Monday, January 28, 2013

In the Beginning

I adore NaNoWriMo. It’s exciting, it’s crazy, and it motivates more people to write than Saturday detention. Every year I support the madness via my blog by finding resources, encouraging those who commit, and otherwise behaving like a book-writing nag. This doesn’t endear me to the snobs, but I can make fun of them throughout November, which is a nice bonus.

Occasionally I also join in, as I did after finishing two novel series back in 2009. I love all my stories, but after a decade of writing medieval vampires, and SF surgeons I wanted to try something without fangs or scalpels. I settled on a story idea set in a nineteenth-century alternate universe, in which America loses the Revolutionary War and remains part of the British Empire. I could rewrite history and make my countrymen drink tea, wear fussy clothes and have exquisite manners while behaving badly. It would be like Masterpiece Theater on crack.

I mentioned my fabulous idea to some friends, who were nice enough to give me instant feedback:

“Sounds weird.”

“You’ll never sell that.”

“What about the vampires?”

“That world is impossible. Not to mention unpatriotic.”

“Tea? What happened to coffee? You can’t kill coffee.”

All their gloominess actually sealed the deal for me; I wouldn’t worry about selling it. I’d write simply for the joy of it, and what better time than with the rest of the planet during NaNoWriMo? When November 1 arrived I skipped into my office and went to work.

For the next thirty days I wrote like a maniac, and posted my stats and progress online. While my friends worried, my readers cheered me on. Once I hit the 50K mark I scared my dogs by shrieking and dancing before I went back to work. I could have stopped, but I was having too much fun. The magic on the page enchanted me so much it felt like the novel was writing itself. I had a blast, rediscovered my craft, fell in love with storytelling again, and finished NaNoWriMo 2009 with almost 60K.

The novel turned out so well that I went completely insane and decided to submit it. I sent it out to a dozen publishers, all of whom rejected it (several requested I send them some vampire fiction.) I kept at it, but after three years of rejections all my friends were saying “Told you so.”

I didn’t want to give up. I might have written the book on a lark, but it was some of my best work. Besides, the first novel I’d published was one I’d written for fun; it could happen again. I did get close to publication a couple of times. Once the novel went for approval to purchase, only to be vetoed by a senior editor. Another offer came in but didn’t survive contract negotiations.

So why should you try NaNoWriMo when an old pro like me couldn’t sell her NaNo novel? Well, this past summer my submission landed on the desk of the right editor, who loved it and made me an offer. Not only for the novel, but for a series—which makes me one of the rare writers to sell a novel series based on a NaNoWriMo book.

Writing a book in a month is madness, but a little crazy could be just what you need. I hope you’ll join me in November, offend the snobs, annoy your friends, and write something radical. It’ll be fun, and like me you may end up being the one to say “Told you so.”

(Originally posted during NaNoWriMo 2012 at The Office of Letters and Light blog)

The Announcement

Every book a writer publishes is special, but I have one being released next year that is out of the ordinary, even for me. When it’s published we are definitely partying at my house.

The cause for much celebration started in 2009, after I turned in the final novels for my StarDoc and Darkyn series. Back then I decided to write a book for fun during National Novel Writing Month. Yes, I am one of those writers. That and after nine years of telling stories about doctors in space and ex-Templar vampires I really needed a break from the scalpels and the fangs. I went through my Maybe Someday When I’m Feeling Crazy file and selected an idea for an urban fantasy in an alternate historical setting.

The idea was only a little radical. In my new universe the colonies actually lose the War of Independence and remain part of the Empire in the late nineteenth century — so Americans are all still British and now call themselves Torians. They also believe magic is real, and are as fascinated by it as they are industry and science. Two ancient, secret societies have also been hard at work subversively expanding their power and influence, and they’re about to get even busier.

In the center of all this is Kit, an independent young woman who overcame being orphaned and penniless by using her brains. These days she makes her living by investigating crimes blamed on the use of curses, evil spells, demons and the like. Kit doesn’t believe in any hocus-pocus, and spends most of her time proving to her clients that magic is a lot of nonsense . . . until she finds out that it isn’t.

Writing about a nineteenth century that never happened meant I had to give up most of what was familiar to me as a storyteller. Gone were the superhuman powers and bioengineered mutations and all that lovely convenient technology I’d invented to go with them. I had coal, and steam, and horses. My country was now a bunch of provincial mercantilist territories under rather despotic Crown rule. It was like moving from the big penthouse at the Hilton to reside in a lean-to with a chicken coop and an outhouse.

And then there was handling the cast of new characters. While my SF surgeon had the run of her universe, and my vampires enjoyed all those handy superpowers to get them out of hot holy water, Kit has to operate under the radar of a Victorian male dominant society that, like its counterpart in our world’s history, basically treats all women like dirt. I never knew how much of a feminist I was until I built this world.

Creatively my new universe was just the challenge I needed. That November I couldn’t wait to get to the computer; even my dogs learned not to get between me and the keyboard. From NaNoWriMo day one I worked like a hyperlexic maniac. I reinvented my country, shuffled history and regularly lost myself in my characters. It took a lot out of me, but it gave back twice as much, and in the process renewed my love of story craft.

By the time I finished Her Ladyship’s Curse I had a novel unlike anything I’d ever written (and I’ve published a few books.) I hadn’t given any thought to pursuing publication for it, but once I read it through and realized what I’d gotten on the page I knew I had to send it out.

It took some time to find the right editor (okay, three years, but patience is one of my virtues), and that turned out to be Adam Wilson at Pocket Star (@AdamDetritus on Twitter, for those of you who like to stalk editors.) Adam kindly allowed me to dump the entire manuscript on him and gave it a read. He then made me an offer, not just for the novel but for a series. That’s when I began party planning.

Her Ladyship’s Curse will be the first book in my Disenchanted & Co. novel series, to be released by Pocket Star in August 2013. It may make me the first author to sell a series based on a NaNoWriMo novel (and if I am, I definitely want the credit) but that’s not the only reason the book means so much to me. As it happens Her Ladyship’s Curse will also be my 50th published novel.

I wonder if I can make everyone who comes to my party next August bring me gifts of gold. It’s the same etiquette thing as the wedding anniversary, right?

(Originally posted at SF Signal)