I am writing this post because time is tricky, and prone to sneaking off if we don’t keep an eye on it.
And I’m writing this post because five years ago, I finished my very first book.
I should say that five years ago I finished the first draft of my very first book and then proceeded to make all the mistakes a shiny-new-penny writer makes, especially when they’ve never written anything book-shaped before.
I queried too soon, learned the manuscript wasn’t ready, and because I didn’t really know what to do from there, I shelved it.
But six months later, I came back. I wish I could say I came back because I was ready. I’d certainly been thinking about the book in the interim, but what made me dig it up was a competition. I’ve always loved competition. I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer for a dialogue contest–one of Nathan Bransford’s–and entered this snippet:
The shadow woman pointed down the street and spoke.
“It’s a left. Don’t forget,” she said, patting Nell’s shoulder. It was an awkward feeling, not quite solid but certainly thicker than air. “Always a left. Never go right. Right never goes where you want it to.”
Nell nodded slowly. “Right’s wrong. Got it.”
The shadow woman shook her head and the hole where her mouth should be pursed. “No, no. Right’s not wrong. It’s just not right for you.”
“Mildred, you’re confusing her,” sighed the shadow man. He raised a long shadow hand and pointed.
“At the end of the road, turn left. Straights are unpredictable. They don’t tend to lead you straight to anything.”
“How will I know when I’ve found an Out door?” asked Nell.
“Don’t worry about that,” said the shadow woman. “You found an In door. An Out door will probably find you.”
“You’ll stumble upon one, if you’re lucky,” added the shadow man.
Nell thanked the two, and apologized again for intruding. She took a step, then stopped.
“I’m sorry, but would you mind telling me what this place is called?”
“You don’t know?” asked the shadow woman. “But…”
“It’s called the Shadow Mile,” interjected the man.
“Oh,” said Nell. There was a flicker of familiarity, but then it was gone. “That’s a strange thing to call a place.”
“It’s a strange place,” said the man.
(This book is not THE NEAR WITCH, obviously. THE NEAR WITCH would be my second book, written after this one had been on sub for eight months, and came oh-so-close so many times, but didn’t sell.)
So strange to think. Five years since typing my very first THE END (which I find funny now, since real books don’t actually end with THE END), and I might not be as shiny-new-penny as I was then, but in some ways I’m still the same hungry little writer, desperately wanting to be seen. To be READ.
Five years, and in that time I’ve graduated school, lived in three cities, two countries, gotten an agent, changed agent, and finished five books, four of which you’ll get to read–THE NEAR WITCH, THE ARCHIVED, VICIOUS, THE ARCHIVED #2, and one of them you might not. Five years, five thousand followers, god knows how many highs and lows and highs again and middles.
Someone asked in the live chat Monday night if it felt easier now that I’d signed on dotted lines and seen one of my books–soon two–take shape as finished things on shelves, and I want to say it does get easier, but I think that might be a lie.
Five years, and I think some days–most days–I’m more nervous now than I was before it all started, more aware that my career, my future, lies largely in the hands of others. That’s a strange thing, isn’t it? I’ve always found it to be the strangest, most disconcerting part of publishing (or any creative industry for that matter), the idea that an artist/writer/creator’s success lies in the hands of the recipients. On those who take, consume, and experience what we create.
It’s scary, and thrilling, and filled with enough uncertainty to set your head spinning and leave you ill. Every day seems to have more question marks than periods, more ellipsis than exclamations.
There’s this lovely notion that once you sell a book, you’ll be okay, the rest is paved, but nothing in publishing is certain, nothing promised.
Every book is a brick, and you’re constantly building your career, constantly constructing, except that metaphor doesn’t work, because it doesn’t account for the reception, the consumer. So every book is a brick if the public likes it, if it does well, and a bit of straw if it doesn’t, and you’re trying to build a structurally-sound house, and you have to hope that every brick is a brick as you set it in place because you won’t know until it’s there, holding up a wall.
Five years in, and where am I?
Simply trying to make good bricks.
And you better believe I’m going to keep building my house as long as they let me. As long as YOU let me.
And I have to say, right now I’m feeling thankful for every single chance to build a brick.