Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reaching for a Dream

I was eleven years old when I decided I wanted to write.

I was in Mrs. Klein's fifth grade class, in a small rural school just outside Bozeman, MT. We were assigned to write daily journals before we could go to recess and, surprisingly, instead of resenting the work, I began looking forward to it. I wrote poetry (mostly very bad) and observations (mostly mundane) about my life--and Mrs. Klein told me I was good at it.

I'd been telling stories since I was little, mostly accompanied by pictures of women in dresses so long that their trains flowed off the page. But this was the first time it occurred to me that I might actually *do* something with those stories.

I wrote my first short story in sixth grade; I wrote longer ones in seventh and eighth grade--including a truly awful novella that only my sister remembers (all I remember is that the main character had the winning name of Killadee and the villains were the Dethka). This led to a derivative fantasy trilogy in high school that I revised in college and sent to approximately one place: Tor books. Shockingly, I never heard back.

And then life got in the way: I went to graduate school, I married, I wrote a 300 page dissertation on women's rhetoric, I had kids, I started teaching college writing classes.

About four years ago, I realized that if I wanted to realize that dream I'd had of writing a novel, I had to start. Otherwise, it would only stay this vague hope. So I started writing creatively again. I went to conferences and workshops. I read craft books. I started a writer's group (something that had saved me with my dissertation).

Zig Ziglar's photo.

I wrote a middle grade novel and queried it. I had a few requests, but the novel itself was flawed and I couldn't figure out how to fix it so I put it away. I wrote another book and started querying.

This time, the story was very different. In December, I got an offer from a terrific agent (Josh Adams). Over the winter break, I revised my book and wrote up synopses for two possible sequels. In January, we started submitting the book to various editors.

Editors, in general, seem like very lovely people. Most of the rejections I got were kind: either it wasn't right for them or their list, it was too similar to something they'd sold, they weren't looking for a trilogy, etc. A couple pointed out things they didn't love about the manuscript: my agent said that was a subjective opinion, and we kept trying.

My agent was wonderful--positive and encouraging when I wasn't feeling so positive after a string of rejections (because let's face it, no matter how kind the rejection, it still means one more person who doesn't want to publish your book).

About three weeks in, he said he was getting positive vibes from a particular editor. I wasn't sure what exactly those vibes consisted of, and I was raised by my mother, who was raised by her mother--and so my default belief is pessimism: if I expect the worst, I can be pleasantly surprised, but I won't be disappointed. So I wasn't particularly hopeful.

I knew the odds, too: lots of authors don't sell their first book on submission. A good friend is debuting next year with her fourth book on submission.

And then we hit the last day of our submission window. (My agent had asked the editors to get back to us with a decision by this day, and to his credit, they all did). A few more rejections trickled in, and my confidence, already waning, began to seriously deflate.

Then my agent called, late in the morning, to say  he'd been speaking with another editor at this particular publishing house about a different project--and they'd essentially given away that an offer was coming. Which it did--at the very end of the day.

About two weeks later, this showed up in Publisher's Weekly:

Needless to say, I'm thrilled! While some parts of it went down really quickly--I wasn't on submission for all that long (though it felt like an eternity while it lasted)--it also feels like it's been a long time coming. It's been more than twenty-five years since I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I'm also very humbled--and grateful. I know that there's a fair amount of luck that goes into getting a publishing deal (not all good writers or good books get picked up). I also know that I owe my current project to a long list of wonderful friends and readers--people who helped me revise the book, who encouraged me when I needed it, and so much more.

Now I just have to survive the revisions--and write two more books! (And hopefully many more after that).


  1. Congratulations, Rosalyn! I am very excited for you, and especially thrilled that it's a historical novel because I write those too and I love seeing that there's a market out there for them. This deal did go down very fast, and that is an awesome thing, too! Hurray!

  2. Awesome news! I'm so excited for you!

    Thanks for letting me beta read (even if I didn't actually get back to you with comments--it sounded like you'd done some heavy revising by the time I finished and I wasn't sure you'd need anything I had to say). Purely selfishly it was encouraging to read something that wasn't quite perfect, but I could tell was almost publishable. Gives me something to aim for myself :)

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    1. Congrats! Can't wait to read the book :)

  4. Many congratulations, Rosalyn! It's stories of perseverance that lights my fire of inspiration. You worked hard and now it's about to pay off. Looking forward to your debut! :)

  5. Oh my! That is so exciting! Very happy for you! Keep working toward your dream, but don't forget to celebrate!