From the beloved poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more commonly known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore: “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…”
That was me this morning…but rather than sugar-plums, it was my latest novel, Sword of Fate, that danced in my head. I am so excited about my latest literary effort for many reasons. Ultimately, I think it is a fun story with great themes. Who wouldn’t love a fantasy tale with dragons and flutebirds and a shapeshifting hero that must overcome his own fears, if he is to succeed in overthrowing the evil usurper? But what kept me up in the wee hours today was thinking about the backstory.
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a writer. Other people also knew and towards that goal, I received an electric typewriter as a birthday gift. For the early 80’s, the technology was amazing! I used to joke it would do everything including write the book for you and take it to the post office. Back then, authors would mail their typewritten manuscripts to a publisher in hopes of it making its way out of the slush pile (upon completing your manuscript, you put it in a large manila envelope along with another one tucked inside addressed to yourself with adequate postage so you could get it back) and waited the requisite several weeks for a reply.
During that time I worked at a grocery store. I was in charge of the camera department (remember when we used to use analog film that had to be taken to the store to be developed?) and my department had small TVs, clock radios, Seiko and Timex watches (and the tool to replace watch batteries for customers), a machine to make copies of keys, books and magazine racks, VHS and Beta movie rentals, and cigarettes – all captured within a 400 square foot space. When I got off work, I would drive through a nearby McDonald’s, get a six pack chicken nuggets and a chocolate ice cream cone (I was much younger and could eat anything), then drove a few blocks further to a pet shop where I worked a couple of hours showing critters to customers or catching and bagging tropical fish, running the cash register, and using a pricing gun to mark items and stock them on the shelves. So what does all of that have to do with Sword of Fate you might ask?
After getting off work at the pet shop, I would jump back in my car and head a couple of miles over to a gas station/mechanic shop a few miles down the road. My husband at the time worked for Exxon, and since we lived about 20 miles away and shared one car – I had to wait for him to get off work before we could head home. He often worked into the late evening. The manager of the Exxon was kind enough to allow me to keep my typewriter in his office and it was while waiting for my husband to get off work that the first draft of Sword of Fate was written.
Naive as I was at the time (along with a woeful lack of resources for a fledgling writer in the early 1980s) I believed that finishing a first draft meant I had written a saleable book. I broke our household budget by purchasing a Writer’s Market and with a hopeful heart mailed Sword of Fate to one of the publishers I found within its pages. Several weeks passed and I eventually received Sword of Fate back from the publisher with a polite rejection letter. By that time, I had quit both of my jobs at the grocery store and pet shop, to go back to school at a local college, DeVry Institute of Technology. The program was intense (an Associate of Applied Science in Electronics in eighteen months) and so I left my writing days behind me. I graduated and eventually became a test engineer in the semiconductor industry. But I kept that manila envelope that held my first draft of Sword of Fate with me all of those years. It miraculously stayed among my possessions through many life changes and moves (I still wish I could find my letter jacket in soccer from my old high school!).
Fast forward to 2019. The desire to write had never left and I decided to start a writer’s group. You can read about the Carrollton League of Writers here. I had returned to writing briefly in the mid 1990s and had a science fiction project I began right before my son was born. Motherhood consumed the majority of my time and it stayed on the back burner until five years ago. That book some of you have read – Alien Neighbors, which I launched in November of 2021. While trying to decide on my next project, I looked for my old manuscript to see if it was worth resurrecting. What a great time I had going down memory lane – carefully pulling it out of that old manila envelope and thumbing through its typewritten pages! One of the funnest things for a writer is to go back and read something they’ve written many years prior and think, “Wow, that’s pretty good!” Although I knew I would need to bring it forward to my current level of writing, I was delighted with what I read.
The image above is from the original copy I hauled around all of those years. Note the yellowed appearance – the paper was white when I first drew that map. So what do I do with a thick manuscript of partially faded ink? How do I get that into a usable format in Word for revision and editing? The thought of having to type the entire manuscript into Word was daunting. Thank God for optical scanners! An optical scanner is different from a regular scanner which simply creates a “picture” of what is being scanned. An optical scanner converts what is being scanned into a document that can be edited, like any other Word document. I purchased the most inexpensive one I could find and every day I would scan a few pages at a time until the entire manuscript was in Word in a format that I could edit.
Now that I had a manuscript in Word, my next step was to go through it and determine how much work it needed. Did it follow the three-act structure? Did it have appropriate pinch points? Was the prose both creative and tight with appropriate imagery and world building? Is the plot as engaging now as it was back then? So many questions!
Time to get to work. Print out a copy to mark up (I like to do my initial rounds of revisions on paper with a red pen) and start the revision process. Incorporate my edits into the manuscript. Ask for feedback from friends. Rinse and Repeat through several iterations. And now…we are close! Time to hire a professional cover designer and professional editor. Keep moving forward – working with both to fulfill my vision for both cover and text. And that is where we are today 😊
I hope you enjoyed learning about the creation backstory and you are as excited as I am about Sword of Fate’s launch into the world (tentatively set for April 24th).