Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Not just a first novel... the first novel

At least the first one I actually finished, revised, abandoned, rewrote...  I'm so not used to blogging! How can I have taken more than a day to report that all the little panics of the last six weeks are over?

Lost already? Me too, almost. Here’s the thing. I wrote a novel, see. Actually, I wrote a novel a very long time ago, in college, actually. A hand-written tome on college-ruled binder paper in a black Acco press binder, I carried it with me and worked on it almost everywhere. I wrote scenes out of order, and went back and filled in, and somehow, years later, I had written this wonderful historical novel--
Well no, not all that wonderful. But I loved the characters. All in all, I re-wrote Molly September about 4 times, from the ground up. And when I say re-wrote, I mean back in the day when to move a paragraph around you had to re-type the whole chapter.

Some years ago—before we moved into this apartment, so almost 20 years ago, I briefly had the interest of an agent, and she talked the book up to an editor at Zebra Books, who said it was too short for a romance (it was a romance?) but had promise. And if I’d consider applying the 4 pages of notes she sent me, she’d look at it again.

Can you imagine? I was so exhausted, so tired of the whole story, and I just felt like it was done. It was the story I wanted. Too bad I was the only one who wanted it. So it sat for another 7 or 8 years, until for various reasons I decided to do another pass, and found those wonderful notes, and yeah, they were exactly what Molly needed. It was a lot of work.  Little changes in the middle rippled up and down the storyline. It almost doubled in size with the addition of real story elements, not padding! A new emphasis on Molly’s father, recognizing the age difference between her and Prentiss, so many things.

Sadly, by this time the agent and I had parted ways, and I didn’t have the editor’s name—not to mention she had almost surely moved on from Zebra by then. So I started shopping it around on my own. Again, nothing. Back in the drawer.

Cut to a few months ago: a dear friend (and the best “ex” ever!) led me over to the Canonbridge fan page on Facebook, and to their website. I hung out for a while and was pretty impressed with the enthusiasm and excitement, and with how much they seemed to really care about working with their authors. I wasn’t ready to submit Sparrow’s Dragon yet, but I did have this other novel in a drawer. The website didn’t mention romances but it did express an interest in historicals. And since that was always Molly September's original intent...

So I wrote the query letter ( with Kelly Smith's advice 10 Query Tips) and I sent it in. Here’s where it really gets good. In a week I had a request for a partial ms and 5-page synopsis. In 10 more days I got a request for the full manuscript!  And six anxiety-racked weeks later, to the day, I was asked if I was interested in having them publish the Novel That Would Not Die! It felt like forever, but of course that’s really rather fast.

I'm still kind of spinning! Molly and Prentiss's story is really going to be read by people... some of whom I don't even know yet! Whee!


  1. It's cool to finally read the story of the story! But I'm sitting here talking to my screen saying, "Maggie! If you had just done those revisions 20 years ago, you could have been published 20 years ago and who knows where you'd be now?!"

    I'm glad you finally did it though! And OMG, writing an entire novel long-hand and on a typewriter! I could never have been a writer back then! :)

  2. You know I've had that same head/desk conversation with myself more than once. On the other hand, I was so much better a writer when I finally did get back to it, more mature, more secure in my own voice. Who knows if it would have been (or even could have been) anywhere near as good as it is now.

    See, there's that "love what you wrote" thing again. ;-)

  3. Thanks for sharing your backstory. ;o) It gives me hope that this story that I've put in a drawer too many times might finally see print.

    Incidentally, I think that writer is mistaking love for satisfaction. If you don't love your craft, love your characters, love your book, you don't belong here. That's not the same as being completely satisfied with them. I think any good writer is in a state of being perpetually unfinished, which is why I prefer the quote "Art is never finished, just abandoned." (I think it was Davinci who said it.)

    I won't presume to put words in the mouth of Ms Enright, but perhaps she was thinking of the people who run around shoving their babies in your face asking you to validate them, to love it the way they do. Almost all of the works I've had presented to me in that fashion are drek. The best stuff has been a process of tearing it out of the hands of he or she who wrote it and then persuading them that it's ready to submit for publication or sale.

  4. Scott, that has occurred to me too, although it does require a whole lot of interpretation of a simple statement. I kind of wonder what other words and context framed it.

    Only bad writers think their work is perfect, but I also don't care for the "abandoned" idea. That's what I did when I gave up on Molly for so long. After she's gone to press, I don't intend to keep tinkering with her, "perfecting" her. I do consider a poem to be finished when any further stroke will only ruin it. Sometimes done is just done. :-)

  5. Dear Maggie,

    Just finished reading the 'history' of Molly's story and yours and can't thank you enough for it. Came at the right time as I am putting the very final touches on a novel I've been working on for a long time.

    And all this because I ReTweeted kdmccrite's tweet about some of her work being published.

    Connections in the night. Strange but wonderful.



  6. Hi Doug! I've been remiss in keeping up with the blog ever since the exciting news, but thanks so much for the comment. Serendipity's a wonderful thing!


  7. Update: I have withdrawn Molly from Canonbridge. It will not be published by them, and is instead being submitted elsewhere.

  8. Just by way of putting a much delayed period at the end of this conversation, I did eventually (June 1011) bring Molly September to the world by publishing it myself. Here's the Amazon page.
    It's also available at most online booksellers.