I sent the finished manuscript for Prospero’s Children to my editor, Jim Frenkel, in Summer 2001. What followed was a very, very long wait…very, very long.
Did I mention “very”?
Maybe, I should have explained that by “very” I meant a really, really, really long time.
At first, I waited patiently, working on other projects (mainly the Corruption Campaign novel I am still struggling to complete.) But as time went on, more and more people got published around me. While I sat there, still waiting.
I remember vividly a convention in the spring of 2002, during which I met another author who was waiting for her book to come out. We chatted with great delight, comparing our works and discovering that we had some common themes. We expressed a desire to read each other’s books. Herbook was due out that fall. Mine, I hoped, I would hear about soon.
Time went by. Her book came out. She wrote more. She won some awards. One of her books was made into a movie. (And I am delighted for her!)
All that time, I waited, bookless.
After a while, I’m sure she thought I was a crazy person who had just pretended to have written a book. Sometimes, I wondered myself.
I cannot recall when I first decided to rewrite the book. Since it was just sitting around, I might as well improve it, right? But I remember December 2003. I suspect this was the second time I decided to rewrite it, but the idea came to me about three in the morning. John was in the hospital, recovering from heart surgery, and I had been up all night praying. Suddenly, I decided/resolved a number of things. (I say decided/resolved because it was four in the morning and I had been praying non-stop. To this day, I could not tell you which ideas came to me and which I decided on my own.):
1) I should stick with Jim, even though he was taking a long time.
2) The book was getting long, rather than waiting for the publisher to tell me to cut it, as had happened to John, I should cut the book in two myself and restructure it to make the first volume a more complete story. (This well-meaning attempt was stymied by later events, but I tried.)
3) Once Tor finally bought the book, if they did, I was going to get myself the best agent out there!
So, I began the process of rewriting the book.
I remember reading that when Tolstoy first wrote Anna Karenina, his heroine was portrayed negatively. Each time he rewrote the book, she became more sympathetic, until she became the appealing character she is today. A very similar thing happened to me.
First, Miranda got a lot nicer…that might seem strange, considering that she is rather cold in the first portion of the story. (My one great worry about the Prospero books is that readers might not hold on until Miranda starts to improve. My hope is that Mab and Mephisto will be engaging enough to draw people onward until Miranda’s metamorphosis begins.) But she used to be much worse. Slowly, through three rewrites, the suspicion and mockery was removed, and Miranda became more contemplative and caring about her family.
Secondly, the demons got worse…and by “worse” here, I mean more demonic. In the early version, the villains were just supervillains. In fact, the original Three Shadowed Ones had been supervillains in the game the Prospero Family came from. As I rewrote it, though, I began to think that if they were demons…from Hell…that should mean something. There should be something demonic about them, something horrible, or at least wrong. So, with each rewriting the Three Shadowed Ones became more demonic, more tied into their infernal origin.
So, I rewrote, and I rewrote. And more time went by, and more.
Now, some of you may be wondering what cause this great period of waiting. I am not going to speculate about that, except to say that my editor and his wonderful wife were in a serious car accident in the middle of this period and this contributed heavily to the delay. Other than that, his reasons for not getting back to me earlier are his own. As he is a great editor, I’m not going to say any more about it.
By 2005, however, I was getting frustrated. Friends I met in the first year or two of my wait were now established writers. John’s fifth book had just come out. The kids were getting older. And I was still exactly where I had started.
That year, World Fantasy Convention was in Madison, Wisconsin, which happened to be where my editor lived. I wrote him and said, “If I get you Volume Two by the end of July, will you promise me to give me an answer—a yes you want to publish it or a no you don’t—at WFC in late Oct. (or maybe it was early Nov. that year, I don’t recall.) He said yes.
So, I wrote like a fiend, ignoring my children and letting my mom and John see to them. That was the last summer I wrote during the summer. )Now, I take summers off and spend them with the kids. Back then, though, the oldest ones had only just started school, and summers were different than they are now. )
I finished the book and send it off to Jim.
My Adventures in Madison
John and I flew out to Madison that fall, a big endeavor for us. I arrived Thursday and found my way to Jim’s house, delighted to see him again. He had a big party planned for that night and asked that we not talk about the novel until the next day. I agreed, and, thus, spent the afternoon chatting with him about our families and helping him clean his house to get ready for the party. It was a very nice afternoon.
But I was no closer to knowing what was going on with my novel than I had been back in Virginia.
Friday came and went. I saw Jim a few times. Once I even got up the courage to mention that it would be nice if he gave me a yes or a no while the post office was still open, so I could mail the manuscript home if he did not want it. He gave me a really weird look, as if I had sprouted a third eyebrow in the middle of my forehead, and murmured something I don’t recall, but which left me with the impression that maybe he’d pay to send it home, if it came to that.
More time went by. Another writer met with Jim. She was all smiles and hope, but afterwards, she confessed that he had not accepted her manuscript. I lost the last shreds of my hope at this point. I figured that if Jim liked the book, he would have told me, and he just hadn’t gotten up the gumption to tell me yet what he really thought.
Saturday came, and, finally, Jim and I met to discuss the book. We decided to go out for coffee. (Being a Starbucks fanatic, I suggested Starbucks. Jim snorted with infinite disdain and explained that here in Madison, they had real coffee shops. I was okay with that.) But before we went, he left for a few minutes to use the restroom.
So, there I was, having flown across country and waited for three, waiting to be told that the guy who had had my book for four years did not want it. Maybe, I hoped, he’d tell me why, and I’d have something to work with. Or worse—and this was my real fear—he was going to tell me that he had never gotten around to reading it after all.
So, as you can imagine, I was feeling nervous and glum. Then, something happened that turned all that around in an instant.
Another editor walked by who happened to be a friend of a friend. I’d already talked to her this weekend and had even described my book a bit. I went up and explained that I was about to meet with my editor and that I thought I would have my manuscript back at the end of the meeting. ( I don’t recall how I said it, but I was expecting either to get rejected or to take the manuscript back if he had not read it.) Could I send it to her instead? She agreed, saying she’d be delighted.
By the time Jim came back, I was confident. Nothing he said could crush me (though I was still expecting to be crushed) because I had a backup plan. So, I was cheerful and happy, despite the coming blow.
And still, I could not find out anything! Twenty minutes went by, during which we walked through lovely Madison, found a coffee shop, and had a nice conversation about jazz and another author’s work…but nothing about my book.
And then, as we were sitting drinking our coffee, Jim casually mentions, in passing, that he loves my book.
If my jaw did not drop off my face and roll across the floor, out into the street, and three times around the state capital building, it was due to sheer unadulterated luck. Sure felt like it did.
Turned out, even the part about jazz and the other author had to do with my book, too. Just took me a bit of time to figure out where it was all going.
He loved it and wanted to buy it.
When I came back to the hotel, now dancing on air, I let the other editor know that I wouldn’t be sending my manuscript after all. She laughed and wished me luck.
Assuming the higher-ups at Tor agreed, I was going to be a Tor author!
Next week: Part Three: The Great Agent Hunt