A few weeks ago a friend saw a recent pic of me holding a blue ribbon and promptly texted. “Your marriage okay?”
Before I responded, I looked across the room at the husband I would choose again in a heartbeat.
“That award picture. Where’s your wedding ring?”
I pulled up the snapshot. Sans ring, my left hand held the ribbon front and center.
“Jeweler cut it off. Basketball injury.”
“Um. Bad catch. Beau’s pass.”
Beau is our grandson. He’s two. His tossed ball hit the tip of my ring finger straight on. The finger I use to type W. And S.
I’ve adjusted. Nine fingers, ten. Whatever. Doesn’t change the fact that composing a novel takes a long time for a green fiction writer like me.
But . . .you ask . . . the book’s finished, right? As you’ve read about various awards my novel has garnered, you’ve asked me where you could buy it. Wouldn’t those awards signal the book’s birth into the world?
Not yet. Here’s why, beginning with a few highlights from the story’s conception until now:
A story begins to hound me. A fire, a wilderness and a ten-year-old girl named Aggie interrupt meals. They weed the garden with me. Show up in my dreams.
When characters I sketched years earlier join these nocturnal hatches, I set a legal pad and pen on my nightstand so I can snag them—and I begin to stitch the coming-of-age story together. Within months these people have blood in their veins. Personalities. Relationships. Powerful goals and wants—and obstacles they have to overcome if they ever hope to satisfy them.
I register for the Willamette Writer’s Conference and send in advance submissions of my unfinished manuscript. Once there, I meet with readers (agents and publishers) who critiqued my pages. They are gentle with my baby and encourage me to press on.
I write until I find myself in a cramped closet, where my experience teaching literature does me little good. The nonfiction writing skills that served me well in the past sit on the bed eating popcorn while my story gets tangled up in empty hangers.
I need help.
A group of us get together every couple of weeks, and since we pray for each other, we ask God about my book. The next morning I open my laptop and there she is: a developmental editor who shows me how to shape the story’s bones. She becomes a friend who prays for me as I write and who shows me how to keep my characters out of dead-end closets. I can now listen to those breathing people and keep them on track. Great fun.
I finish the first draft of my YA (young adult) novel and slide it into a drawer to cook over the holidays.
At the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference I join a cohort of writers also refining their manuscripts. One of them urges me to submit my story to the Cascade Writer’s Contest.
I send it in. On a whim, I also submit the full manuscript to the CIBAs (Chanticleer International Book Awards). In both contests, I enter the unpublished YA category.
After another round of edits, I figure the story is ready for publication. For the YA market, it may be. Beta readers and an editor have given it a go. A first place award has arrived from the Cascade contest. The story has moved from slush to long-list in the Chanticleer competition. Agents at Mt. Hermon have expressed interest. (Since I’m choosing to go the same traditional publication route as my two non-fiction books, an agent is a must, and my prior agent is long-retired.)
I send the story to potential agents—those I met at Mt. Hermon and those I cold-queried online.
But comments from a contest judge and two agents niggle at me. “Adult market,” they say. “Women’s fiction . . . YA crossover.”
Hoo boy. I like the idea, but a genre switch means major revision. I make changes in the manuscript, testing the water. Finally I withdraw my queries to agents and go back to work, still praying for direction.
I locate a long-time editor who has worked with the authors of some of my favorite novels. One writer said that working with her was like earning a one-on-one M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts).
I send her my first fifty pages. “Would you help?” I ask. She acknowledges receipt. Says she’s currently booked, but will get back to me.
Editor emails that the opening pages “mesmerized” her. Says she’ll be in touch by summer’s end.
Thrilled, I keep writing.
Editor says she has an October 1 opening!
Editor laughs when I tell her I’m terrified, then sends me deeper into the story and my characters’ lives. A brutal, exhilarating process.
I write. She responds. I write more.
CIBA competition: Manuscript progresses from short-list to semi-finalist.
I again attend the annual Mt. Hermon Conference, this time with my adult fiction manuscript-in-progress. The acquisitions editor from a major publishing house tells me to get representation. Says she’s very interested. I spend three hours with a wonderful potential agent.
The manuscript wins First in Category at the CIBAs, based on that earlier YA version.
Under my editor’s direction, I revise. And revise. The book is better, I think—and is settling well into its new adult genre, with crossover potential to YA. Will it be ready to send out by summer’s end? Will it ever get published?
I hope so. I’ll keep you posted.
(Thanks for your prayers.)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters . . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving. —Colossians 3:23-24
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do —Ephesians 2:10
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. —1 Peter 4:10