I am happy to introduce our very first ‘Dame for a Day’ of the new year. Oh, and Happy New Year to our readers! I truly hope you have a wonderful 2010 and that you all take steps to make your dreams come true… The Dames have lots of fun things to bring you in the next 12 months, and that starts with today’s very special guest.
Lucy A. Snyder‘s debut novel, Spellbent, is a rip-roaring adventure with a fabulous protagonist. Jessie Shimmer is a great character with so much to offer the reader; if you like your urban fantasy with a kick-ass female lead who is totally believable, then this is the book for you. The world-building is so much fun and you won’t be able to stop turning the pages (I couldn’t!). You can even try the first 42 pages for free!
Let me hand you over to Lucy – she has clearly put a lot of time and effort into her post; I hope you’ll read it and then stick around for a giveaway at the end.
I’d like to thank Dame Kaz for inviting me to be the first Dame For A Day of 2010! It’s an honor, and I’m happy to be joining you all this Saturday.
I still can’t write 2010 without thinking of The Future (*cue dramatic music*) a la Arthur C. Clarke and a hundred other science fiction writers who were on my town library’s shelves when I was a kid. I cut my teeth on SF and fantasy as a young reader, and I quickly came to dream that someday, in The Future, I’d have a shiny novel of my own out there in the world.
And so here’s 2010, sans manned voyages to Jupiter and artificial intelligence … but we haven’t suffered a nuclear holocaust, either! Go us! And iPhones and World of Warcraft and 32GB flash drives are spaceship-cool in their own ways. Not a lot of futurists saw those coming when I was learning to read (and on the flip side, I’m rather glad they haven’t managed to fit whole meals into little pills, because that would take all the fun out of dinnertime). The future, despite everyone’s careful planning and theorizing, still managed to defy prognostication.
So, I don’t have my hovercar, but I do have my novel. And my path to becoming a published author surely would have surprised 10-year-old me. She wouldn’t have guessed that I’d set aside my beloved goal of writing novels to focus on short fiction for the better part of a decade … and she probably wouldn’t have guessed that a shelved short story assignment would lead to my first novel.
Flash back to 1995. I was finishing college at Indiana University and trying to break into publishing, either as a writer or as an editor or a layout designer – I wasn’t picky! I just wanted to work with books. I was full of enthusiasm but almost entirely lacking in clue. A woman who hosted a small campus writing group – she assured me that my writing was “totally publishable” (ha! no.) – told me about the Clarion Workshop and suggested that I should apply.
The Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop was founded in 1968, and when I attended, it was hosted by Michigan State University in East Lansing (the organizers decided to trade mosquitoes for beaches and moved to UC San Diego in 2007). It’s a six-week-long workshop where all you do is write speculative fiction (likely something close to 5,000 words a week), read (probably 90,000 words a week), and critique your classmates’ work. Some have called it “boot camp for SF writers” and that’s fairly accurate – it’s an intense experience that galvanizes some writers and traumatizes others.
I’ll admit to something shameful: I was a little cocky going in. Academia trains you to be competitive, and I’d unfortunately taken to heart our writing group leader’s assurance that I only needed Clarion for the networking opportunities it provided. I was used to being a straight-A student, used to being the smartest kid in the class. I figured I’d get in there, wow the instructors, write a few stories to make everybody happy, leave with my address book filled with new publishing contacts and get back to working on my first novel.
I had my illusions about my own workshop prospects blasted into itty-bitty bits the first night I was there. We’d met for our introductory session, and at the end we received photocopies of a few stories that students had already handed in for critique. Kelly Link was one of the students, and her story ended up at the top of my pile. You may have heard of her; she’s won a Hugo award, three Nebula awards, and a World Fantasy Award for her fiction.
The story I held in my hands that night? It would win a World Fantasy Award just a few years later. Yeah. It was that good, and a few paragraphs in, I realized that not only was I definitely not the smartest kid in this class, I wasn’t even close. I needed to shelve all my dumb-ass academic notions that the workshop was some kind of bell-curved competition. I needed to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open and learn how to write.
After Clarion, I ditched the novel I’d started (Lame! Cliché!) and focused on trying to get short fiction published. I wanted to learn my craft, and my new personal goal of selling 50 short stories became my post-workshop apprenticeship.
Some people talk about the process of writing novels and stories as if there’s this huge chasm between them, as if the two forms have nothing in common and you can’t possibly learn how to write a novel by writing stories first … and frankly, that’s bullshit. Good fiction is good fiction: you need solid characterization, dialog, conflict, description, all that nifty stuff. The big difference is that novels can be a bit flabby around the middle, and most readers don’t mind a few authorial love handles; short stories (if you expect an editor to fish yours out of the slush pile, anyway) have to be lean, keen narrative machines.
So I cranked on short stories, and the first five sales took a loooong time. So very, very long. But after I made those first five sales, the next five came more quickly. Even better, I got invited to submit to a couple of Tekno Books anthologies. Tekno puts together anthologies for publishers like Ace; if you’ve read an anthology edited by Martin Greenberg or John Helfers, you’ve read a Tekno Books production regardless of the logo on the spine. These anthologies are invitation-only, and you will not be invited unless you’re a pro writer known to the editors, or recommended to them by one of their existing writers. At any rate, I wrote stories for the Tekno folks that appeared in books such as Civil War Fantastic, Guardian Angels, and The Further Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess.
One day, my then-coauthor (now husband) Gary Braunbeck told me he’d heard that there were some slots open in a new anthology that would be released as Apprentice Fantastic, and he told me I should start working on a story pitch for co-editor Russell Davis. So I started thinking about a tale that would focus on a young apprentice whose master was dragged away to hell during a storm-calling gone wrong, leaving her in a trial-by-fire battle against demonic forces to save her city.
As it turned out, the anthology filled up before I had a chance to pitch my story to the editor. Normally, I’d have shelved the pitch and gone on to a new story, but something about this one kept sparking my imagination. I realized that there could be more to the story than what I’d plotted, a lot more.
In 2005, when I was getting close to my story sales goal and starting to put together the content for my collections Sparks and Shadows and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger, I realized it was time to get back to novel-writing. And so I pulled out the pitch that had kept popping up in my thoughts, and started writing. In late 2007 the novel was finished, and soon afterward I signed an agreement with my agent, Robert L. Fleck. And about six months later he had landed me a deal with Del Rey.
And now, after 15 months of editorial processing and waiting for my turn in the publishing schedule, Spellbent is on the bookstore shelves.
I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks so much, Lucy.
Now for the giveaway: Lucy has been kind enough to offer a signed copy of Spellbent to one lucky reader. This contest is open to all and will remain open until the end of the day (anywhere) on Friday 8th January, 2010. The winner will be announced soon after. Just leave a comment on this post to be entered into the draw – if you have any questions for Lucy, she will be popping in to answer them at some stage throughout the rest of this weekend.