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Two Years (and a bit) On . . .

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

Picture it: Ottawa, 2018; a cold January. A thirty-something sits at his dining room table for some old-school First Edition D&D solo play, when lo: a story takes root in his mind. A story of adventure, sure, but also of misplaced hope and innocence lost. Not the main character's: the entire fantasy genre. Metaphorically speaking. And yes, the main character's.

Two years later, that story continues to grow.

The White Tree of Gondor on a black shield
No, not that story.

Because the damn thing isn't quite right. So much of it is but there's something missing, and agents can smell it.

I started this blog to track my writing journey—a sort of online journal. I wanted something to show the path I took and thoughts I had along the way. Especially if I "made it" in traditional publishing (I know: the ego, right?). Only, as with all my prior attempts at journal writing, I haven't been very consistent.

Let's see, what did I write last year . . .

Ah, yes, accomplishment and success. The more I write, read, and talk to others, the more I start to believe I have accomplished something. I've written a pretty damn good story, I learned a hell of a lot about writing, and I'm learning all about the hellish—I mean fantastic—world of publishing. But success? That's something else entirely.

People say to congratulate yourself on having written a book. Sure, that's great and all, but what's the point if people don't read it? Yeah, yeah, I get it, and I AM proud to have written a gosh-darned novel, but success? For me, that means being published. Yeah . . . so, I didn't exactly meet any of my publication goals last year.

Still, two of my short stories—Ladomas the Bold and Red Sun Over Silver City—received Honourable Mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest. That didn't suck. Plus, links to Scientology aside (yikes), the contest is industry-recognized, meaning my writing definitely probably has some publication appeal to the right market. Maybe.

Still, better than nothing.

A green on fire dumper with 2020 written on the front, available from redbubble.com
2020 wasn't an absolute disaster. For my writing; my writing!

While I haven't enjoyed any publication joy for either short story, I've not been pushing them lately. Ladomas needs a new ending and Red Sun ought to be titled Hard Sell (ope, I think I just titled Kev's next adventure). Besides, I've got to finish The Novel.

So, what the heck did I accomplish in 2020?

Rewrites. Lots of rewrites.

My trusty writing group (WABpresent!) helped me rewrite and revise "Springtide Harvest", then rework its opening chapters and query materials. Again and again and again. Literally: I submitted to agents in the summer, fall, and winter, making tweaks and revisions along the way. I also took part in several Twitter pitch parties, which helped me, you know, learn to pitch.

I have resisted, as many probably do, tailoring my story to the market. I wanted a shorter, peppier fantasy novel: a low fantasy story in a high fantasy world written for adults with well-read teen crossover appeal. Is that too much to ask? Yes. The answer is yes. The market doesn't want it because the market can't sell it. Well, reliably break even with it, which means they won't sell it. Like it or lump it, a novel is a product to be sold. Hopefully it's a magical product—one that transports readers to another world, where the characters and themes help them contemplate their own existence (well, that's what I'm looking for in speculative fiction)—but a product all the same.

Sadly, or obviously, depending on where you sit, agents have little inclination and less time to take a chance on, let alone read, workshop, and try to sell, an adult fantasy novel that's criminally under 100,000 words and features a traditional male protagonist (no matter what his arc). The market isn't interested in that right now. Fair enough: it's time for other stories from different perspectives. I can already hear the world's tiniest violins playing for the loss of my white male fantasy author privilege.

I tried it my way and it didn't take. I don't regret it—it might well have found a home as is—but there are only so many agents out there and I'm not going to squander my precious query supply by failing to adapt. My story is more versatile than that.

All that brings me to . . . another rewrite.

A series of open books pinned to a board
This is your brain on rewrites.

Let me number the ways (of my major drafts):

  1. 59,000 words

  2. 62,000 words

  3. 92,000 words (not submitted)

  4. 70,000 words

  5. 73,000 words

I did approach 100k with that third draft, but it was too much plot for one book. There's more than enough to work with in the present storyline if I, you know, stop dicking around (whoa, harsh). I need to bring forward some of the messy, compelling juice of the second and third parts, and the orphan girl must be up front. It's not all about Haskell, after all (he'd hate that I'm saying that).

I've been circling these issues since the get-go. The book starts to sizzle too late, and I've finally figured it out. Sure, I've said that before, but for realzies this time. I can feel it: the new chapters I just outlined will make the story more compelling AND salable. About time.

So, future me: this is where you were two-ish years after starting down this long, windy road. I hope it leads somewhere nice.

J.D. Mitchell

Ottawa, Ontario

February 2 [and mildly the 6th ], 2021

A road leads through a mountainous vista with sporadic buildings.
The road goes ever on an . . . nope, still not that story.

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