February, 2005. I was traveling through that twilight state, from the end of a long day to the beginning of dreams. And I would have made it, too, if not for my older daughter, who kept elbowing me.
“Wake up, Daddy, you’re not making any sense! Finish the story!”
“What story was I telling?”
“Ancient Cat was going into the woods with Little Moo. Little Moo was about to reveal the secret of the long-haired monkeys.”
A few minutes later, the sting of fresh elbows in my side, “Wake up, Daddy, you’re not making any sense!”
It was from one of these dips into dreamland that I brought back a piece of something, just a story element, really. But it grew.
I stumbled into the living room. My wife took one look at my face and asked me what was wrong. But all I could manage was “notebook.”
Over the next two-and-a-half years—in the early mornings, late at night, and on weekends—the first two books of the Moon Realm series formed like a protogalaxy inside my brain. I knew that once the drafts were finished, I should set the project aside for a while, but I was chomping at the bit. I didn’t see how I was going to walk away from it for more than six months, tops. Lucky for me, though, I lasted eighteen months! And all I had to do was nearly die! Ha! Didn’t see that coming. More on that later—much later.
In the spring of 2009, I put on my editing cap, which at first felt like a dunce cap, only worse. I couldn’t get the rhythm. Apparently, my mind can conceive of an entire chapter in the space of one nanosecond (the writing it down part takes longer, of course). Editing, however, demanded large blocks of time all to itself. My wife and I own a bookstore. We’re raising two kids. I prefer to write or edit every day. I have to slay dragons just to get medium-sized blocks of time. (I’m not kidding—dragons! Write what you know!)
That summer, we camped in the Shenandoah. I sipped coffee. I watched my kids on the playground. And I outlined books three and four in one go (in micro-type, using a nub of pencil I sharpened with my pocket knife, on a scrap of paper I rooted off the floor of the van). Happy for that bit of inspiration, I shoved the scrap in my pocket and went on editing books one and two.
By the end of January, 2010, having made the rounds with my local writing group and test readers, I thought book one—now dubbed The Moon Coin—was good enough to start showing. So I took it to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. The lovely agent and editor I met there didn’t share my enthusiasm. But they gave me some very good ideas; foremost, the book didn’t start fast enough. So in February, I rewrote the first chapter. (I would do this, periodically, for the next ten months, about twenty times in all.) I also started querying literary agencies.
When spring rolled around, I took a break from editing and drafted book three. But I kept up with the querying and conference-going.
That December, nearly six years in, I realized what was wrong with the first chapter: the story didn’t start there. It really started nine years before. I needed a prologue. My first thought was: oh, God, not a prologue! My second thought was: can’t I just call it chapter one?
I was worried. But it felt right, so I wrote the whole thing in one fevered session that went late into the night. After New Year’s, and a lot of editing, I showed the new beginning to my readers. Everyone loved it. So I took it to another SCBWI Winter Conference. This time, the comments I received in the writers intensive were so off the wall as to leave me speechless. In the morning session a fellow writer told me, “If you’re going to write like Fitzgerald, you shouldn’t be writing middle grade.” First off, I don’t write like Fitzgerald. (Of course, I would if I could.) Second, if Fitzgerald had written middle grade, I can’t think of anything I’d want to read more! During the afternoon session, after reading the two pages in which I introduce my main characters as siblings ages four and five, a fellow writer chimed in with: “I love your writing, but I didn’t understand anything other than that the two main characters are obviously married.”
It took me until that evening, over some tapas and a glass of wine with my wife, to realize that only one thing made sense: the prologue was perfect. I’d attended a critique session and duly received “critiques.” But no one could come up with anything that improved the work.
I came home energized and started a second, bigger round of querying. The best thing to come out of that conference, however, was meeting the extraordinary artist who would later agree to be my illustrator. We met at the luncheon. After sharing the projects we’d brought with us and exchanging business cards, I gave her a copy of the prologue and asked her to email me if she liked it. She did, adding she’d love to read more.
I had a request for material around then from someone who was new to agenting, but who’d been a prominent figure in children’s publishing for some time. That stopped everything. Nervous, I reread my first few chapters, expecting them to have suddenly become garbage. They hadn’t, but I did notice that in the prologue I had created a distinct “middle grade” voice I liked very much. The agent had requested the first six chapters, so I rewrote them in the new voice, printed them out, handed them over to my readers, and waited. Everyone thought the chapters improved.
And the agent? She sent me a rejection, but my final line-edit is a little over three-quarters through. That brings me to the present.
Over the last sixteen months, I’ve queried 160 people. I’ve had about a dozen requests for material, two of which are still out, but I’ve stopped holding my breath. Turns out holding one’s breath for stretches longer than sixty days is downright unpleasant. Now begins my newest journey: digital publishing. This blog will detail my experiences bringing the Moon Realm series to a digital reader near you—and what happens after. Here we go, here we go. . . .
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Due. All rights reserved.
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