When Jean Lee, writer of fiction for young adults agreed to write a guest blog for me, she asked what topic I would like her to cover. Knowing that her new novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, is due for release later this month, I said:
At what point did you decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to send it out’? Were you nudged by anyone, or was it your decision? What were the key factors?
Short Answer: I was nudged by my husband. Key factor: panic.
Let’s back up a moment.
See, I didn’t actually set out to publish The Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. We are here because of what you’d call a most happy accident.
I had written the first draft back in 2010 for the National Novel Writing Month. It was the first time I’d written since the dark days of graduate school, and it felt so, so bloody good to be writing a story I genuinely cared about. But I was also a first-time mother, still a part-time teacher, so my time was very rarely my own. Over the years I’d pick at the story’s characters/plot/setting, and in 2015 I tried sending it out to a few agents. No interest.
So I put Stolen away. It was destined to be that “unsellable first novel”: the story that got me back into writing, but also the story that’d never see the light of day.
In the meantime, I started my site Jean Lee’s World and was writing there every week. I’d also taken up a challenge from indie author Michael Dellert to write a YA Fantasy series about shield maidens, so I was brain-deep in that. I’d visit Stolen every now and then, its voice finally coming in from the shadows with bleeding knuckles and a mouth full of sass. But still…surely no one would want to read this.
Enter Wattpad & Aionios Books.
Wattpad’s a free publishing platform for stories, poems, plays, and so on. Since my website had been dedicated to writing about craft and music, it was cool to find a place where I could specifically share fiction and receive feedback on my YA Fantasy Middler’s Pride. My shield maiden series had gotten some excellent feedback as well as some honest to goodness readers—including the lead editor of Aionios Books, Gerri Santiago.
I still remember getting the Twitter message from Gerri while waiting to pick up my sons from 4K one November day: “Have you signed on with a publisher yet?”
My hands start shaking. Who’d want to publish me? A gazillion other fantasy writers are out there probably doing way better. I’m just…I’m just me.
Another tweet: “I love Meredydd’s tough vulnerability in Middler’s Pride.”
Oh! Well… Huzzah, then!
Now you’re probably wondering A) How long is this nattering going to continue and B) isn’t the novel we’re talking about Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?
- A) I’m almost done.
- B) Publishing often takes unexpected turns.
Gerri asks me to send her a complete manuscript of Middler’s Pride. “Sure!” I start to type. Freeze. I’d been reworking a few key elements inside the story to better fit a series, and that reworking was nowhere near done.
But I can’t afford to lose this opportunity! If I say it’s not ready, she may say thanks and move on. Then who knows how long it’ll be before I get someone’s attention like this again?
I panic myself into a hyperventilating mess—always a smart state for driving preschoolers home from school—seeing all manners of defeat awaiting this exchange with Gerri. I should tell her to forget she ever saw my work. I should flee Wattpad. The internet. The…well you can’t get much more rural than a Wisconsin farming town, so I suppose this is flight enough.
Bo gets home from work and listens to my breathless, teary telling of the Twitter tale. He gets me some cocoa and sits me down. “Can you send her something else to buy you some time?” he asks.
“No. Well maybe. There’s my Fallen Princeborn story. But that’s not totally revised, either.”
Bo considers this. “True, but it’d probably keep her attention long enough so you can get that Middler thing done, right?”
I nod. Okay, that made sense. Distract with the giant green head projection that is Fallen Princeborn: Stolen while I frantically move Middler’s Pride things around behind the curtain. Gerri will also then see I’ve got more than one voice and style in me, which will hopefully make me sound more marketable. Okay. Okay okay. This all makes sense.
So I write Gerri a really, REALLY long rambling email (yes, even longer than this guest post) about time and the importance of storytelling and hey, would you like to read this while you wait for me to fulfill your request?
I think only two days pass, maybe three. Bo’s doing what he can to get out of work early and handle the kids so I can finish Middler’s Pride sooner.
My phone beeps: an email from Gerri.
Oh no. She must be wondering what’s going on. She wants Middler now or never. Dammit, Jean, get the thing done!
I open the email.
“I just LOVE this story! The characters are so complete, and so compelling! Do you have more Fallen Princeborn? I NEED to know what happens next!”
I beam. These characters I’ve known as long as my daughter—they’re loved by someone else. People I made from my own pain, anger, and yearnings have connected to someone else, and made a home in someone else’s imagination.
Could these characters find homes in other readers’ imaginations, too?
Only one way to find out.
Now here we are. While Gerri liked Middler’s Pride, in the end it wasn’t a fit for Aionios Books—and you know what? That’s okay. Meredydd and the other shield maidens found a home with stories by fellow indie authors on the subscription site Channillo. Gerri sent me a contract for Fallen Princeborn: Stolen in December, and she’s been challenging me to build upon the story’s world ever since. I’ve written a collection of short stories featuring characters of this world, and am planning four more novels to follow Stolen, the next volume to come out next spring.
So, if you’re one of those with the “unsellable first novel” in a file somewhere, pull it out. Chances are enough time’s gone by that you can read it as the audience, not the creator. Sure, the heroine sounds too nice for escaping from a personal hell, or the world’s rules don’t make sense, or the villain doesn’t have enough to do. Know what? Now’s the time to right those narrative wrongs. You know better now. You can hear the voice beneath the noise. You’ve only to dig it out.
My deepest thanks to Cath for inviting me to her to her sanctuary of words and wanders. My novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen will be available for purchase starting Halloween.
Jean Lee is a Wisconsin born and bred writer excited to share her young adult fiction with those who love to find other worlds hidden in the humdrum of everyday life. Lee’s short story collection Tales of the River Vine is currently available for free download on Amazon, Nook, and other markets. Her serialized fantasy Middler’s Pride is available via the Indie E-magazine Channillo. Lee’s first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, debuts Halloween 2018 from Aionios Books. She currently lives in the Madison area with her husband and three children.
Links for Stories:
Other outlets: https://www.books2read.com/b/mBPXQR
Jean Lee’s Contact Info:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Lee/e/B07DPP2RV6/
Publisher Site: https://aioniosbooks.com/jean-lee