It was Ernest Hemingway who supposedly came up with the challenge of writing a six-word short story. They’re hard to do, but fun. So here’s a six-word story for today:
I’m publishing a series with Tor.
I’m having trouble getting that to sink in for me: I have an agreement with Tor to publish my three-book Historical Fantasy series, Shards of Heaven. The first book (also called Shards of Heaven) is due to the publisher in November for a planned Fall 2015 publication date.
I’m more than just a bit overwhelmed.
Ever since high school I have dreamed of being published with Tor, for it was their imprint that brought me Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time — the first book of which I fell in love with in a Hastings in Albuquerque, New Mexico (and which was tough to carry home on my bike).
By strange twists of fate and absolutely no intentional design, I ended up becoming a professor at The Citadel, the alma mater of Jim Rigney (aka Robert Jordan). That position somehow led to me giving a speech in 2008 inducting Jim into the South Carolina Academy of Authors shortly after his untimely passing — an honor I count among the great privileges of my life. Because of that event I was eventually asked to write the article on Jim Rigney for The South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers (which appeared in print only a couple weeks ago).
And that six-word story again:
I’m publishing a series with Tor.
Nope, I still can’t believe it. But I’m thinking that maybe if I write out how this happened, how this dream came to be, it might make it seem more real. I doubt this will work, but let’s give it a shot with a much longer story that proves, if nothing else, that there is no “one way” to get published …
In a sense, I began writing the novel that would become Shards of Heaven the summer after I graduated from college. In 1994, between my graduation and my wedding, my parents took me on an unforgettable tour of Europe. It was an amazing experience that I could go on and on about, but for the present purpose what is important is this: on the flight to London I started to get an inkling of a scene. I didn’t quite know who the characters were, what story they were involved in, but I knew that it was this cool bit of action that took place on the Spanish Frontier. It felt prologue-ish. On the tube from the airport to London I scribbled the scene down in my notebook — a writer should always be ready to write — and I read it to my parents. They said it was pretty good.
Bit by bit this scene did indeed become a prologue to a much bigger story: this nifty fantasy thriller set in a modern small town in Colorado that tied back to a series of events in the past. As a backstory for the novel I was steadily creating a mythology, a secret history that interwove with reality as seamlessly as I could manage — given the fact that this mythology had, among other things, the future Augustus Caesar secretly using the Trident of Poseidon to defeat Mark Antony and Cleopatra. So totally historical other than that sort of thing. 🙂
The more I wrote of this modern fantasy thriller, though, the bigger the past mythology grew. And the bigger that mythology grew, the more unwieldy it became as a backstory.
So in 2007, I tossed my hands in the air (figuratively, you understand) and set the modern story aside to write the most important sequence of the backstory as a novel unto itself. That lasted about five hours, until it became clear that the backstory was itself a trilogy of novels.
I wrote the first book, Shards of Heaven, in 2008. It’s the secret history of the rise of Rome: As Rome and Egypt march toward war, two of Caesar’s sons — one by blood, one by conquest — race to find the Ark of the Covenant. Each of these young men hopes to harness its fabled powers for his own aims, weaving a three-year adventure across the ancient Mediterranean, from the priceless scrolls of the Great Library at Alexandria to the blood-burdened waters at Actium. Books 2 and 3 will follow this hidden struggle for nearly 30 years — to Jerusalem and to the fabled lost city of Petra — as the most powerful artifacts of ancient myth and legend are brought together to open gates to Heaven and Hell in a final cataclysm that will shape the fate of the world.
I’m biased, but I still think this is all pretty badass.
The last third or so of Shards was composed during a vacation to Colorado: I tapped away on my old MobilePro whenever I could, including hours-long stretches in the car during which my wife kindly agreed to drive. The lesson there? When the muse is singing you don’t make her wait (which, again, is why you should always be ready to write).
At various points in the process I was encouraged (often via threats) to finish it by my family and by good writing friends I had met through the Codex Writer’s Group: folks like Cathy Bollinger, Laurel Amberdine, David Goldman, and the extraordinary Mary Robinette Kowal. After my good beta-readers had read it and loved it, I sent the finished manuscript to a few agents, all of whom turned it down.
It was around this time that my book came to the attention of the remarkable, indefatigable, and incomparable Harriet McDougal, widow of the late and much-missed Jim Rigney (aka Robert Jordan). Based on her long experiences in publishing she kindly suggested I forget about agents and just send my book directly to a certain editor at Tor — since that’s where I wanted to be anyway. Get a contract to get an agent, she said.
Harriet is very wise in the ways of all things, so I did exactly as she suggested.
Amazingly, that editor liked it. He really did. But he wasn’t sure there was an audience for this kind of historical fantasy. It wasn’t the typical book that Fantasy fans would expect. So he wanted me to write a traditional secondary world epic fantasy first. The idea was to create an audience with the traditional fantasy, and then maybe those folks would accept my historical fantasy.
For my part I had seen it quite the opposite way: I felt like my historical fantasy would be able to reach a bigger mainstream audience that maybe down the road would try a traditional fantasy that they would otherwise forego — essentially tap into this bigger market that books/media like Game of Thrones and 300 had built — but, well, I’m just a writer. What do I know?
So okeedokee. I dutifully started writing my traditional fantasy: Child of Sands, the first in a multi-volume fantasy epic set in a world of dragons, guns, plant-magick, and assassins who can kill with a touch.
Meanwhile, I was invited to speak at JordanCon in 2012, as an “academic expert” of sorts on Robert Jordan. I gave a big lecture. I sat on panels. I met a lot of very kind people. Huge fun. And a huge honor. And there, on Saturday night in the bar, my friend Mary Robinette Kowal introduced me to Paul Stevens, a different editor at Tor. We talked over drinks and got along quite terrifically, and I left JordanCon not just a little bummed that I wasn’t working with him.
But it is what it is, as I often say. So I went back to writing my epic fantasy.
I was 50% through that project when the editor I was in contact with left his position at Tor.
I was sad.
But then — oh, Loki, you mischievous bastard of a deity — in August 2013 my Shards manuscript was passed on to Paul of all people.
So I was happy again.
Not hopeful, though. Not at all. I’d been through far too much to be hopeful. I pushed it out of my mind. I still figured that the other editor was right, and Child of Sands was my best shot at publication in fiction. So I continued to dabble with it on the side. Just a hobby, really. My academic career has been going strong, and as an avowed mercenary I let my attention follow the success, not the speculation.
Fast forward to February 2014. Child of Sands was now about 75% complete when I got an email out of the blue from Paul saying he’d read Shards and liked it.
Cool. Nice, I thought. But in no way did I think this was really going anywhere.
For my Spring Break I flew out to Arizona and spent a week with my parents enjoying the American Southwest. This often leads to adventures. And so it was that I was on the edge of forever in the high desert, looking at ancient cliff-dwellings, when my phone picked up a signal and brought me a message from Paul with the subject title “Offer for Shards of Heaven.”
I didn’t faint and fall to my death, and I remain rather proud of that fact.
A week later I had hired an agent, Evan Gregory of Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency.
A week after that (Friday), I was driving to JordanCon — because it is awesome, and because Paul was going to be there — when I got a call from my agent (still can’t get used to saying that) informing me that the negotiations on terms were just about done.
Then, as I was parking at my hotel, I received a follow-up email from Evan that the terms were now agreed upon and we were headed to the drawing up of the legal contract. (I’ve since learned that in the intervening time Paul was in his hotel room hitting “refresh” on his email waiting to hear if I had agreed.)
I wasn’t about to announce anything myself, but twenty minutes after getting that email, Harriet had marched me up in front of the crowd of people surrounding Brandon Sanderson and rather loudly declared to him that I had a three-book contract with Tor. (Brandon was kindly congratulatory, which felt pretty awesome.)
The cat, it seems, was out of the bag.
I saw Paul (I guess I get to call him “my editor” now, which is also surreal), and he thankfully laughed when he heard what Harriet had done. We made arrangements to talk the next day about marketing and other book-related matters.
Saturday thus featured a long conversation with Paul over lunch that only solidified my confidence that (1) I was not dreaming, (2) Paul is exceedingly cool, and (3) Tor is exactly where I wanted to be — just as it was all those years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when I first picked up my copy of that newly released Eye of the World.
I went on to meet more people than I will remember — I beg forgiveness in advance — and I received more advice than I could have dreamed of getting from ever-gracious writers and editors and fans — some of whom promised to buy my book when it comes out in Fall 2015. So I’ve sold the first dozen, Tor. Ball is in your court now. 🙂
It’s now 2:30 Sunday morning as I write this (though I’ll not post it until I return to Charleston). I can’t sleep. My head is spinning as I try to sort through the reality of all this and what it all means.
It is pure madness, this thing that is happening. It’s the stuff of stories, of experiences that are not my own. It really shouldn’t be happening to me, though by god I’m not about to let it get away.
There’ll be more updates here on the publication process as it unfolds, of course. I am trying to shore up my social presence now that I can see a time — 2015 isn’t that far away — when there might be more than a few people listening.
Heck, I’m even on Twitter now (@medievalguy).
So it is happening.
I’m publishing a series with Tor.
And I cordially invite you to follow me and share in this improbable journey: dreams can only become real, after all, when they’re shared.