Will the Sixth Try Be the Charm?
Over the past five years of this blog, I’ve periodically announced new projects. Some of them have died out at early stages due to fatal flaws such as Passive Protagonist Syndrome, or, in one case, a meticulously outlined “zero draft” for a middle grade time travel which I looked at and decided I wasn’t excited enough about to pursue further. Others were picture books, where I discovered that, while I enjoy translating picture books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, I’m just too serious and intellectual to write them. (I don’t think there are a lot of picture book authors who’d be sorted into the Ravenclaw house at Hogwarts.) But I’ve also written three full drafts of YA or crossover novels and two proposals for middle grade novels that have been submitted to publishers.
I’ve written several blog pieces about the “journey of non-connection” (to quote my VCFA classmate and friend Sandra Nickel) of my contemporary YA novel ANTS GO MARCHING, from the optimistic early days of writing it at VCFA and finishing the draft shortly after Rogue found a Big 5 publisher, though the months turning into years that the book sat in editors’ slush piles or underwent major overhauls, to the moment I finally realized that it would have to go into the trunk, probably forever. One of the middle grade proposals turned into a bad volunteer job when the publisher that solicited it turned it down and I realized that, despite an enthusiastic reception for the opening chapters at a VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency workshop, I didn’t love the project enough to finish it and submit it elsewhere. I ended up cannibalizing parts of it for another proposal, for a co-authored book that I cannot talk about but for now is on the back burner following a “doesn’t fit” rejection. We’re not giving up on that one, though.
Nor am I giving up on my YA historical novel set in Portugal, THE HOUSE OF SILENCE, which has received an encouraging R&R (revise and resubmit). I’m also holding out hope for an own voices historical novel with an autistic protagonist, SET THE COUNTRY ON FIRE [Update: The title was changed to TORCH], which needs a sharper first chapter before it goes out on submission. A weak first chapter doomed Surviving Santiago‘s initial round of submissions and burned a lot of bridges for that book; it took almost four years and a major rewrite for it to find a home with then small publisher Running Press (now an imprint of Big 5 Hachette).
As I work on the new beginning of SET THE COUNTRY ON FIRE, I’ve also started yet another new project. And while that last manuscript represents my experiment with the collective protagonist, this one is another new direction for me — a novel in verse. I’m currently 73 pages, 31 poems, into the story with the rest roughly outlined, and I’m excited. The feedback so far has been encouraging as well, something I worried about when I started because I’m new to the format. Yes, I have written poetry and had a few poems published, and I taught poetry as part of my creative writing workshop in Canarsie last year, but I don’t consider myself a poet. And while I enjoy reading my work aloud, I don’t have the stage presence to join the community of slam poets that I consider to be the inspiration for this novel, titled EYES OPEN.
Still, I haven’t given up, and I consider the multiple journeys of non-connection since my last book sale — what many would see as an exercise in futility, as in “you had your day, why don’t you just close your laptop and retire” — to be an opportunity for experimentation. I chose the verse novel format because my protagonist writes poems to honor her imprisoned boyfriend — locked up for printing subversive flyers under Portugal’s fascist dictatorship — in a notebook she hides away in her mattress. In that way, my main character, Sónia, dictated the format of the book.
I also take courage from my VCFA classmate and friend Laurie Morrison, who wrote an eloquent and helpful piece for this blog about her long journey to publication, and Joy McCullough, whose recently-released Blood Water Paint is one of my mentor texts for EYES OPEN and who writes a lot about her ten unpublished manuscripts before that verse novel sold and the floodgates opened for her. (I’m trying to get her to come onto this blog and spread her inspiration.)
If you’ve written manuscript after manuscript, endlessly revising each one, without a sale, or you had books published a while ago and then endured a long sales slump as I have, I hope this post offers inspiration to keep going. The only way we’ll never publish again — or publish for the first time — is if we stop writing. Stay tuned for progress reports on EYES OPEN, because I’m still busily writing and maybe the sixth will be the charm!
Lyn, you are too talented a writer even to think about giving up. You have, as we used to say in the (19)60’s, a “good head.” Don’t let the “Big 5” determine who you are and what you do.
Thank you! I think the measure of a true writer is someone who cannot stop writing, even if every single door to publication is closed.
Thanks for sharing your experiences about being in this industry, Lyn. Your story is inspiring. I hope you keep writing and striving and holding on to these stories. Perseverance is key, but sometimes the whole process is just disheartening.
Thank you for reading! I’ve considered self-publishing and will be dipping my toe in later this year when I publish a collection of my blog posts about travel and life in Portugal.
Lyn, I’m glad you’re persevering. As Sharon said, your story is inspiring to us!
Thank you! I was inspired by Laurie’s story, and then Joy McCollough’s, which she included in her acknowledgements of Blood Water Paint, so passing the inspiration on! Joy McCollough wrote ten books before selling her first one, and she’s sold two more in the past two weeks. It was like a floodgate for her.
Eyes Open sounds fascinating. I am really looking forward to seeing your verse work. You are such a versatile writer! I’m crossing my fingers that this sixth time is the charm and its journey will be one of resounding connection!
Thank you! One of my editors didn’t like the idea of trying new things and advised me to focus on one kind of story. In a way I’m doing that — writing historical fiction for teen readers with similar themes — but trying to stretch myself in terms of craft.
Thanks Lyn, this is just what I need to hear now. Your one of the few gifted ones who can write anything. Keep listening to the still small voice within…and write, write, write!
Thank you! I guess it’s more like I’ll try anything. I’ve even tried fantasy and time travel, but I didn’t feel my heart was in it. It’s more like those were genres that were selling at the time.
Thank you so much
Thank you for reading, Sabina! Hope your writing is going well!