Livin the Dream

This post was originally published February 12th, 2015, on my old blog over at Google’s blogspot, and is republished here by permission of… well… me, I guess. Probably should have thought that through a little better.

So, here’s a little story that you might enjoy.

In January, I decided to take the advice of friend and fellow writer Mike Munz and submit a manuscript to Booktrope, a Seattle based publishing company. He’d worked with them before, and last year had his novel Zeus Is Dead published by them. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s amazing. I even linked it, so no excuses.

Anyway, I fumbled around for a bit, trying to decide what to send them. I’ve got so many half finished projects it’s absurd, and all my completed manuscripts had already seen the light of day through the Createspace self publishing platform. Which left me with one finished manuscript I’d not yet put out.

The thing is, it’s kind of a daunting book. It’s intended to be the first of a series, and by itself it managed to rack up just over 218,000 words in length. So, I didn’t really expect much. I figured, if nothing else, I’d have at least accomplished putting my name and writing style within their sight, giving me time to finish something they’d find more acceptable for when they were open to submissions next time around.

I’m a realist at heart, with the soul of a pessimist. I never expect anything but rejection and dismissal. It’s just who I am. If you never set your expectations too high, you can never be too disappointed. That isn’t to say you can’t aim for the stars. You can. You just have to know they may forever be out of reach. You have to temper your goals with expectations that are not sky high.

Well, you don’t. I do. That’s just me. If you want to imagine yourself walking on Jupiter, go for it. I’ll have the spatula ready to scoop you up from orbit.

Honestly, the last thing I expected was for the book I sent to get accepted. Yet, that’s what happened. It was accepted. I had a novel accepted by a publishing company.

The world continues to be strange and unpredictable.

Basically, this was me.

I want to talk a little about the process after the acceptance letter, but first, other stuff that is relevant.

I started taking writing seriously when I was 16. I’m now 42, and have just gotten my first novel publication. I cannot even begin to express how I feel about this. More than overjoyed. I’m beside myself at finally getting a break. Finally getting a chance. It’s not an opportunity I intend to let slip by me. This is everything I’ve worked for, since I first decided to take the idea of being a writer seriously.

This is everything to me.

Now, Booktrope isn’t like one of the big publishing houses. They do things a little differently. I’m not really sure how to explain it all, but as a publisher, they take full advantage of the internet, and create an online workspace where the author, editor, cover designer and project manager can work together in real time. It’s fascinating, and though I’ve only just gotten started, I’m really excited to be getting to be a part of this.

The internet changes things far more than I think people realize sometimes. The instant connectivity it brings allows for new ways to approach things, and seeing a company in the publishing game taking advantage of that really thrills me. These guys know where things are going, and are ahead of the game. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

I got the acceptance email in the morning, right after I’d gotten up. I was still waiting on the coffee to be ready so I could have my first cup when I looked at my email and saw where it said Accepted. I think I stared at it for a good five minutes trying to figure out how that word could be connected to anything I’d written and sent to a publisher.

I finally sorted it through my brain, told Storm, and we slowly began to accept the reality of it. I had several cups of coffee and spent some more time really accepting it. I went to work, spent more time letting it get into my brain, and came home, ready to do whatever I had to do to make sure this opportunity did not get by me.

There were online forms to sign, agreements to agree to, and websites to get invited to join. There was all this stuff happening and I felt like I was just plugging through it, still waiting to wake up and find it wasn’t real.

When I signed into the Booktrope website for the first time, and saw my book listed as a pending project, that is when it hit me. That’s when it became real, and man, out of nowhere, I was focused. I was ready. I wanted to get to work that very instant.

Turns out there was a lot of material to read first. How the company worked, how I assemble a team to work with, what all we each need to do, so on and so on. I’d be lying if I said I completely understood everything that I read.

What I did get is the thing about Booktrope that is genuinely unique. They don’t assign you an editor, manager, cover designer or proofreader. You go and start putting together your own team. There are hundreds of people working in the Booktrope family, and you need to sit down, sort through, find people you are compatible with, and get on the same page with them about the manuscript.

So, I’m not really a pushy person. I don’t like just messaging complete strangers and going, hey I wrote this book, let’s rock it out together. It feels rude and presumptuous to me. At the same time, I really want to do this. Like, really really really want to do this. Which means pushing that side of me down and doing it.

Then waiting for responses. Waiting, and waiting. Because, as you can imagine, the editors and so forth that work with Booktrope are getting a LOT of requests. They have to sort through them, look at the manuscripts, decide what they want to work on, how many projects they want to be involved in, and if they like the attitude of the person who wrote the book.

This really is a team effort. Everyone has to want to be involved, and want to be part of this. Every team member has to be invested, and for me, the writer, that investment is easy. I wrote the book, so obviously, I’m there. The hard part is if I’ve written something they want to be involved with.

So, I finally start getting responses, and they are so positive. None of them are acceptances, but they are positive. I see my work being called lyrical, beautiful, compelling, and get the name Kelly Sue DeConnick tossed my way as some one I invoke.

Not gonna lie. I can take that kind of rejection with a big ass smile.

It doesn’t get me any closer to getting a team together, though, so I turn to Mike Munz for advice. So you all know, Mike is a fantastic human being. One of the truly great and generous souls on this sad planet of ours, and I will never, even as a writer, be able to find the words to convey how much I value his friendship and advice. Thank you, for everything, Mike. You are a splendid human being.

His advice was, simply, to get to the Booktrope Facebook page, where everyone hangs out, and ask for some folks to jump on board and do this thing with me.

In other words, public speaking. Or at least, that’s how brain interprets it.

Now, if it’s acting, I’m aces. I can speak in front of an auditorium, when I’m someone besides me. When I’m me, it gets really hard. I don’t find myself to be a very interesting person. The stuff I write, that’s what deserves the attention. Me, I’m just a dude with a weird obsession for Dungeons & Dragons and a kick ass anime collection. Not much of interest there.

Again, I suck it up and put myself out there, complete with a synopsis of the book. Two hours later, I’ve got an editor and a book manager. Because Mike Munz knows his shit.

My book manager, Allison Winfield, is a truly brave human being for taking this on. As I said, the manuscript is huge by normal standards, and as she told me, she doesn’t have a lot of experience with the genre of fantasy, which this book is. On the other hand, in our conversation about the book, I see her mind already at work on how to promote it, the things she invokes, the views she has of pop culture and what’s big right now. I have nothing but confidence in Allison. She’s a rock star.

I owe some special thanks to my new friend, Sheri Williams, for introducing us, too. Never gonna be able to thank you enough, Sheri. You’re a hero.

My new editor, Wendy Garfinkle, is a straight up superhero, though. She already had a full plate of books she was working on when she straight volunteered to be my editor, because she really loved the synopsis I put forward. That she would do this, when already covered up with work, I can’t even tell you how much I admire her. She’s Wonder Woman with a red pen to me.

Here’s the part that I am most pleased about. I’ve got two women working on this project with me. It is my dream come true. Why, you ask? Well, let me answer that by telling you about the novel Booktrope accepted, by sharing the synopsis that landed me these two heroic women.

Seriously, they are either superheroes or lunatics for working with me on this, but I prefer superheroes, since I’m already a lunatic.

War Witch: Rise

In the beginning, when the One World was new, the Gods were betrayed by one of their own. Ker Zet, the Black Tigeress, committed a deed so foul, her sister Isel, the White Tigeress and Empress of Heaven, cursed her and drove her from from their midst. Ker Zet’s betrayal deepened when she brought forth her vile brood, the Demon Gods, and laid siege to creation.

Grannax, the Divine Tiger and Emperor of Heaven, was forced to divide the One World into three, locking Ker Zet and her children away in the Low World for eternity. Ultimately this failed, and the Demon Gods brought forth creations of their own, the Demon Seed, vile monsters bent on destroying the Middle World, and the Six Races birthed by the High Gods.

After many wars, the Demon Gods were poised for victory when the High Gods employed a new weapon, the Blessed. Mortals granted Divine Power, these noble warriors, flawed and frail though they were, were charged with holding back the tide of darkness, and saving all of creation.

Ten years ago, the Demon Seed, lead by a Dark Blessed of the Lords of Hell, destroyed a village, leaving a twelve year old girl as the sole survivor. Taken to live in Heaven by the God of War, the Father of Honor, the Lord of Family, the Divine Wolf himself, Ramor, she grew to be a skilled warrior, and Priestess to her new father. Though he desired to raise her to join the ranks of his demigod assistants, the Ascended, she felt the slaughter of her family and home must be addressed, and justice brought to the man responsible. Marked as one of Ramor’s Blessed, she returns to the Middle World to hunt the Dark Blessed who took everything from her.

Nameless and mute, she is joined by Chara, a young woman from a remote village who wants to see the world, and acts as the warrior priestess’s voice, naming her Ramora in honor of the God she serves. Chara is not without her own secrets and sorrows, but is blinded by her naive beliefs and illusions about the nature of the world she lives in. Nor does she suspect the role a rogue agent of Heaven has in store for her, an Ascended so pained by the loss of the Blessed he served, he will risk Chara’s soul for a single chance to end the war.

The two women are soon joined by a scholarly werejaguar, the adopted son of an aging sorcerer. Timid and shy, having lived his entire life in a remote keep, Esteban seeks only to find peace in a world torn by war. His fate becomes intertwined with Chara and Ramora’s, leading him down a dark path he quickly fears there will be no escape from.

As the few leads they have on the Dark Blessed take them to the city of Lansing, the crown jewel of the north east, the three would be heroes find themselves on a collision course with the very man they seek. Dangerous beyond their wildest imaginings, he plays a game for the fate of creation, and may well be impossible to defeat.

Now, there are two extra things I want to share about this novel, and the world in which it is set. The first being a bit of how magic works. Only people who have an Awakened Avatar may work magic, as it provides them with a conduit to the mystic energy of the universe. Ramora’s is a rabbit spirit that is a character in it’s own right, as well as being some what immature and a bit shameless.

The second thing is three words. Magic blaster pistols. I got ’em.

If that doesn’t make ya happy, you got issues.

Now, here’s why I was so thrilled to not only get this novel, especially, accepted, but why putting together a team dominated by women mattered so much. Simply put, it’s because this novel is built on the idea of women kicking ass in a fantasy setting.

Most fantasy, while a genre I adore, is built on men being the heroes. Women exist most of the time as the love interest, the damsel, or serve as something to be obtained. The genre is not always very welcoming to women, which is not something I’ve ever been terribly comfortable with.

I’ve played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons with female characters, and across the table from women. They have every bit as much love for the genre as guys do, but have been traditionally ignored. Getting the chance to do something about that, to write a fantasy novel, and get it published, about capable, intelligent, complex women being the heroic figures in a fantasy world is a dream come true for me.

War Witch has not one, but two women in the leading roles. That’s not even touching on the number of other women that appear as supporting characters, and occupy major secondary roles. This book really is about women being the driving force of the story.

I didn’t stop there, though. No, there are other things I’ve come to see need to be brought in and made a normal thing in fantasy. I’ve seen the genre beginning to really move in this direction, and I’m so glad for that, and it makes me feel blessed to be a part of it happening now.

You see, in the world of War Witch, bisexual is considered the default, normal sexuality. Sure, there’s people that lean one way or the other, but in general, everyone is bi, including my two leading women. No one in the Middle World considers it odd or weird, for in that world, the world of my imagination, the Gods teach that love is love, and the spirit within knows no gender.

I also get to explore the idea of a world where people of color are not seen as people of color. What bias does exist is directed more at Half Elves, for they are half breeds, but even then, no one is really so much racist as uncertain of how to deal with them. The subtext there is small, but it was a big thing for me to bring to life a world where the kind of racism we deal with every day simply doesn’t exist.

Get to I have, as well, with several characters of color. I don’t get to paint them in our worlds terms, but they are of color, and they belong, for that is their world, too. It’s something I’m happy about, because fantasy as a genre has too long been the domain of straight white men.

In my life, I can’t say that straight white men have mostly been the ones who were there for me. I may be one myself, but they weren’t the ones who supported me, encouraged me, believed in me, advised me, and stood up for me as much as it was literally every other group of people out there. This is why I see people, not demographics. If we want to really put things into that demographic game, straight white men don’t even tick in the top percentage anyway.

If you are asking me, if for no other reason, like compassion, humanity, understanding, empathy, and decency, then the fact that the long presumed dominant demographic actually, factually, being nowhere near the top is enough cause to start changing how we look at our fiction, and expanding its boundaries to include everyone.

Humanity means all of us, not the vocal minority, which I hate to tell the straight white guys, but that’s us.

As an extra, bonus feature, just for me, the two main characters are inspired in many ways by the two most important women in my life. My girlfriend of 20 years, Storm DeVille, very much served as my inspiration for Ramora, not just in her looks, but in her attitude. Meanwhile, Chara carries so many elements of my little sister, Amber, that I do not think, for even a second, that the character would be who and what she is without her.

I am so excited to be bringing this world, the world of The Mythic Age, the Middle World, to our world, and to all of you. I’m honored to be small part of helping to change the landscape of fantasy fiction. Mostly, though, I am thankful to the folks at Booktrope who have chosen to believe in not just me, but the world of War Witch.

There’s a lot of work to do yet, but I’m ready. Tomorrow is gonna be a brighter day than today. It’s time for it. We, the human race, are ready for it.

Here we go.

Since I originally published this piece, Sheri Williams continues being awesome, and has taken over as my project manager after Allison had to bow out. With a release date likely forthcoming in the near future, I felt now was the time to republish this piece. When that date is set, I look forward to sharing it with you, as well as a first look at the cover, and even a early peek at the world map we’re putting together. Until then, thanks for being here.

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