Drollerie Press Blog Tour

For our first Drollerie Press Blog Tour, please welcome Sarah Avery to my blog!  My post can be found at Angela Cameron’s blog.

Closing Arguments by Sarah Avery

Closing Arguments by Sarah Avery

Welcome, gentle reader, to the first round of the Drollerie Press Blog Tour, and thank you, Joely Sue, for making me welcome on your beautifully-titled blog. It’s been a while since I dreamed in rhyme, but I did have a serious case of iambic pentameter some years ago. Since escaping from academia, I dream mostly in character.

My second book, Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply, is about to be released in mid-February. Our editor Deena Fisher, She Who Wears Many Hats, has done a gorgeous job of designing the PDF version. While I was looking it over one more time, rounding up the last of the questionable commas, I was struck by how polished, how real the advance review copy looked. You’d never guess, seeing it now, what the creative process was like for that book. It’s tempting to say I’m about to tell you a tale about the glorious e-publishing revolution, but really, if there’s a moral of the story, it’s one William Blake told us a long time ago: If the fool will persist in his folly, he will become wise.

Not for the first time in my writing life, I began by doing everything wrong.

Some magazine I’d never heard of, which specialized in a genre I don’t read, posted a call for submissions for a kind of story I don’t write. Psychological horror? Not my thing. Usually my eye just passes over a call like that. I’m a partisan for fantasy–epic, urban, sword and sorcery, whatever, as long as fantasy is in there somewhere, but I don’t like being fed fear for fear’s sake.

But the call for submissions asked for “tales of the life interrupted.” The editor didn’t care whether the protagonist’s daily life was normal by anyone else’s standards, they just wanted the protagonist’s ordinary experience to be turned abruptly upside down by something that he or she would find especially horrifying.

What would a modern-day Neo-Pagan, a practicing witch, find more horrifying than anything else, my brain asked itself. And before I could stop it, my brain answered itself by cooking up a character. Why, for any right-thinking, skeptical Wiccan who hates being mistaken for a New Age fluff-bunny white-lighter, there would be nothing more awful than finding out that Atlantis actually existed.

Oh, no you don’t, I said to my brain, we’re in the middle of a rollicking sword and sorcery manuscript. We are not going to wander off and write an urban fantasy with a comic twist.

But it won’t be urban, said my brain. See? We’ll set it on the Jersey Shore. Here’s a snarky divorced accountant who needs to pull her life back together. Now she’s on the beach watching a hurricane blow in. Just you try to resist her!

There was no resisting Jane.

I began by writing pages and pages of dialogue between Jane and her roommate Sophie, who’s also her coven sister, her landlady, her gadfly, an aspiring hippie chick born a generation too late for peace and love. Three days of writing Jane and Sophie convinced me I had to write the story. In another week, they’d introduced me to the rest of Rugosa Coven, and I knew I wouldn’t be getting back to that sword and sorcery novel any time soon.

Jane’s Atlantis story wasn’t going to fit most of the guidelines that inspired it. It wasn’t going to be a horror story, it wasn’t going to suit the temperament of the editor whose call for submissions called it into being. It certainly wouldn’t fit the tiny word count the horror magazine wanted. That’s what I mean when I say I started by doing everything wrong. But the story was going to kick ass.

That’s what I kept telling myself–It’s going to kick ass, Sarah–while I watched the mounting word count.

I always seem to write to the wrong length for market conditions. My first-ever novel, my first trunk manuscript, was an epic fantasy family saga about a democratizing revolution, and it was about the length of the entire Lord of the Rings series. I love that book, but there’s nowhere for a first novel of that length to go. So I got to experience my own bit of psychological horror as Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply grew past the length that’s (sort of) easy to sell to magazines, then past the length that’s extremely hard to sell to magazines, and then solidly into novella range. Magazines are getting out of the novella business. Big publishing houses have been almost entirely out of the novella business for a long time. I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason any new science fiction and fantasy novellas still get into print at all is that the Hugo and Nebula Awards have novella categories. Just when I began to hope Atlantis Cranks would grow past the novella stage and expand into a full-fledged novel, the story…how can I describe this?…it took a breath and lived. It was itself, it was no other story but itself, and tripling or halving its length for marketability’s sake would have done it a violence it would not have survived.

Oh, well, I told my brain. Another trunk manuscript. I guess now we pick ourselves up and go back to that sword and sorcery project. Can we make it a nice, round 100,000 words? Everybody loves to see a number like that in the query letter.

My brain promptly responded by cooking up a second Rugosa Coven story, equally irresistible, that weighed in at an even more market-awkward length than the first one. As I had for Atlantis Cranks, I buffed Closing Arguments to a fine polish, even though I was certain I would never find it a home. When I’d dutifully collected rejection slips from every market in the genre that considers novellas, I decided I’d record both pieces as serial podcasts and give them away for free.

Before I made it to the end of the manual for my shiny new podcasting microphone, my wonderful critique partner David Sklar told me about this new small press he’d discovered, one that would consider novellas. David had been wrestled to the ground by a gorgeous novella that refused to get any longer, so he knew what I’d been up against with the Rugosa Coven stories. We ended up getting our acceptances for Closing Arguments and The Shadow of the Antlered Bird from Drollerie Press on the same day.

It’s been an adventure since then, trying to figure out how the new world of e-publishing works when nobody else, not even the big players in the business, not even Amazon, seems to know for sure what rules to play by. It’s been a struggle to work on the third novella in the series, the one that will complete the three-novella print volume that Drollerie Press will release in late 2009, while learning how to be a mother for the first time. It’s been, in the best Blakean sense, folly. I’m persisting. I like to think I’ll be wise sometime soon.