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, 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!