If there be a devil, one of his concubines is surely Big Lady Doubt.
She first introduced herself to me in 8th grade. I’d applied to this science & tech high school. Figured I was a shoo-in. My brother had gotten in a few years earlier, and if he could do it, pshhh, please. Plus I was a math nerd. Game over. Thing was, I wasn’t a very dedicated math nerd. And there was also this English component to the entrance exam. English and
meI weren’t on good terms then.
Man, talk about getting knocked off a pedestal. BLD told me to lay low and accept my lot at my regular school, but no matter how low I hunkered, the bullies found me. At that special school, I might not be special, but at least I’d be safe, and perhaps even normalish. So I rededicated myself to nerdiness, learned some big words, and tried again the next year. Got in.
The excitement did not last long. My peers were brilliant. 21 perfect SAT scores, a quarter of the class attending Ivy league schools, one guy even patented an invention.
BLD told me I couldn’t compete. You’ve already climbed halfway up the mountain. Don’t want to fall off it by aiming too high, do you? Nope, definitely not. Didn’t take any risks. Not with school, not with friends, and most certainly not with girls.
One thing BLD couldn’t touch was my writing. Why? Because I was awesome, duh. With my arsenal of big words (ambagious, marmoreal, casuistic… bam!), I could not be stopped. That, and I never let anybody but my mother read anything I wrote. She was completely unbiased.
In college, BLD told me to switch from an English/Physics double-major to something practical (mechanical engineering). Kept writing though. I was 300, 000 words into my epic fantasy and it was bound to be a best-seller.
Eventually, I discarded my unicorn dreams and got serious. An 81,000-word MG about a clan of warrior squirrels (there was a basset hound and a lemur involved, too). Serious stuff. I even mailed a query to South Africa, where the story was set.
Rejection. Shocking, I know. But this was my first go and I was just figuring out things. Nothing to worry about. Honing the craft and all that.
Round 2. A story about Gods playing games with kids (kind of Rick Riordan meets THE NIGHT CIRCUS). Got my first request. This is it. She will be wowed by my brilliance. Sorry, the story didn’t really go anywhere. Whatever. She knows nothing.
Then I got seriously serious. Writer’s Market, blogs, a thousand variations of a query (one which got mauled by Janet Reid on Query Shark), even revision. Wrote another story. My best one yet. With action and emotion and even theme. Sent out dozens of queries. Requests came in. Partials, fulls. Got so close. So damn close.
Then I heard laughter. BLD had entered the room. Knocked down the door. Refused to leave.
She laughed louder at my next story. A war story. With romance and darkness and consequence. And dragons? Seriously? Yeah, with dragons. Closing my ears to her noise, shutting my eyes to her sneer, I entered one of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s critique sessions. 25 words to hook a reader. If it sucked, so what? They didn’t know me from Adam. That’s why I used an alias. If they liked it, well, maybe BLD didn’t know everything.
Most everybody was hooked. This gave me a rush of confidence. Then an agent contacted me out of the blue asking for pages. Ammi-Joan Paquette. Me: Who?! BLD: Scam alert!
Unlike my astute agency mates, I was mostly unfamiliar with EMLA when Joan’s email arrived in my inbox (I knew it was a closed agency and I’m a wee, shy thing when it comes to conferences & networking – bad author). Did a quick check around the web and instantly realized how fortunate I was (understatement). This agent, this agency. Oh, hell yeah.
At the time, I was only about 14k into what was then titled KISSING DRAGONS. I was more pantsing than plotting at that point and wondered if I could keep riding the tailwind that had garnered her initial approval. BLD: No chance. You’re hosed. I powered on, if for no other reason than to spite her.
More good fortune struck in June, when one of my scenes from the story co-won* Nathan Bransford’s action-writing contest. Another confidence injection to propel me to the finish line. Sent it to Joan. Figured there’d be a long wait. BLD: followed by a short rejection.
Joan got back to me a day later to arrange a phone call. BLD was at a loss for words. Me: This is it. This is really it.
No. Joan wanted a revision. Why? Because the second half of the story was nutsoid (my word, not hers). I revised, sent it back a month later, ignored BLD’s smug look the best I could.
Another phone call. No, still a little bit crazy. But – and it took me a long time to realize this – the biggest issue was that I tried to wrap up everything a little too prettily. The ending was rather fantastical and shifted the tone from the gritty, realistic feel (her words, not mine) of the first half.
So I scrapped the back half completely, outlined (the horror), and rewrote. I went darker, because in that darkness was truth. Through that darkness was hope, however painful. That’s what I told myself at least.
BLD told me I was an idiot. It’s too dark for YA. She’ll despise this new version. What does she see in you anyway? This rejection could be the end of you.
So be it. Send.
I waited. Joan had gotten back to me on the other revisions super fast.
One month passed. Agents are busy people, I reminded myself almost daily. And they hate incompetent writers, BLD reminded me even more often. Two months. BLD mated and multiplied. I prepped myself for rejection.
Another month trudged by. Then April came. A week before my birthday she emailed. As much as I expected another dashed dream, I still had that evil worm of hope slithering through my heart. It took me a very long time to open that email.
Loved it. Called two days later. I rambled incoherently, yet this did not dissuade her. Agented. Happy Birthday, Joshua. We did minor touchups and went on submission.
I figured it would be awhile (BLD: Forever). I’d been on the query carousel for more time than I care to admit.
A week later we had our first response from Greenwillow. Is this a trilogy?
A week after that, the offer came in. A trilogy. A gritty, realistic (yes, with dragons) trilogy about how the lines between good and evil blur and fade and sometimes disappear (BLD: maybe it’s just a story about dragons, kid). The first book, TALKER 25, will be released early 2014.
I’ve never particularly cared for the aphorism about life being about the journey and not the destination, but this journey has helped teach me that if you’re gonna kiss a dragon, don’t half ass it.
And, perhaps more importantly, I’m no longer afraid to tell Big Lady Doubt to suck it. At least every once in awhile.
* about a month after T25 sold, the other winner, Josin L. McQuein, also had her book picked up by Greenwillow.