Out on a literary limb

I did it.  Yesterday afternoon, I clenched my teeth, summoned up my courage, went ahead and did it.

I still feel nervous about it.  I know there will be people that will think I’ve been wasting my time and energy.  I’ve got a good chance of facing rejection by some very respectable people.  I did it anyway.  I had to.  If I was going to obey what I perceive to be God’s will (not to mention keep my sanity), I needed to do this.

Simply put, this wannabe novelist is back on the horse once again!

Some of you know that I’ve written a novel.  The title of it is The Slave Auction, and it’s your typical boy-meets-girl story.  Okay, it’s actually your atypical postapocalyptic-boy-gets-bought-at-auction-by-feudal-noble-girl, proceeds-to-turn-her-life-upside-down-and-help-her-foil-a-plot-against-her-family-and-village, causes-her-to-fall-in-love-with-him-and-share-his-faith story, but still.  It’s not a long novel (90,000 words), but I rather like how it came out.

What’s frightening about it, to me, is how long this book (well, potential book) has been in process.  I can’t recall how long ago I first conceived of it; unreliable memory suggests I was still single, which means no later than 1998.  It was long enough ago that my initial mental image — Julia Roberts walking through a medieval marketplace in period garb — would now be impossible, as the protagonist (the Julia role, as it were) is in her late twenties.  I completed the first draft on Christmas Eve 2005, then did three revisions before I and my ersatz editor Geri (a fellow novelist, only she’s actually published!) were satisfied with it.  By then it was the fall of 2008.

So the next step was to find a publisher.  Unfortunately, as Moondog Johnny once said, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I submitted it first to my fellow novelist’s printing house — a logical move, as she’d been talking it up with her editors.  Or it would have been a logical move, had that publishing house not gone out of business a few weeks later.  Then I sent a sample to a fairly prestigious science-fiction publisher that had been recommended to me … only to receive back a crookedly photocopied rejection letter so fast that it made my head spin.  (Figuratively.)  I wasn’t sure what to do next; I thought about trying some of the Christian publishing houses, but wasn’t sure that it would be a good fit, as my novel:

  • deals with serious themes such as slavery and rape.
  • doesn’t include the Four Spiritual Laws or a dramatic, American-evangelical-style conversion experience.
  • is fairly well written.  (Not to be catty, but I’ve read award-winning “Christian fiction,” stuff that’s supposed to be the best in its field, that reads like comic books without the pictures.  I keep picturing Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis generating high torque in their graves …)

And then Sean got sick.  So there went another year.  And The Slave Auction sat there, a-mouldering in my hard drive — really two different hard drives, since we changed computers earlier this year — its truth still marching on.

Until a couple of months ago, when two things happened.  One was an article over at the Internet Monk discussing favorite novels — and as a sidebar, the general vapidity of most evangelical fiction.  (See, I’m not the only one who thinks this.)  In the course of the comments section, I mentioned that I’d written a novel, and the author of the article asked me to send him a sample.  Turns out he’s starting a new publishing company and is trolling for authors.  We played e-mail tag for several weeks before I finally got him a sample (the prologue and first three chapters) that he can peruse.  I’m still waiting to hear back.

The other is that Geri (who doesn’t actually have wings and a halo, but they wouldn’t look out of place on her) let me know that Penguin Books, a very very very big printing house, was taking electronic submissions for a short time (the deadline, in fact, is this coming Sunday).  So after several weeks of working up the guts, I sent them, per their guidelines, an e-mail containing a short introduction of myself and a synopsis of The Slave Auction.  That went out yesterday, so it’ll be awhile before I hear anything — if I ever do.

Now you might be wondering why it took me so long to get it together and do the last one.  You’re probably thinking, hey, you want to be a professional writer, bring home some bacon for your family, so what’s the delay?

To that I must answer: if this were your novel, you wouldn’t ask that.

This is something I’ve put several years’ worth of mental sweat into, nurturing it from a vague concept through a couple of different potential forms (it almost ended up as a movie script) and working it over and over in great detail.  To think that after all that investment, it can be rejected by people who don’t even know me, can be a gut-wrenching experience.  Imagine strangers coming up to you and telling you your baby is ugly — that’s what it feels like.  I’ve already had that happen once, in the most dismissive manner possible (seriously, it wasn’t even a good-quality photocopy!), so I know whereof I speak.

And I’m not a person who takes rejection well.  I’m thin-skinned, and being ignored or sent packing hurts me deeply.  I’ve tried to develop callouses, honest — I just haven’t had a load of success.  So it’s work to put myself (and ask any writer: their creations are as much a part of themselves as their fingers are) out there to be judged.

But if I ever want to making a living at what I do best — writing — that’s what I gotta do.  All there is to it.  So I’m doing it … and leaving the results to God, seeing as that’s all I can do.

I don’t know where all this will lead — whether I’ll be published through the guy at Internet Monk, or through Penguin, or some other house (“Christian” or “secular”), or not at all.  I’m not eliminating any possibility, though I’d rather not submit to one particular Christian publisher — I’ll name no names, but it’s the same one that put out the Lynne Spears (Britney’s mom) book on parenting, an act I once compared to publishing a Jeffrey Dahmer cookbook.  Still, I can’t say what the Almighty has planned for The Slave Auction.  But I know He made me who I am, and a large part of who I am is that I’m a writer.  It’s only logical that He might want to use that in some way, right?

And thus, I need to keep going out there with my little novel and testing the waters.  You all pray for me, okay?



3 Responses to Out on a literary limb

  1. Lori Knutson says:

    I want to buy a copy when it’s published!!!!! It sounds intriguing.


  2. M G Kizzia says:

    Good for you. Stay the course. Remember Robert Heinlein’s rules for writing #4 and #5:
    4. You must put your work on the market.
    5. You must keep it on the market unti it is sold.

    The Fiction Side: The Storyteller http://mgkizzia.wordpress.com/
    The Non-Fiction Side: Word & Spirit http://michaelkizzia.wordpress.com/

  3. Dairl says:

    Good luck man! Even Hemingway probably had to struggle to get his first book published. To be honest, I have no idea whether I’d actually like this novel or not–but either way, I’m rooting for you!

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