First Book Friday: Deborah Ross

First Day Friday is back! Now with submission guidelines and an index of previous authors!

Today we have Deborah J. Ross (deborahjross on LJ), who published her first book as Deborah Wheeler. Her first pro short story sale was to Marion Zimmer Bradley for the very first issue of Sword & Sorceress. She’s been convention security, a preschool gym teacher, martial artist, bacteriologist, and much more.  (I love the way each of these jobs would be useful to the rest.)

Read on to learn how she sold her first book to DAW…


Jaydium [Amazon | B&N | BVC], my first novel to see print (as Deborah Wheeler), began as a few pages scribbled in a spiral-bound notebook while my first child attended swimming class. The idea for the “space ghost” in Chapter 5 came to me as a dream-image: a tunnel, dark and poorly lit, and the ghostly figure of a man. In itself, this is not particularly innovative. Usually, the figure is adrift in time or some cross-dimensional warp. The hero’s goal is to rescue him, to bring him into normal space/time. I wondered what would happen if such an attempt might have the opposite effect — to bring the rescuer into the world of the adrift-guy. A hundred rounds of “What If?” later, my rescuer had become a pair of unlikely allies, each with a different reason for being in the tunnel, and I sent them off on a series of displacements not only back in time but across alternate histories. I wanted something more at risk than just “not getting home.” What if getting home means something else happening, something really terrible that affects much more than just these few characters? What if the alternate future in which they don’t get home is the best one?

About the time I finished the first draft, I joined a writer’s workshop. They tore it to shreds. I went home and cried, and then set about learning everything they could teach me. Four revisions later, I sent off Jaydium to Sheila Gilbert at DAW. And waited. And wrote the next book. And researched agents. And sold a bunch of short stories to increasingly prestigious markets. And waited some more.

My family had the opportunity to spend 8 months in a furnished house in Lyons, France, an adventure too marvelous to pass up. For the first time since I’d started writing seriously, I had child care most of every week day, no day job, and very few other distractions. When I returned home, even though it was financially terrifying, I folded up my day job to focus on writing.

Three months after I returned home from France (I think it took DAW almost 2 1/2 years, so I wouldn’t want readers to get the mistaken impression that 3 months was a reasonable response time!), I got a call from my editor. “I’ve finished reading your book,” she said. “I love your work.”


I squeaked, “Does this mean…” I’m going to sound sooo stupid if I’m wrong! “…you want to buy it?”

She laughed.

With very little oxygen reaching my brain, I stammered, “This is wonderful! I’m so glad you like it! I can’t think about numbers … you’ll have to discuss that with my agent.”

“Great. Have him call me.”

In stupefaction, I hung up the phone. What had I done? I didn’t have an agent! All I knew was not to commit to any contract specifics while in an altered state of consciousness.

I picked up the phone and dialed the agent at the top of my dream list. “I’ve just gotten an offer for my first novel,” I said. “I’ve heard wonderful things about you from Author A, Author B, and Author C. Could you … er, um … negotiate the contract for me?”

“Only if we establish agent-author representation. For all your books.”

“Oh. Yes, please.”

Then he laughed. Although I was delirious with joy, I was feeling a bit idiotic. Why was everyone laughing at me?

It turned out that those same authors had been telling him about me, and he’d been waiting until I had a finished book that he could represent. (He’s still my agent and I’m still with DAW.)