This page focuses on the early history of Seabird, plus my other publications to date.
In the meantime...
New Author Fellowship Blog Entry for Dec 2010Special Guest – Sherry Thompson
Posted by Keven Newsome on December 31, 2010 in Author's Journey, Guest Blogs
Persistence + Networking = Publication (sometimes)
Keven asked me to recount the story of my journey as an author. I thank him for the opportunity. While I was gathering together all of the fragments of my author experience for this blog entry, I came to realize that two activities made a huge difference in becoming published—persistence and networking with others in the “industry”. Here’s how all of that worked out.
I began writing my first fantasy book, Seabird, in 1979, at the age of 33. I had several motivations at the time but one was the need to read more fantasy books. Back then, there wasn’t that much available in the local shops and Amazon didn’t exist yet. I had pretty much blown through anything that interested me. So I decided to write stories to entertain myself. After a bit of mumbling and bumbling around, I realized that I needed to write Christian or Biblical fantasy fiction. (For more about this decision and how it developed, please follow the link “The Hound, the Lamppost & the Seabird” given below.)
Writing Seabird by longhand took me a couple of years. When that stage was done, I had a typist type up my rough manuscript. She offered a few suggestions as she typed, many of which involved grammatical and punctuation errors. I allowed her to fix these with gratitude. When the typing was complete, I gathered up the approximately 500 pages in a ream typing-paper box. Next I asked my family—parents, grandmother and brother—out to dinner. When I told them I had written a novel, everyone was in a celebratory mood. We all believed that authors wrote books and then books were automatically published. None of us were exactly sure how the last part of that equation worked, but we were all very sure about the “automatic” part.
I tried to find Seabird a publisher for the next two years. This went on at a very slow pace. I would go to the library and look at Writers’ Market (or its equivalent), pick out a publisher and then mail off the whole manuscript to them. (You could do that in those days.) Three to six months later, I would get back a form rejection. Once, an acquisitions editor actually sent me a note, suggesting that I work on beefing up my main character, Cara. I did so over the next couple of months, and then sent the manuscript back to her. She rejected it because of its length. The newly revised Seabird was the same length as the original version. Sigh.
In the meantime, I was working on Earthbow, the sequel of Seabird set on the same planet. My grandmother died in the middle of writing the book, and the story became darker as a result. Maybe the rejections for Seabird also had an influence on me. In any case, Earthbow also took me a couple of years to write. Once it was finished, I tried one time to get it published—by sending the manuscript to Daw. They rejected it. I gave up looking for a publisher for the time being.
Instead I began writing The Gryphon and the Basilisk next. (I couldn’t not write.) This would have been about 1983. G&B took longer to write for a couple of reasons. It’s a much longer story. More importantly, I had learned that authors –revised- manuscripts before submitting them to publishers.
I had been working at the University of Delaware Library for some time now, but realized for the first time that the English Department offered two courses: Creative Writing and Fiction Writing, in which I might learn something about how to improve both what I had written and what I was currently writing.
I signed up for the first course, and immediately ran afoul of Bernie Kaplan. He hated fantasy. He was also a very good teacher and excellent author of literary short stories. We managed to get along, in spite of that little blind spot in Bernie’s tastes. He helped me enormously. By the time, I was taking the second course with him, Bernie had given up on the idea of getting me to write literary short stories. (Short stories, period, are virtually beyond me. Yeah, I’ve written about a dozen but most of them stink. I write long and I write fantasy, and that’s about it.) Before the end of the second course, Bernie gave in and allowed me to submit some chapters of The Gryphon and the Basilisk to the class. They liked them. Bernie still mocked my tastes, but he seemed to like those story fragments as well. He actually praised my world-building.
At this point (mid-80’s) my career took off. Any new writing virtually ceased, though I would occasionally read through my three manuscripts and make desultory revisions in them. In the meantime, I had learned about SF/Fantasy conferences and I began attending them at the rate of about two a year. While sitting in on the conference panels, I would plot how to shop around Seabird to the attending publishers and agents. On a few occasions I actually managed to buttonhole a panelist; however, this was hard to do and I got no nibbles in return for the effort.
Toward the end of my career at the library (late 1990’s), I joined two online writing groups: Critters and Online Writing Workshop. I began by submitting chapters of Seabird to both of these. For each submission, I might receive two to a half dozen critiques. Not all of were even in the ballpark when it came to good advice. I learned to pick and choose, and to pay particular attention to similar comments made by several reviewers. I critiqued the writings of other people, as I had learned in my writing classes. Over time (maybe 1997 to 2002?), I formed email friendships with several of authors from both groups. Some of these friendships still exist to this day.
I retired early from the library in May 2000. My retirement agenda: 1. revising Seabird until it was really, really publishable; 2. finding that elusive publisher; and 3. if all else failed after the first 2-3 years of retirement, I would self-publish and move on to Earthbow. Over the next year and a half, however, various crises made something of a mess of my life so I got off to a slow start on my Getting Published Master Plan.
Late in 2001, I was back to submitting Seabird on both Critters and OWW, now with a new assortment of reviewers. In the fall of 2001 I also got back into the conference thing by attending the WorldCon held in Philadelphia. In the following years, I went back to attending Philcon and Balticon and I attended my first CapClave. I signed up for writers’ workshops at these events. A writers workshop required that you send a specimen of your writing to the convention people before the con. Then, at the con, you would spend a morning or afternoon with several other wanna-be published authors, listening to various editors and agents crit your work. It could be, and often was, excruciating. While at these cons, I tried to talk to publishers and agents—using carefully planned questions during the panels or attempts to grab their attention at elevators afterwards. This scored me a few business cards but little else.
My self-imposed deadline for getting Seabird published by 2003 was drawing near.
Ack! In 2004, it had passed but I wasn’t ready to give up quite yet. Maybe at the end of 2004…
Some time in about 2004, I think at a Capclave, I met Tony of Arx Press and he introduced me to Claudio. (Perhaps, I met Claudio and he introduced me to Tony. I always had trouble keeping the two men straight.) We were both in the audience of a panel on the Inklings. The panel consisted of an expert on J.R.R. Tolkien, an expert on C.S. Lewis and somebody there to talk about the third Inkling—Charles Williams. Williams is one of my favorite authors. The first two panelists were great but the third simply did not know his subject. I found myself raising my hand repeatedly to correct what he said or to supplement it.
When the panel was over, I went up to try to corner one of the panelists. I don’t remember now if it was the Tolkien expert or the Lewis expert. Whoever it was, someone else had beat me to it—either Claudio or Tony. We talked to our panelist “victim” for a minute, and then Tony/Claudio told me that I had an impressive knowledge of Charles Williams’ writings. (I did then. Since? Too much writing, too little reading.) Claudio/Tony and I walked out of the room together, still talking. He mentioned he was a publisher.
Shebang! I gave him my Two Minute Elevator pitch for Seabird.
(If you don’t have a Two Minute Elevator Pitch, start working on it.)
Tony/Claudio said that the book sounded interesting. Did I have time to meet his partner in the vendor’s hall—Claudio/Tony? Of course, I did! I talked with them for the next hour standing by their table, perspiring freely with nervousness and the heat of the room. At the end of it all, they asked me to send my Seabird manuscript.
Well, you know, Seabird didn’t get published by Arx but it was a strong nibble. As it turned out the partners were looking for stories that read like ancient legends, preferably with liberal uses of Latin, Ancient Greek, etc. I had taken correspondence courses in New Testament Greek, so I tried to comply. You can still see traces of this in Seabird, where the Young Ones have the formal name of the Neroli and the Elder Ones are sometimes called the Peralike. However, these hastily inserted words were mere bastardized Greek.
My world of Narenta has certain similarities to Lewis’s Narnia. One of the things that we have in common is that neither worlds’ cultures or languages really connect up with Earth historically. To have Greek spoken or just written on Narenta would be to suggest that the two worlds had a common history if you went back far enough. A common God, they have of course. Not a common history.
The partners at Arx also wanted me to write more like Lewis. (I had mentioned that Lewis—and especially The Chronicles of Narnia—had inspired me.) I tried to follow through with this suggestion about style. However, as much as I love Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, I didn’t like Lewis’ style in the Chronicles. It was appropriate for books written for children in the middle of the 20th century. Not for Seabird’s 21st century heroine and older reader. I just couldn’t in good conscience make all of the changes they had requested. Finally, I wrote and told them all of this. We parted in a friendly manner, and I was back to looking for a publisher. And that is what they call “creative differences”, though usually in the film industry.
This was at the very beginning of 2005, I believe. The getting-published clock was still ticking. I was way past my "ultimatum date: for self-publishing.
Arx and I weren’t entirely through. At one of the next cons I attended, I saw them at their table in the vendor’s hall. I spoke with one of them briefly. He mentioned something about a C S Lewis book he had always meant to read but that he thought was out of print. Funny thing was I had seen the book minutes before at a used book dealer’s table. I went back to the table, bought the book and returned to Arx. Standing facing the partners was a woman who reminded me of my self not that many months ago. I thought at first she was pitching a book she had written but, as I listened, I realized that she was a literary agent.
As soon as she was finished speaking, I handed the book to the Arx partner, and then turned to the woman before she could get away. I told her I was an author and gave her the Two Minute Elevator Pitch. Holly McClure bought it, and gave me a business card for the address to send the manuscript, saying that she would read the book and consider representing me.
Eventually, I heard back from her—on an old piece of cardboard-like paper, which should have warned me. The brief note said that her agency, Sullivan-Maxx, would represent me but that she was giving the account to her subordinate, Ms – . I sent her a couple of copies of the Seabird manuscript as requested, and tried to keep in touch. However, the agency’s email always seemed to be down and long distance calls to Florida were, well, long-distance back in the day when dialing long distance cost money.
I did get to know one of the other authors that SM represented. Even bought two of her books. Knowing her ultimately made a huge difference. About a year after being picked up by SM, I heard from my fellow Sullivan-Maxx writer friend that McClure’s “subordinate” had never done any work for us! She had in fact recently been fired, and evidently no one was picking up her accounts. We only thought we were being represented. I never heard back directly from Sullivan-Maxx or Mrs. McClure.
In the meantime, I had lost one excellent chance to land a mainstream publisher. A few months earlier, I emailed the agency and asked that a copy of my manuscript be sent to a particular acquisitions editor—name long since forgotten. No one, of course, ever did anything about my email so I lost an opportunity with a major publishing house.
(A warning to all: check your prospective agent’s reputation on Preditors and Editors and keep in close contact with any agency or publisher with whom you have signed.)
It was now late spring of 2005. Describing this attempt at being published requires time-travel back to 2003 which is when I entered the twilight zone of publishing.
I rarely write short stories. One of the very few that I’ve written, I also happen to like. It’s a fantasy story with touches of pagan religion in it. In June of 2003, I received an email from David Bain (editor of the anthology) that my short story had been accepted for publication by Cyber-Pulp for their new anthology, F/SF (Fantasy/Science Fiction) Volume 1. I was excited since this would be my first published work after twenty-five years of admittedly very sporadic attempts at publication.
Time passed. No anthology. Given the Sullivan-Maxx debacle, I had become wary. What was holding everything up? I began following David Bain's blog in hopes of answers.
There’s not a lot I really should say here. David Bain was our editor for the anthology but Bob Gunner was the co-owner of Cyber-Pulp. They had already published several anthologies and, I believe, a couple of SF novels. However, David blogged Bob had suddenly dug in his heels about publishing our anthology. Anthologies don’t pay, Bob announced to his editors. They don’t. Authors get a work-for-hire one time payment, or else a promise in the contract of some tiny fraction of the anthology’s profits if any. Getting a story into an anthology is largely for author exposure. Publishing an anthology can be useful PR for a publisher. Since our anthology was frozen in time, we F/SF Vol.1 authors weren’t getting any exposure or money. Neither were David or or Cyber Pulp.
I began reading my fellow authors blogs--not that they had more news than I did--but because we shared the sane frustration. Several authors threatened to take their work elsewhere in spite of our contracts.
Some time in 2004, Cyber-Pulp created a private Cyber-Pulp Authors Forum for the use of both CP novelists & contributors to all the anthologies. This was about a decade ago but I seem to remember we F/SF v.1 authors contributed the bulk of the messages. We had more to say. Bob & David responded to some of our comments but we gleaned little information from their posts. (David had no additional news for us.)
The whole thing imploded in 2005. As time passed & no new information was forthcoming, the tone of the forum became increasingly acrimonious. One day, the Cyber-Pulp Authors Forum just disappeared. Bob did publish F/SF v.1 on Amazon in June 2005. For a nano-second. Then Bob disappeared. Really. (He has since resurfaced.)
There’s still an entry on Amazon indicating that F/SF is “forthcoming” and that shoppers can be notified when it’s available. Don’t bother. F/SF and Cyber-Pulp’s time has passed. I have two author’s copies of the anthology or I wouldn’t believe it ever existed. The last time I checked for Cyber-Pulp on the web, I found Steve Vernon's 2005 warning about CP, several used book sellers marketing out-of-print copies, and a new Cyber-Pulp web designer--wind-powered! There used to be a CyberPulp porn site but it disappeared. To this day, I get 2 or 3 spams a year from some Cyber-Pulp or other.
Eventually (2006) editor David Bain wrote that courtesy of the “public implosion of Cyber-Pulp” all of the authors in the anthology could take our stories elsewhere.
Back to Seabird, whose clock was still ticking.
In December of 2005, I heard about the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and their Genesis contest. I sent in the application on behalf of Seabird. There are a ton of steps authors must go through in order to be considered for a Genesis. (Genesis now has a new name—I forget what it is.) I spent most of 2006 complying with their various steps to the contest. To make a long story short, Seabird won 3rd Place in the Speculative Fiction division of the Genesis for 2006.
In the meantime, not yet knowing the results, I had been contemplating going to Texas for the yearly ACFW at which the awards would be given. ACFW’s website provided us with a list of agents and publishers who would be at the convention, and essentially said if we signed on early, we would have a chance to schedule a fifteen minute meeting with a couple of these. Ooh! Networking! I didn’t have the money to sign on early. As I watched the slots begin to fill up, I began checking out the publishers and agents ACFW listed, for myself.
Much to my chagrin, I soon discovered that the standards set by the associated publishing companies indicated that they would in no way accept Seabird as written. Example: Early on my heroine wakes up at the beach to discover that she’s sun-burned. She says, “Darn!” Several of the CBA-related publishers would not accept this word in their books, because “everyone knew what it really meant”. On the other hand, I wasn’t about to have my 21st century heroine say, “Golly!”
I started sending email queries to the agents who would be at the ACFW conference. All but one of them rejected me before the con, and the last one’s table was already filled. I saw no point in attending, given these findings.
Well, I won 3rd prize as I said but it was given by a group whose associates (i.e. publishers and editors) would refuse to publish or represent my work. The day after the conference ended, I learned through a fellow author of the third prize for Seabird.
By fall of 2006, I was fairly depressed about this whole writing and getting published thing. I had taken a year out of my life to try to win the Genesis, and even coming in third didn’t help—since the ACFW/CBA-related publishers and agents I had hoped to impress had already proven themselves unreceptive.
I was as close as I ever got to self-publishing. After all, I was running three years behind schedule.
Then in December 2006, an old writing friend wrote me yet another in a series of emails. Dave Wood, my old buddy from OWW writing critique days, said that he was about to start up an indie publishing company called Gryphonwood Press in his home state of Georgia. Would I be interested in throwing in with him, because he wanted Seabird to be amongst the first books he would publish.
Uh, yeah, I kinda said yes. J
Seabird was supposed to be published in November 2007. In fact, I received some advance copies from Dave which I packed and took with me on my “two conference book tour: On my way to PhilCon, the first of the two, I began flipping through a copy of my book. Imagine the sickest feeling you’ve ever felt. Yeah, that one. They had used the –uncorrected- proof of the manuscript to create the books. Old errors were everywhere. I contacted Dave immediately, and he closed down the distribution, and then went searching for the corrected file. In the meantime, I gave out a couple of copies of the “proof books” at the two cons—but only to friends.
Seabird was finally (re)published by Dave’s Gryphonwood Press on Jan 4 2008. (You always remember your babies’ birthdays.) It has received great reviews from virtually everyone, but it has sold very slowly. This is largely thanks to the poor publicity done by most indie publishers—thanks to a lack of staff people who each has a lack of time—and by my own lack of ability to get around the country and really promote.
Still it’s out and Dave has no intention of ever pulling it off the market. That’s one thing that mid-list authors chew their nails over at big publishers. If the book doesn’t “sell through”, i.e. make back as much as the advance in a short period of time, mid-list books (and frequently their authors) are dropped by the big old-fashioned publishers. In the meantime, indie/pod publishers will usually stick with their authors and keep their whole line available.
I’ll move on to my recent books, but first I just realized that I have to backtrack again to 2003 when I joined a local writers group, named Written Remains, founded and run by Joanne Reinbold. A couple or three years later, Joanne and Ramona De Felice Long decided to shepherd all of the WR members into writing and submitting stories for an anthology of our own. I was a bit gun-shy about anthos at this point but naturally I submitted a story, Baffled by the Green Door. Stories from the Inkslingers was published in Jan 7 2008. See, networking pays off!
We at WR are starting to talk about a second anthology, written by the current members of our evolving group—now known as the Written Remains Writers Guild. Serious work on it won’t start until 2011 with a projected publication date of 2012-2013.
But back to books! As soon as Seabird was out, Dave was on my case about the sequel. Unlike many authors, I just happened to have a sequel in the works. In fact it had been in the works since 1983. Earthbow was published (in two volumes) earlier this year. (March 21/Sept 22 2010) Like Seabird, Earthbow is getting excellent reviews. In fact, it’s received more 5 star reviews than Seabird did. Again, I have to admit to impatience—I just wish more people were buying it.
Now I’m working on that old (and huge) manuscript from the mid-80’s currently titled, The Gryphon and the Basilisk, aka The Behemoth, aka The Book That Intends to Eat Delaware. This one will be 3 volumes long, arguably 4 volumes. At minimum, it will take me two years to get it ready to send to Dave. See, part of the problem is that certain sections are still in longhand (!) and certain sections were typed and then scanned in to computer files with less than great software. I’ve spent about six weeks already just trying to “translate/decipher” the stray marks and gobble-gook in the scanned-in files. The book also needs a great deal of editing to remove “As you know, Bob” scenes from the beginning. And it might be nice if it had an actual ending. Oops!
Once that is done—or parallel to that work—I need to work on Marooned and also Da Boid da Tree-Rat ‘n da Loser, both of which are also set in the Narentan universe. They lack endings too. Double Oopsie!
Through all of this, I’ve discovered that Networking and Persistence are extremely important in the publishing game. If you look back over this account, I think you may agree with me. Oddly enough, I never thought I could network. What I hadn’t realized is that I was already networking. And I still am, via the Lost Genre Guild and the Written Remains Writers Guild. And of course, there’s still conferences and those pesky panels.
Congratulations to all of you who are networking via this blog!
SEABIRD ("The Early Years")
The original draft of "Seabird" came close to being published nineteen years ago. It got as far as a requested re-write which was then rejected for length. While I was in the process of sending out the manuscript to various potential publishers, I wrote a sequel to the novel and then began a sequel to the sequel. None of these have ever been published, partially because I stopped sending out submissions about 18 years ago. "Seabird" sat on a dusty shelf for nearly two decades, during which time I took several writing courses, participated in SF convention writing workshops and wrote about a dozen fantasy, horror and SF short stories.
are both available in paperback & ebook formats at Amazon.
'Shadow Harper' may be found in "UnCONventional"
published by Spencer Hill Press.
The fantasy convention is just a cover. Read 22 versions of what's really happening
Forthcoming this year!
Tree House Tales, a collection of short works & original art.
Marooned, a new Narenta Tumults novel.
was published in the "F/SF"
anthology, editted by David Bain. Winter's Season is a pagan fantasy. I
wrote it as a way of saying that humans creating God or the gods in
their own image is "not a good idea" and could result in disaster. "F/SF" is out of print--pretty much since before it came into print. I'll be providing a new home for it--and many of its siblings in my forthcoming collection, "Tree House Tales".
"The Ink Slingers" a Written Remains anthology, editted by Ramona deFelice Long. My story
is creative nonfiction but the anthology includes fantasy,
mystery & others.
For more about my writing, I recommend you head over to