Sounds like a book title, right? But for my purposes today it’s about the three year journey I’ve been on. See, today is the release day for my third young adult novel, When the Stars Go Blue and it’s a day that’s been more than three years in coming. It’s a story that’s as much about persistence and wanting something—knowing that you can’t give up—as it is about just the normal pride that comes with seeing my book in print.
Back in April of 2007, I was riding pretty high. I was a dual-finalist in the Romance Writers of America RITA contest with my debut novel, Adiós to My Old Life, one of those finals being in the Best Contemporary Single Title Romance category, which believe me, stunned me as much as anyone else. My second book was due to come out in August and while my publisher had turned down the option on a third book, I was confident I’d be able to get something else relatively quickly. After all, I also wrote adult fiction as well as young adult, so I had a wealth of material. I was already published and I knew the importance of dedication and discipline and working to improve my craft. On top of all of that, my published work had been receiving some great reviews and recognition within the industry. Something good would come along. I just knew it. And then, something good did. An editor contacted me out of the blue. She’d read Adiós and had loved how I wrote about music—was I familiar with the opera Carmen and would I be interested in trying to rework it as a young adult novel?
Why, yes… yes, I would.
The deal fell into place in an almost unimaginably easy fashion and I was off and running. By the end of the summer I had a first draft completed and in to my new editor. I was confident in the story I’d created and awaited her revision letter eagerly, knowing that I could make whatever fixes were necessary—looking forward to her input so I could make the story even better.
By the beginning of the next year, I’d completed that first revision and was fairly certain I’d nailed everything she wanted. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite that way. She was working with several other editors and they all had input, so for months, we went back and forth, me, desperately trying to make the changes that would best serve the story, trying so hard to be a Good Author that there were times I even made changes that I didn’t completely agree with, simply because I wanted this to work so badly. I believed in this story that much. I’d be lying too, if I didn’t say there wasn’t a little bit of concern at the back of my mind, too. Remember how I said I also write adult fiction? Well, I had a manuscript I absolutely loved—that I’d spent the better part of five years on—making the rounds, and for too many reasons to go into right now, it wasn’t selling. And it was devastating me. I knew it was a risky manuscript, but surely someone would take a chance, right?
Wrong. This was at about the time the publishing industry and the entire economy were going belly up, so no one was taking risks on anything. And more terrifyingly, it seemed that my Carmen story—this manuscript I had such faith in—was also turning into a risky proposition. I started to get that sixth sense feeling about it at about the one year mark. By late summer of 2008, heading into the fifteenth month of work on the manuscript, I had a strong premonition that I was about to have my contract canceled.
October 2008 was quite possibly one of the worst months of my entire life. The contract on that book was canceled. The publisher pretty much hated this book I had poured so much of my heart and soul into. They said my lead character was too unlikable and the manuscript would require far too much work in order to make her redeemable. I was devastated— I didn’t think my lead, Soledad, was unlikable in the slightest. She was strong, sure, and extremely forthright. She was ambitious and unapologetic about it, but how did these things make her unlikable? If anything, I thought they were great qualities for a lead female in a young adult novel. Unfortunately, what I thought no longer mattered. They didn’t like it, they weren’t going to publish it.
Making matters worse, when I finally decided I wanted to rework the manuscript, take out the excess and the wrong choices that I’d acquiesced to, only to appease the publisher, my then-agent said something that stopped me cold. “I’ll want to give it a thorough line-edit because it’s in pretty rough shape.”
That was a statement that made me seriously doubt every decision I’d been making for more than a year—because how on earth could I have chosen an agent who would say something like that to an author who’d just spent more than a year on writing and revising a manuscript—four complete revisions, to be exact—and who’d seen her hard work repaid by having her contract canceled?
Talk about a gut check. I could have easily folded then. Just thrown my hands up in the air and been done with publishing as a business. After all, I’d been writing my entire life before publishing and I knew then, that I’d continue to write without the benefit of publishing. But would I be doing this story justice if I just up and caved? That original editor had thought this story had merit (and continued to do so, throughout the whole process—she just found herself in as difficult a position as I had, subject to the whims of her superiors).
And what it came down to is, I couldn’t leave it with anyone thinking Soledad was an unlikable character because I knew better. That’s what it boiled down to. I knew better. I knew my story and how it deserved to be told and by golly, I was going to make certain it was told the way I wanted. So I stood up, dusted myself off, and got to work. I reworked the manuscript into what I had wanted it to be. I took the best of the advice that original editor had given me and blended it with what my instincts told me to do. Then I found an agent who loved it every bit as much as I did. Who got it. Then she found me the perfect publishing house and the perfect editor.
In October of 2009, a year after receiving the devastating news that my contract had been canceled, I received The Call. Again. The manuscript I had renamed When the Stars Go Blue had sold. And here we are, November 23, 2010. Release day.
The early reviews have come in and while they’ve been absolutely lovely, the ones that have jumped out at me are the ones that call Soledad a “bold, feisty heroine,” that say all of my characters are “likable, even lovable.” Look at that—likable. And here’s the thing: I hadn’t changed a thing with respect to the core story and characters. Everything I changed was mostly the superfluous stuff, the frills and dressing. The book that’s coming out today is in great part very similar to the book that was turned away.
I knew better. And I had the desire, the ganas as we’d say in Spanish, to make sure this book found its proper home.
You have no idea how badly I wanted this.
Almost as much as I want people to buy the thing and justify my publisher’s faith in me.
But in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season (and how on earth is it almost Thanksgiving?) I’m also very eager to give away a signed copy of Stars as well as a super special bonus: signed copies of the first two books in YA author Carrie Ryan’s fabulous zombie series, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves.
Holidays! Give books as gifts! Be that relative!
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