Sunday, February 11, 2018

To All the MSs I've Loved Before... (Maryanne Fantalis)

This month's theme is "Loved and Lost," and it took me a while to figure out what to write about. Like Mary, I am reluctant to write about my own experiences of lost love, but I'm not going to write about movie stars as she did.

No. I'm going to tell you about my beloved novel, "The Lost Duchess," that sits on a shelf and will never be published. Poor baby.

I wrote my first novel while I was in law school -- believe it or not -- as a way to relax from the stress. I sent it out to a couple of publishers and agents, got some feedback, but it was a historical of mammoth scope, and though I do adore it, it's like a childhood friend that I look back on with fondness but not a lot of regret.

It wasn't until I was truly miserable, employed full time as an attorney doing family law, that the dream of publishing became more urgent. I began work on a YA fantasy novel that drew on ideas I'd been playing with for years, building up my world, my magic, and my characters. Still, as a full time attorney, finding the time to write was hard. It wasn't until 1998, and a high-risk pregnancy that included three months of bed rest, that I really threw myself into it. As my husband said, "You'll never have this much time to yourself ever again."

I finished the novel and (naively, in hindsight) sent queries off to publishers and agents literally days before my daughter was born.

A lowly young editor at HarperCollins pulled my letter and sample pages out of the slush pile and said she liked what she saw; could I send the first three chapters?

And we were off.

Over the next several years -- YEARS -- we worked together editing my MS. She got promotions. I got editorial letters. Characters were eliminated. I moved one scene so many times I can't even tell you where it is in the novel anymore. I know it's there. I know it happens at some point. Just... no idea when. The first chapter, the first scene, the first paragraph, the first line, were all rewritten again and again.

She carried my printed manuscript with her over the Brooklyn Bridge when she had to flee Manhattan on foot on September 11, 2001. She told me that she had thought many times about chucking it in the trash -- it was so heavy! she said -- but when she thought of how much she loved it, and how hard we had worked, she just couldn't do it.

After about four years of working together, she told me we were ready to go to the Acquisitions Committee.

Deep breath.

The Acquisitions Committee is the meeting of the editorial board and the publisher, and they decide which books they're going to publish. If you get your book into that meeting, you are a hair's breadth away from publication. A whisper... A heartbeat...

They said no.

I was devastated. She was devastated.

She gave me the name of an agent whom she thought might be interested. Don't give up, she said.

Let me just say that nearly getting published by HarperCollins will get agents to look at your work, but it doesn't improve your chances of getting represented.

After hearing "no thanks" for a while, doubt crept in.

I'll spare you the anguish of the years that followed: the self-doubt, the wallowing, the wondering if I should give up on the story, the renewed determination, the renewed and redoubled doubt, the flailing around with false starts on other projects.

I rewrote the whole book.


It's better, actually. Better than the book that went to the Acquisition Committee all those years ago. But at this point, the market is so different -- Harry Potter, Twilight, the Hunger Games, Maggie Stiefvater, Marie Lu, Cassandra Clare, and so many others have left their mark -- that I don't see a place for a book like mine, honestly. It's more Robin McKinley than Sabaa Tahir, and Robin McKinley's not speaking to the modern teen.

So the "Duchess" remains on a shelf, unread.

But where would I be without it? That's the one that could have been, that almost was. My first, and forever, love.


  1. I can't believe that editor stuck with you for so long! Talk about dedication. That must have been heart-wrenching.

  2. I'm so sorry about the book, but I love that she carried it over the Brooklyn Bridge!