Monday, November 28, 2005

That's Mâvarin to Me

Carly suggested on Saturday night that it might be a good idea for me to explain to you all just how much all this Mâvarin stuff means to me. (She said it much more nicely than that, though.) Sounds like a good idea. Okay, I'll try.

Imagine that there was just one thing you wanted to accomplish in your lifetime, one passion that mattered to you more than any other. I'm not talking about religion or spirituality here, true love or parenthood, or even peace of mind. I mean a vocation, a particular expression of who you are and what talents you have, the one thing you were put on Earth to do that no one else can do in your place. It's the thing you think about every morning, every night. By high school it was already firmly established in your mind and soul; and now, decades later, it's even more a part of you. You've tended it all these years, a garden in your heart. You've planted the seeds, pulled the weeds, and worried about the amount of fertilizer heaped upon it. And now that it's finally in bloom, you're afraid that people won't understand, and will blithely pass it by.

That's what Mâvarin is to me.

As I walk down the hall at night, as I lie down and get ready to say my prayers, as I try to go to sleep, I think of Rani and Crel, Del and Fayubi and the rest. A notebook lies on the bathroom floor, its printed pages covered with notes and edits and corrections. Every time I pass a decent jewelry kiosk at the mall, not a peddler of crass "bling" but a maker of custom necklaces and rings and bracelets, I'm tempted to commission a necklace of the Sun and River.

Yes, I'm obsessed.

an early Mâvarin map.
An early map of Mâvarin by Susan Keeter, or possibly by me. That's certainly my handwriting in the ocean. A bad photocopy of this is all I have.

Mâvarin has been part of my life for about 31 years now, ever since I first wrote about Rani in the beech tree. In case you don't know, it's the name of the fictional country where the bulk of the action takes place in Heirs of
Mâvarin and its sequel, Mages of Mâvarin. They are my two favorite books in all the world - not the greatest books ever written, of course, but the ones I love the most.

So where can you buy them? You can't. Not yet, anyway.

See, here's the basic problem: I originally sent the first book around to publishers and agents before it was ready. Now I'm gunshy about sending it out again. And the second book is still a magnificent mess, longer (can you believe it?) than any Harry Potter book.

I finally finished a complete draft of Heirs in 1989, fifteen years after I started work on what was originally called The Tengrim Sword. By then, Chapter One was probably on its fiftieth draft (at least), and Chapter 16 was a first draft. Right after that I got sidetracked with Doctor Who and Quantum Leap fandom, so it wasn't until about 1993 that I finally got the manuscript together and started submitting it to publishers. The submission package was usually a couple of chapters, a synopsis and a cover letter.

And I started getting rejections.

Back when A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by a few dozen publishers in 1960-1962, there were still dozens of individual U.S. book publishers to do the rejecting. It was a terrible thing, one of the best children's / young adult books ever written being rejected like that, over and over. But it did finally sell, after an almost-chance meeting at a party. These days, after many mergers, there are about five major publishers left, some owned from overseas, all of them having dozens of imprints each (such as Ace Books, Boulevard Books and so on). Most of the handful of imprints that publish fantasy take only agented submissions, and I don't have an agent.

Furthermore, I already submitted the first novel to these same publishers, back in 1993-1997. The last time I did it, the rejected chapters were in my mailbox exactly seven days after I dropped them off at the post office. I tried to console myself with the theory that it was rejected because I taped the address to the envelope, badly, complete with a human hair stuck underneath the tape. Maybe it was rejected because the envelope looked unprofessional! Yeah, that's it, I told myself.

This unlikely supposition didn't help. I was fresh out of major publishers. The book has not gone out to a single editor since that day. But I have sent queries to some agents since then, with hilariously negative results. One form rejection said the agency was not surrently accepting screenplays!

So who's left? Minor publishers? I'd really rather not. Vanity and subsidy publishers, that make the author pay to get the book printed? Never! This isn't Night Travels of the Elven Vampire. What, then? It looks as if I've already played my last card.

Ah, but here's my ace in a hole.

a tengem.  Art by Sherlock, copyright 2004. Since that soul-crushing one week turnaround in 1997, I've rewritten Heirs of Mâvarin in a major way. I've reimagined both the psychology and the physical characteristics of tengremen (Mâvarin's only species of monsters), making them much more interesting to read about. Have you ever tried to imagine what goes through the mind of a horse as it grazes, or of a wolf as it hunts? Now imagine that it's an intelligent wolf-horse (etc.) that used to be human. Sometimes it can still think like one, but other times its rational mind is buried in instinct. The result is that some of my characters are much more interesting than before, more unpredictable, and more dangerous.

Bottom line: Heirs of Mâvarin is at least twice as good a book as it was in 1997. It's even got a sequel coming right behind it, if I can get through all the needed rewrites and edits.

I'm told that if a book has been substantially rewitten, it's considered appropriate to sent it out again to the same publishers, with a note to that effect. In theory, I can send it to Tor or DAW a second time.

Consider also what's happened in the fantasy book market since 1977. Six books about an adolescent wizard named Harry are famous around the world, and have spawned a series of successful films. The most important fantasy novel of all time, The Lord of the Rings, has had a resurgence of interest since Peter Jackson and friends adapted it for the big screen. And now the first volume of another seminal fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, has been adapted for Disney, and is coming soon to a theater near now.

But heck, I'll settle for selling the Mâvarin novels just as books - for now. The big screen adaptation came come later. ;)

So why haven't I sent it out yet? Well, I've got one last proofread to finish. I'm on page 105 of that, about a third of the way through.

But I've been using the "final proofread" excuse for months, if not years. Why haven't I finished it by now, and sent out my synopsis, chapters and cover letter?

Well, I'm scared. If my cover letter and synopsis don't intrigue a first reader at one of the few publishing houses open to me, no senior editor is likely to read Heirs of Mâvarin. It doesn't matter that I think it's a damn good book, or that friends who have read the newest draft (aside from minor edits) all agree with me on that. If nobody with the power to give me a book contract is sufficiently impressed to get past page one, it won't matter how good page 171 is.

This is one reason why I'm posting the first two chapters of Heirs of
Mâvarin in serial form, over on Messages from Mâvarin. I want some idea whether other people, who don't already love the book, are pulled in by those all-important first few pages.

I know that people who don't like the fantasy genre won't like my opening chapter. I accept that.

But how about those of you who do?

Here are the links:

Heirs of Mâvarin

Karen

1 comment:

julie said...

Would it sound too frivolous if I were to tell you to keep plugging? There's been a lot of turnover in the publising industry since you last shopped that ms. You still may be able to find an agent. They're often willing to take a second look at a revised ms. And don't rule out the small presses. There are a number of them that have a good reputation in the F&SF field. As long as their books are available through Ingram, any bookstore can easily stock them.