Novel Redux

At World Fantasy, you see old friends, and the conversation, over and over, is, “So, what are you working on?” And there’s this weird moment that happens, when I say, “a novel,” and they realize, or I just realize again, that even though I am somewhat known in some corners of this field, I haven’t actually published a novel yet. People are surprised sometimes, when they realize that. And then sometimes I try to explain that it’s not that I didn’t try. I’ve written three novels, all of which failed, for different reasons:

– The Arrangement, which was the mainstream novel I was contracted to with HarperCollins, which got cancelled when the publisher and I realized we wanted completely different books — the novel I’d written was more along the lines of Bodies in Motion, a queer poly novel with the Sri Lankan war intertwined, and the novel they thought they were buying was more chick lit with brown people and cheating. When it was cancelled, I pretty much gave up on writing for a year, and then I had babies, and had no concentration for anything long for a while. That novel is in a drawer somewhere, and I might go back to it at some point, but it’s been 12 years now, and I’d write it very differently now, I suspect. I kind of want a summer to just rewrite the whole thing before sending it out again.

– Rasathi, which was YA portal fantasy, set in a Sri Lankan-ish world; I think I wrote it when Kavi was a toddler? Maybe when Anand was a toddler? It all blurs together a bit now. It was the first book in a proposed trilogy, and I actually did have an editor interested in it, but the market was really slammed right then (right after Hunger Games hit it big), and she said they weren’t really buying trilogies, could I turn it into a two-book thing, and I thought about it, but I had my arc all plotted out, and I just wasn’t happy with the idea of trying to compress it into something different. My agent at the time also wasn’t getting any bites — he was having a hard time even getting editors to look at it, because they were so overwhelmed with YA fantasy submissions right then. I put it away after a bit, but I actually still really like the book, and I’m probably going to go back to it at some point. Contact that agent, ask him if he can get me a list of where he submitted it, see if Russ wants to send it out again. I could do that now, but Russ wants to send out a SF book, and I’m excited about that one, building on The Stars Change, so I think we’re just going to hold the YA fantasy for the moment.

– Flight, which I’m still sort of sad about. I worked hard on that novel for a couple of years, gave it to my agent in fall of 2016, but when he came back to me, he told me all the things he liked about the book, but also told me he thought the plot was irretrievably broken — too artificial, the characters’ motivations for doing the big things unconvincing. And, y’know, I’d sort of suspected that when I gave it to him, but I guess I was hoping he’d tell me I was wrong. I’m hoping to salvage a decent novella out of it at some point, because I do still love the characters, setting, etc. Need at least a couple of months to work on that as well.

So, three failed (or semi-failed) novels so far, and now I’ve headed into another novel. I wrote all this out in part to illustrate how strange and winding this path can be sometimes. But also, I think to say that it’s okay if your first novel doesn’t work. Or your second, or your third. I think I’m getting better with each one, and while I suspect I could find publishers for all of them right now, if I tried, I’d rather focus on writing a new one that is strong, and that reflects who I am right now, everything I’ve learned. That’s the hope, anyway.

It’s funny — with short stories, I’ve always accepted that some of them just won’t work, that I’ll have to put them aside, and that it’s part of the learning process. Maybe it’s sheer laziness that makes it harder for me to do that with novels. I put so much time and effort into them, the failure is a lot harder to take.

But eventually, I work through it, and start the next one. Twelve years so far, trying to write a good novel.

Fourth time’s the charm? We’ll see.

23, 946. Some of those words are notes, but that’s where the novel stands right now. I’m not explicitly doing NaNoWriMo, but hoping to borrow a little of that good novel-writing energy swirling around the internet to finish a draft this month. A novel draft is around 80,000 words, give or take 20K. I’m guessing this one will be on the longer side. Let’s see where it goes.

Oh, and one last note, for those on Facebook — I have a public group now, which you’re all welcome to. Mostly writing-and-other-project-focused. Feel free to share your own writing / reading notes and thoughts! Someone has already started posting anthology calls there, which is great. I’ll be curating it to keep it a pleasant space. I’m thinking of it as sort of like my post-convention living room.

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