When I graduated from college, I took a job working for my father, with the agreement that I could write two hours and work six. (I only got paid for six, but I lived at home, so this was no big deal.) I had heard that an author I admired submitted stories for ten years before she finally got her first sale. I vowed then and there that I would not wait ten years! I would get published right away!
Pride goeth before a fall. That was in 1985.
I had begun writing about nine years before, when, at the age of twelve, I started my first story on my mom’s old typewriter. By college, I’d finished a couple of short stories. Not good enough to sell, but I did have a real, bona fide rejection letter from George Scithers at Amazing Magazine, which I hung on my dorm room wall. Even back then, I could tell that the novel would be a better medium for me than short stories, so I was determined to start a novel.
Only, I knew my writing was not up to the job, so the first six months, I just practiced grammar. I bought a couple of grammar books and split my two hours of writing time between doing grammar exercises and copying and diagramming passages from authors I liked. My grammar is still weak in places, but it improved greatly that year over what it previously had been. My clearest memory from that period is of copying paragraphs of Tolkien by hand (this was before we owned a computer) and underlining them in various highlighting colors, to indicate the parts of speech; a lot of semi-colons in Tolkien.
Eventually, I moved on to writing a novel. Several novels were started and discarded: one about a wizard who was trying to create life while drinking a lot of tea; one about immortals in the time of Queen Elizabeth; one called City at the Heart of Dreams, about a girl who meet Odin in a dream and soon finds out she’s pregnant, but only in dreams; one about a psychiatrist named Devon MacDannan who was under attack by Leanan Sidhe.
I also wrote more than 600 pages of a Victorian romance called The Audacity of Her about an American heiress who married a British lord, based on the experiences of the real American heiresses know as the Buccaneers. That one was a lot of fun, and I still have chapters and chapters of it laying around somewhere. There are one or two scenes where I captured some part of the life of the times that John still talks about today.
None of these works were ever finished.
I Write A Book
Somewhere in the early Nineties, John and I were invited to play in a roleplaying game run by a friend. He was a new moderator for us, so I decided to write a short story demonstrating what my character could do, so there would be no misunderstandings. For my character, I picked Miranda, the daughter of the magician Prospero from Shakespeare’s Tempest, only in the game, Prospero would turn out to be one of the magicians in the game background. Miranda lived on an island with her airy servants and had a group of airy captains who worked directly for her.
One of these captains, a grumpy detective from a 1940s world, was named Mab. I chose him as her side kick for the short story, which took place on a world with talking gargoyles (the one character in the original story who never made it to the novel) and other strange supernatural beings. It was a light-hearted story involving vampires and Pixie Cola.
We only played in that game a few times, but I liked the character and the story I had written. I decided to write more. I took the character out of the game background and put her into a entirely different story. I moved Miranda back to Earth and made her the daughter of the original magician Prospero from Shakespeare. I set the story in the modern world, only a modern world that had a secret history and all sorts of supernatural beings in it.
I figured that if Prospero had fathered Miranda in the 1400s and was still around today, he’d probably have other children. So, Miranda needed siblings, and I knew exactly who I wanted them to be.
I asked John for permission to borrow his Prospero Family, a zany and lovable bunch of characters who had first appeared as supervillains in a game he ran in college, but who, by the time I met them in the Corruption Campaign, (our long running roleplaying game,) were good guys—funny, quirky, and outgoing.
They fit perfectly!
I kept them as close to John’s originals as I could—including the difficult parts, such as that one of the sisters had married one of the brothers. But in the end, I made them my own. Erasmus, who smiled through his lank hair as he spouted morose poetry became Miranda’s adversary and a bit of a lady’s man. Theophrastus, the heroic and level-headed one, became an old man.
Then, I borrowed the magic system from our Corruption Campaign. I’m still amused when I reread the book at how elegantly I took the magic system and the past events of the Prospero Family from our game and wove them into Earth’s history. None of this will matter to any readers, of course, as they never saw the original, but it is nice to see that I could pull it off. (If and when I ever get the Corruption Campaign series written, those books should have the same magic system as the Prospero series.)
Then I wrote some twelve or thirteen chapters. Back then, Miranda still had a lot of qualities I had made up for the original game character. She was suspicious and calculated, not trusting brothers and out to under-cut them. After writing about half the book, I had a friend read it. He identified certain problems that depressed me. I put the story aside.
Five years passed. I wrote other things.
Three friends—their names appear in the Acknowledgement: Mark Whipple, Dave Eckstein, and Catherine Rockwood—would not let the book die. One month, somewhere around 1998, all three of them inquired, asking what had happen to that Prospero story. I think Catherine asked first. Mark, who knows the Prosperos best, asked the most insistently.
So, I dragged the old manuscript out and re-read it. It was much better than I had remembered. When I got to the part where Mab is not answering Miranda’s questions because he’s advising her to get rid of her magic, I laughed out loud. (It’s never seemed as funny since as it did that one time.) I figured any story that made me laugh out loud was worth another look.
I got back to work on the Miranda book again, which was then called Prospero’s Children. This time I stuck with it until I finished it. It was the first novel I ever finished. I managed to use most of the scenes I’d written in 1992-93. The story was a mystery with humor and magic. Prospero disappears. The family gathers. They spat. They learn to work together. They rescue him.
Finally, in early 2001—sixteen years after I vowed I’d get published immediately—I had finished a novel!
Next week: Part Two: I Encounter The Awful Truth About Publishing