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…


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  The audition was open to anyone, published or unpublished.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.