The author blog of C. J. Ivory

Tinkerer with words. Dresser-Upper. Adorer of Steampunk and VictoriaNoir fiction. Occasional Lawgineer.

February 16, 2011

A Journey of a Thousand Pages Begins With But a Single, Badly-Written Prologue...

Gentle Reader,

Last month I was invited to contribute as a guest blogger on The Writeaholic's Blog. The topic was The First Year Tally, and we writers were asked to identify the genesis of our, you know, writerness. In case you didn't catch it over at Writeaholic's, I thought I'd include my contribution today:

It was the Chinese philosopher Confucius who observed that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step”. In my case, a journey of a thousand miles is more likely to begin with “forgetting to programme the address into the GPS”. I just don’t have much of a sense of direction.

Much the same can be said about my journey as a writer. I certainly never intended to meander down the writing road. Despite this, my childhood was characterised by scribbling: my first short story at age six was a farmyard saga in which a Rhode Island Red hen (named Big Mama Betty) hatched from one of her eggs a baby bull (tragedy struck when the farmer came over to investigate, and got a swift kick from the newborn). Encouraged by the success of these early efforts – it got a big red tick, and was subsequently stuck to the fridge door at home – at age ten I wrote a comic space opera. This featured the antics of the crew from the star ship Capewallader Cod – and no, I don’t know how I came up with that name. In fact, all I remember about the story was the opening scene, in which the ship’s captain awoke floating three feet above his bed because he’d forgotten to take his gravity pills. Gene Rodenberry, eat your heart out.

My starship would have had nicer drapes and an old-timey feel

As generally happens, life got in the way, and from age fifteen onwards, I probably wrote a grand totally of fifteen hundred creative words (despite what some of my grumpier professors may claim, I’m not counting University essays). Fifteen hundred words over some thirteen years amounts to a 115 words a year; about one-third of a word each day. I was not exactly slaving over a hot typewriter, Gentle Reader.

It wasn’t until 2007, when I lived in Germany, that the desire to write struck me again. To help my painfully slow progress in that delightful language, my husband (a native German speaker) would read me novels in the evening. One of these happened to be the translation of a suspense novel by a well known English-speaking author. Perhaps it was a poor translation, but I spent the entire story being irritated by the plot (in my eyes, tepid and predictable) the characters (wooden and clichéd), and the tone (saccharine and a bit preachy). Hell, I remember thinking, I could write a better novel than this. So I sat down to do exactly that.

I failed, of course. A year later, the plot of my newly-minted novel could only be described as tepid and predictable; the characters wooden and clichéd; and although the tone was neither saccharine nor preachy, I have to admit it did oscillate between ponderous and breathlessly-hysterical. But that, as our friend Confucius might say, is all part of the journey. Most of my writer friends (and yes, these days I feel I am advanced enough in writerdom to drop phrases like “my writer friends” into the conversation) view their first novel with a mixture of embarrassed affection and slight humiliation. If you, Gentle Reader, have written your first novel and it isn’t the literary equivalent of Jackass: the Movie, then you should celebrate: you’ve done better than about eighty percent of your counterparts.

But enough about you, Gentle Reader; let’s talk about me again. There I was, reading through my own shiny new novel manuscript, and all I could think was: Hell... I could write a better novel than this. And, with a dizzying sense of déjà vu, I sat down to do exactly that.

Except this time, it worked. After another eighteen months, I finished a novel which I deemed worthy of rejection by a prominent New York agent. Accordingly I sent off my query letter and the first three chapters, fully expecting a polite but firm no. And blow me down if my dream agent didn’t love the story! After reading through the whole manuscript, she offered me representation. 

And that, Gentle Reader, is where I am at the moment: still shaking my head at the journey so far, but desperately keen to see what’s around the next bend. Admittedly, much of the process for this novel is out of my hands for now, which is maddening. Whilst I would like to have a New Year’s Resolution of score a contract with a major publishing company, really the best thing I can do is to work on new projects in the meantime. Thankfully, my open-minded agent has embraced what I describe as “my trans-genre leanings”, and with her blessing I’m working on a satirical urban fantasy and a gothic Victorian thriller. 

As I mentioned, Gentle Reader, I never intended to meander down the writing road. But just look at what happens when you don’t use your GPS.

Ever a fan of reading the map upside down,


No comments: