional publishing history. It sold to the first independent publisher it was shown to, High Country Publishers, and was published about a year later. I since then became a full-time freelance writer, acquired an agent (several over the years, actually), have published nine books both traditionally and self-published, (and collaborated on a nonfiction book) and from time to time the whole publishing process proceeds smoothly and as expected…

No, wait. I’m lying. It never proceeds smoothly. But that’s what I’ve come to expect, so… There’s the story about being dropped mid-contract along with a whole bushel-full of authors. There’s the story about the small press that offered a contract, then disappeared off the face of the earth, their website replaced by one advertising a pet crematorium… At the moment anyway, I’m quite pleased with Oceanview Publishing, which published THE FALLEN  [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] and has THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS scheduled for June 2011. Let’s hope it continues smoothly.

First Book Friday: Erik Scott de Bie

Welcome to First Book Friday, with today’s special guest star, Erik Scott de Bie.

Normally I write the introductions here, but I loved what Erik had on his site, so I’m stealing it!  (Either that or I’m too busy prepping for Confusion to come up with something.  You be the judge…)

“In his free time, Erik stalks the streets of London clad in black, storms the ancient castles of Scotland, and faces French fire-dancers on warm midnights along the Seine.  He has stared Death in her pretty face, vanquished his greatest nemesis in the name of true love, and earned some rather spectacular saber scars.  (You should’ve seen the other guy.)”

Also, he writes books.

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My first novel, Ghostwalker [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], is a product of several fortunate coincidences and a lot of hard work, but it stands on a foundation of one simple character flaw: I am a geek.

I got into D&D around age 10, and I almost immediately started writing all sorts of adventures, character backgrounds, and even stories. My first long fiction — the background of my character Whisper, an elf rogue in the Forgotten Realms setting (coincidentally) — I wrote at 13. It was supposed to be 10 pages and ended up being 45. I knew at that point that writing was what I wanted to do.[1. Jim’s note: My first few stories came about in a very similar way, actually.]

This led into my favorite pastime, which was writing. When lots of kids my age were trying anything to avoid writing, I was shut up in my room typing away on my computer. I took inspiration from all sorts of novels, TV, and films — I would always ask myself how I would have done that ending differently. My work was awful, of course (my wife managed to get a hold of a disk of some of it, which she keeps as blackmail), but I kept at it, building and practicing and honing. I wrote about one novel a year between the time I was 14 and, well, now.

I never even thought about submitting any of it for publication, though–for me, this was just a fun pastime, which I would occasionally share with my friends and family. Then in college, I went through a serious health crisis, and it gave me the little kick-in-the-butt of urgency I needed to give it a shot. I sent a 10-page sample to Wizards of the Coast, and got a very nice rejection letter from Phil Athans and Peter Archer (with handwritten notes), who encouraged me to submit more in the future. This was big for me.

Less than a year later came the Maiden of Pain open-call, for a novel in a Forgotten Realms series about priests of various deities. My submission was not really a “priestly” novel, but more of a “fighter-y” tale. They didn’t buy that one, but they kept me in mind for another limited call that they were going to do later, for one novel in the Fighters series, and one in the Wizards series. I remember they mailed it to my parents, rather than to me (as I was in college, I listed my permanent address as theirs), and my dad immediately called me to read me the entirety of the letter: I could submit for one book or the other, and it would be a story based on either a Fighters prestige class or a Wizards signature spell. I listened to the story options, and I couldn’t get past the third entry on the Fighters list: Ghostwalker. Everything clicked for me, and I knew that was the one I had to do.

I think writers don’t write for the money, or the fame, or the glory, or anything like that. I think when it comes down to it, writers write because they need to write. There’s something in them that begs, wheedles, and demands to get out, and woe to the writer who doesn’t listen.

I had the entire story formed in the next two days, the proposal sent off within the week or so, and I just started writing the novel. In a sense, I knew that I would get the contract, but to an extent, I didn’t care if I didn’t. Which is not to say it wouldn’t have sucked if I didn’t get it (because it would have), but it was just the story I needed to tell, and so I did.  Writing that novel took into account so many things that I’d gone through in my life and was going through at the time: movies, books, philosophy, music, my health, romance, and just . . . life. How could I not write it?

I was overjoyed to get the contract officially signed (and I was very angsty about getting it signed and executed and all the paperwork taken care of), which I expressed for all of an hour, before I got back to writing chapter nine.

I’m very happy with how the novel turned out, and I stand by it today as one of the best things I’ve written. There are some things I could do better, of course, and my style has evolved a great deal over the many books (some of them published!) that I’ve written since then, but I think it stands as a great introduction to my style. If you like this one, there’s a good chance you’ll like what I’ve come out with since.

P.S. For Ghostwalker’s five-year anniversary of being in print (which is pretty cool!), I actually did a retrospective on the novel over at my website. Readers can get in touch with me there, at my blog, find me on Facebook or Twitter, or drop me an email at erikscottdebie AT yahoo DOT com.

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First Book Friday: Pamela Dean

Welcome to First Book Friday.

Pamela Dean (LJ, Facebook) has no idea what I’m going to write here.  I could talk about how she and I followed some of the same advice about having to write short fiction before you can do novels — advice that isn’t actually true, as it turns out.  Or I could talk about the first time a friend thrust a copy of Tam Lin into my hands saying “You have to read this!” and my fanboyish glee years later when I opened up my e-mail and said, “Holy crap, Pamela Dean read my blog!”

Ahem.  Anyway, read on, and enjoy the tale of Pamela Dean’s first published novels.

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My first novel was only half a book.  I started it when I was fifteen. I had been writing on and off since I was eight, but mostly poetry.  As I became more interested in fantasy and science fiction, I started trying to write short stories, since such common wisdom as I could garner in those pre-internet days stated that one always began with short stories and went on to novels.

In fact, I could not begin if I had to begin with short stories.  Even my sonnets were always overflowing their bounds and becoming entire narrative poems with sonnets as the individual verses.  I was rescued from my dilemma by a friend who had been given the Ballantine paperback edition of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  She was suspicious of such a long, weird-looking book; and, knowing that I read such things, asked me to just check it out for her.  It hit me like a tornado; I was never the same again.

One of its many effects was that I junked the short stories and began writing a huge fantasy epic – planned for three volumes, naturally – with a female protagonist.  At some point I realized that having read one epic fantasy novel at the age of fifteen did not actually equip one to write an epic fantasy novel.  What had I actually read a lot of?  Children’s fantasy novels.  I started over with a cast of five cousins unnervingly like the Pevensies in the Narnia books.  The characters who were not like the Pevensies were a lot like the crew of the original “Star Trek.”  Fortunately for me, I couldn’t manage a viewpoint character like any of Lewis’s, and devolved upon one named for Laura Ingalls in the Little House books, although she is a lot more like me at her age than like Laura Ingalls.

I stopped working on the book when I went off to college, but what I learned while not writing had profound effects on the finished book. After I fled graduate school, I revised my teenaged efforts extensively and then plodded on and on, through two writing group, and finally finished a work called The Hedge and the Sword.  It was shorter than Lord of the Rings, but still very long.  The writing groups were essential, particularly the second one, the Scribblies.  I would probably still be writing those books today if I had been all on my own.

By the time my book was done, Pat Wrede, a member of the Scribblies, had sold her first novel and found an agent.  The agent kindly agreed to look at my book.  However, she was perplexed by the intractable length and the apparent impossibility of cutting the book anywhere, and felt that she could not market it properly.  I wasn’t experienced enough to be daunted, and neither were my fellow Scribblies.  At their behest, I reread the manuscript and picked a spot, two-thirds of the way through, where the action paused briefly, and cut the book in two unequal pieces.   I polished up the “ending” of the first so that it was less raggedy. Pat then wrote me a cover letter, and I sent the manuscript to Terri Windling, then at Ace Books, who had bought Pat’s first novel.  In addition to Pat’s willingness to write me a cover letter, Terri was at that time editing both an adult and a children’s line of books, sparing me the decision as to which sort I had written.

Terri bought the book despite its unfinished character and demanded to see the rest of it, which she also bought.  The two volumes were retitled The Secret Country  [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] and The Hidden Land  [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

I had hoped that both halves of the original large book would be published in the same year, but the first was published in 1985 and the second in 1986.  Moreover, Ace steadfastly refused to indicate anywhere on the first book that it was really only half a story.  I still get irate mail about that.  I think I picked the right place to divide the book, though.  The tone also changes at the place where the action pauses, and I have a lot of mail from people whose absolute favorite of all my books is The Secret Country, stealthy inconclusive ending or no. And when Sharyn November did the reprints for her Firebird line, she put the proper information about the books’ connection on the covers, and brought them out within a few months of one another.

First Book Friday: Jaleigh Johnson

First Book Friday is back!  Overall, the feedback I’ve seen for this series has been positive, so I intend to keep going until everyone gets sick of it or I run out of authors.

I met Jaleigh Johnson (jaleigh-johnson on LJ) at GenCon a few years back, where I picked up a copy of her book Mistshore (review here).  She’s published three novels, eleven short stories, and freelances as a proofreader for Santa’s naughty list.

Read on to learn how this would-be romance author was seduced to the fantasy side of the force…

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I started writing seriously about the time I graduated high school.  Years passed.  I had had a few short stories published in small presses and nearly completed my first trunk novel when I heard that publisher Wizards of the Coast was holding what they termed the Maiden of Pain open call.  This was sometime in 2003.  It was a chance for writers to submit a proposal for a tie-in novel in The Priests series, titled Maiden of Pain.  The setting would be the Forgotten Realms world, and there were rules about where the story could take place, what character classes would be involved, and general guidelines.  The winner of the open call would receive a contract to write the book based on his or her proposal.  The audition was open to anyone, published or unpublished.

I should mention that when I found out about the open call, I did not intend to submit a proposal.  At the time, I was fully committed to writing romance—a few short stories and a half-finished novel were one thing, but the Forgotten Realms seemed pretty well out of my league at that stage in my writing career.

Then an idea popped into my head.

I envisioned a fantasy novel that was decidedly un-romantic and that I thought would be perfect for The Priests series.  Trouble was, I was out of time—the open call was almost over.  I typed up a proposal anyway and overnighted it to the publisher.  I figured that if my proposal didn’t make it on time, I could take that as a sign from the universe that I wasn’t ready for the Realms yet.

Turns out, I was mostly right.

My proposal made it, but I lost the open call to another writer.  But, in the very polite rejection letter I received from then-managing editor Philip Athans, I got some good news.  Though I hadn’t won the novel contract, Wizards was using the open call to find more than one writer to write for the Realms.  My name was now on a short list of other potential candidates.  I was floored by this news, and it softened the rejection quite a bit.

A few months later, Wizards sent out another call for proposals for two more series, The Fighters and The Wizards.  This audition wasn’t open to the public, and with a smaller group of writers, I felt my odds improve.  I started to think it might be possible to get that novel contract, which only a few months ago had been beyond my wildest dreams.  I submitted my proposal, and this time I got my hopes up.  Way up.  The universe would come through for me this time.

Not so much.

The second rejection hit me a lot harder.  I wondered how many more chances I was going to get before Wizards decided they’d made a terrible mistake putting me on their list of potential authors.  When an email came in for yet another open call, I figured it was now or never.  I poured everything I had into a proposal for a book in The Dungeons series.  I had a classic D&D setting, a dark story, and a title that I still think is pretty cool—The Howling Delve [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].

I got an email from Susan Morris not long after that.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the first email from my editor—she loved the proposal and wanted to offer me a novel contract.  I remember I got a little dizzy, but I ran out of the room and blurted the news to my brother.  Then I completely lost it and burst into tears.  Not only was I going to have a novel published, but I would also be writing for the Forgotten Realms, a setting I’d cherished since I was a teenager.

It was still a long road after that.  The Howling Delve was released in July 2007, a full four years after I sent off my submission to the Maiden of Pain open call.  We authors off that original short list affectionately came to be called the Young Dragons, and many published their own first novels through the Realms.  Many of them also became my closest writer friends.  And I eventually left the romance genre behind—well, mostly.  I did get married the same week my first novel came out, and I still consider myself a romantic.

First Book Friday: Kelly McCullough

Welcome to the last First Book Friday of 2010.  I’ll be taking a break for the next few weeks, but we’ll hopefully get more author stories next month.  Finishing out the year is Kelly McCullough.

Kelly’s series blends mythology, magic, and hacking, but most importantly, he also writes about webgoblins.  And as we all know, goblins make everything better.  (Click here for my thoughts on some of his books.)

Kelly’s web site doesn’t include much biographical information.  Therefore we are free, nay obligated, to make stuff up.  I’ll start by revealing that Kelly McCullough used to make extra money as a crash test dummy for Go Carts.

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I started writing seriously in 1990, finishing my 1st novel in about four months. I did it mostly because I’d met a wonderful woman who I intended to marry.

I wanted to have something approaching a normal life as well as a successful marriage and for me that meant giving up theater a career trajectory I had been on since the age of 11. Writing a novel was artistic methadone for my theater addiction. It also turned out to be a much more compelling artistic drug, at least for me, but I didn’t know that going in.

The novel was called Uriel and it’s currently trunked. It was a contemporary fantasy written around a mafia hitman/vampire protagonist and the return of magic into the world with the coming of the harmonic convergence. Despite that, it actually didn’t suck and I may some day write it again from scratch since I still love the plot. It even got some moderately hard nibbles from big New York houses. If I’d known then what I know now I might have been able to rewrite it to spec from one of those rejections and sell it to the editor in question.

Not knowing that and having my first-born novel rejected was the best awful thing that ever happened to me because it forced me to keep growing as a writer and to try something different. If I’d sold Uriel straight out of the gate, I might well be into my second decade of a mediocre but possibly quite successful career.

My 2nd novel was a fantasy farce called Swine Prince. It also got serious attention from New York, though it never quite cleared the bar. It’s on its third major incarnation at this point and off seeking a publisher once again. It’s fast, it’s funny, and in its current form it might well sell. Not selling it right of the gate was the 2nd best awful thing that happened to me, for pretty much the same reasons. You might be starting to see a pattern.

My 3rd novel was a traditional fantasy piece, book one of a trilogy. It’s currently trunked, but might well be rewritten and sold since the world and magic system I built it on provides the scaffold for my Kingslayer books, three of which are forthcoming from Ace in 2011 and 2012. Not selling it was the 3rd best awful… Etc.

My 4th novel was a category-defying book called WebMage [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], call it cyberfantasy with humorous undertones. I wrote it in 1998/1999 after taking a novel hiatus to write short stories. It’s the book that got me an agent. It started being shopped around in 2000, the year I was a Writers of the Future winner but it didn’t sell then, and that was the 4th most…

Somewhere in here, I formulated my basic view of the publishing industry and breaking in. Selling your book is like trying to knock down a brick wall with your forehead. It seems an impossible task until you remember that your forehead heals and the wall doesn’t, so if you’re persistent…

I wrote a 5th book, Winter of Discontent, and a 6th, Numismancer, and a 7th, The Urbana. As I was outlining my 8th, Chalice, I got a call from my agent. It was in the middle of the biggest family mess of my entire life which was an awful thing with no redeeming features.

Because of that, I was pretty distracted when I got the call. So much so that it wasn’t until my knees gave out that I realized my agent was telling me he’d just landed a two book deal for WebMage and a sequel. Then I was sitting down.

The funny thing was that I wasn’t wildly happy, as I’d always expected to be when I got that news. No, I was just profoundly relieved. All of the work and sacrifice and pain wasn’t going to have been for nothing. Later, I was happy and giddy and all those other things, but the first feeling was simple relief. I hadn’t chosen the wrong path.

I wrote two more novels before WebMage hit the shelves, Chalice, and the sequel to WebMage, Cybermancy.

So, how do you get from first book written to first book on the shelves of your local bookstore? In my case, you write a bunch more books. You keep going no matter the disappointment and you keep trying to make each book better than and different from the last one, and someday the wall comes down.

First Book Friday: Sherwood Smith

Welcome to First Book Friday, with today’s guest star, Sherwood Smith (sartorias on LJ).

How to introduce Sherwood … I’ve never met her in person, but we’ve been chatting online for years.  She’s a delightful person, warm and genuine, and if you’re not reading her blog then you’re missing out.

She’s been a writer pretty much her entire life.  Read on to learn how she went from writer to published writer.  And when you’re done, see here for my review of her book Once a Princess [B&N | Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].

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I started typed up my novels and sending them out in eighth grade. I knew zip about quality—I was writing the sort of book I liked to read, so they were all kid adventure stories, heavy on the castles, princesses, sword fights, and pie fights . . . kid drama and kid comedy. No romance! There were plenty of boys, but only as friends. Or rivals. But girls got the lead roles.

The very first one was written with a friend. We wrote it in secret code, trading off bits and delivering chapters each day to one another’s locker. It was set in the Netherlands around 1700, so that there were not only castles and princesses but wigs that could be lifted on fish hooks, a comedy plus to thirteen-year-olds. We were so thrilled with our masterpiece that we learned how to type, and typed it up. I illustrated it copiously—still have some of the drawings, and most of that first submission.

We submitted it to the eighth grade writing contest at our junior high. It was 400 pages long. I remember one of the teacher judges turning pages over with her fingertips, and looking down at it with this peculiar expression . . . rather as one might regard a fish long since gone to its reward. We did not win, needless to say—some kid who wrote inspirational poetry did. I bet her poetry was good. Our story was . . . *ahem* . . . enthusiastic.

By that point I’d already been writing about another world for some years, but I knew from my reading that “they” would never publish anything in which kids from Earth went to the world and never came back. Never grew up, either, but had great adventure lives. For hundreds of pages! (In those days, kidzbooks were max 60k words. It was hard to find a good long adventure until I started reading adult historical novels.) So I knew that if I wanted to actually get anything published, I’d have to write “they” books as well as my “me” books.

So, to the first published book. When I was seventeen, a friend said to me, “I wish all the heroines weren’t blond with blue eyes.” So I told another friend that I was going to write about a brown-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed heroine, but that friend got quite angry, saying that I ought not dare to write about minorities as I was a WASP and didn’t know how minorities suffered. (We were in high school at the time, remember.) I got the idea for Wren, and blithely began writing it—and I found my way between the wishes of the two friends.

The first line was: “The phone rang.” The title, which I thought so cool at age seventeen, was Tess’s Mess. Since I knew no one would publish my real secondary world, I thought I’d make one that publishers of kids’ books would like. It would have some of the fun stuff that I loved, but it wouldn’t break the “rules” I perceived in children’s literature at the time. I also wouldn’t commit the error of presuming to write about a minority; I might mention Wren’s brown skin, but she would have blue eyes, and the brown and blond striped hair, so she’d be in between.

I submitted the first half, as was (handwritten into a notebook) to a local contest—and won! So I thought, fame and fortune here I come! Finished it, laboriously typed it out on my Mom’s WW II-era typewriter, with its fading ribbon, sent it out . . . and it came back. And back. And back.

So when I turned nineteen, I figured I needed to learn something about writing, and I pretty much stopped trying to send things out for another fifteen years, though I never stopped writing. Every five or six years I’d take out Wren again and try a new rewrite, and in the late eighties, I was lucky enough to catch the eye of Jane Yolen, who taught me a whole lot about rewriting by having me give it three or four more drafts before she published the first one, Wren to the Rescue, at Harcourt, under her own imprint, Jane Yolen Books. By then I’d actually already gotten published, but these were work-for-hire without my name on them. Wren was the first with my name, and one of the first ones I’d tried to get out there.

The last of the Wren books just came out as an e-book. It pretty much stands alone. It’s available at Kindle and Book View Café.

Jim C. Hines