I told my friend Nancy, the poet, that when I had four novels finished, I thought I could become a ‘professional novelist’. She asked, ‘Shouldn’t you be able to do that with one book?’ Therein lies an interesting question —
How Long Should We Wait to Start Living Our Dreams?
Now, for the dream of simply writing, we shouldn’t wait a minute (go, I’ll wait). But for the dream of being a Professional Novelist, well, I’ve always taken a restrained approach. My sister Sarah (who’s a fantasy artist doing book covers and planning to move into concept art for games and movies) and I have always wanted to wait until our creations were up to a very high standard.
My first novel Other Gods was quite good I think — for a first novel. I had already written two screenplays and so had knocked a little of the mud off my writing soul. But, though I sent out about 50 query letters, I wasn’t sure if it was ready for prime time. It was also a long, epic fantasy/sci-fi story that was the first in a series. I loved it (and still do), but maybe my breakthrough book should be something else.
Enter A Caged Heart Still Beats. I picked a short, fun, romantic little novel from my list of story ideas and it quickly turned into the best thing I’d ever written. It’s short (almost novella short) and a lot of the story takes place in a cage where the lead character has been held against his will for four years (I’ve sent about 60 queries out so far but apparently agents have a problem with ‘fun, little romance’ meeting ‘enforced imprisonment’ — go figure) But the story is filled with gratitude about the beauty of the universe, musings on the power of love and forgiveness, and some quite charming characters.
I still hold that Caged Heart will be my breakout book, but sometimes I wonder. I’m now writing two books (hence my magical ‘4 = pro’ formula). Both these new novels, Fall Street, a coming of age story set in a small town in the 1950s, and Spark of Madness, my fantasy about metallurgists in Victorian England, are full of writing that’s even better and I believe people will love reading them when they’re finished, at least if the way I keep going back and rereading them is any indication!
Start Where You Are
In the end, you have to trust yourself. I feel that Other Gods will need more rewriting to bring out into the world. But I also think that Caged Heart is ready to go. And so I’m continuing to send out queries throughout the fall but with a view to a self publication date of February 2014 if I don’t find an agent. I truly believe —
“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it.” — Jonathan Winters
Caged Heart will be an adventure, and it feels good to know that the more I write, but better I get. It feels even better to know that there are two more amazing novels in the pipeline just waiting to lift me toward my goal of — Professional Novelist.