Everything Happens For A Reason
It all started with a call for submissions. The theme was sexy shifters. I had never written a shape-shifter story and was excited to try. The publisher was one I had purchased many books from in the past so I was excited. So there I was at work, at my evil day job, except it was night, trying to come up with something hot.
“Just––what about a werewolf?” My friend Ali asked me after we had been trying to think up something for the last half an hour. “Everybody writes about werewolves.”
“I know,” I told her, “that’s why I don’t want to.”
“Oooh,” Nikita said, “how about a lion.” Being a Leo, he has lions on the brain.
I made the face so they both knew I wasn’t happy and the three of us, plus Tanyah, there at work on a Thursday night, tried to come up with something for my character, which I already had in mind, to shift into.
“Werewolves are hot,” Ali said, trying to change my mind. “Richard in the Anita Blake series, Alcide in the Sookie Stackhouse books, I––”
“Wait,” I cut her off, “let’s say you have to go out in a rainstorm and pick up your man who’s now a werewolf,” I said, “I mean you’re gonna have this guy in your car and what’s he gonna smell like?”
“A big wet dog,” Tanyah said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “Eww.”
“Exactly,” I agreed, “gross. And the hair would be all over your car and…ick.”
“Got it,” Ali said, “no wolves no dogs. Moving on.”
In between helping customers, dinner breaks, and answering the phone, my friends, my co-workers, are trying to come up with something, anything, to help me.
“How ‘bout an alligator?” Nikita asks, turning around from helping a woman at the counter.
“Is an alligator hot? Do you want to sleep with an alligator?”
“You gotta figure that at some point you might want to get it on in shifted form.”
“Can you do that?” Tanyah asked.
Really, the poor lady at the counter probably thought she was in the Twilight Zone.
“Have sex when you’re an animal?”
“If you’re a shifter you’re still a sentient being,” I educated her.
“How ‘bout a seal?”
“Isn’t a selkie a guy that turns into a seal?”
“I have no idea, I’m asking you.”
“Do you want a seal in your bed?”
“I don’t want to sleep with a seal or an alligator,” Nikita assured us all, even the lady.
“Yeah that’s gross.”
“I just read a book where the guy turns into a griffin, I don’t want it to look like I’m copying.” I told Ali, the only one still really on task.
“Yeah but there are no absolutely original stories, I mean they all go back to Shakespeare.”
“Oh that was deep,” I told her.
“How ‘bout some kind of bug?” Nikita suggested.
“Would you want to screw a bug?”
He tipped his head back and forth, “it depends on the bug.”
He ran to help a customer figure out how to use the fax machine.
“If it’s a bug,” Kyle began, having come back from dinner, returning to the same conversation he had left an hour ago, “then you could use mind control like they do in the hive. I think there’s a chemical that’s released that gives the queen control.”
“That’s disgusting,” I told him. “Listen to me––no bugs. No one wants to sleep with a bug. There are no hot bugs.”
“What about The Fly?”
I pointed for him to go collate something.
He shrugged; I obviously had no idea what I was talking about.
“Let me pull up Wikipedia and look for fantastic animals and see what we get,” Ali suggested because she is, above all, logical. She started scanning the list. “Okay so hippogriff, griffin, phoenix, oh how about a bird,” she offered brightly.
“I hate birds.”
“How about a dragon?” Tanyah chimed in.
“A lot of really talented people write about dragons, I don’t think I could compete.”
“No dragons,” Ali said, listening to us as she kept scrolling through the list. “Basilisk?”
“Isn’t that the big snake from Harry Potter?”
“I think so.”
“What about a snake?” Nikita asked as he came back from helping another customer, the only person at work actually working at this point.
“Did you hear me say snake?”
“No, did somebody say snake already?”
“No Ali just, never mind,” I made a face. “Seriously you guys, you have to want to be close to it in shifted form. Do you want to get close to a snake?”
“Well then it has to either be smooth or furry,” Nikita told me. “Right?”
“So we’re back to werewolves…or cats.”
I love cats but I am not writing a story about a housecat. But maybe a big cat. Maybe a lion, or a tiger, a panther. A jaguar. And then the research starts.
A jaguar has exceptionally strong jaws. It can crush a skull if it wants to. And they live in South America. I don’t know anything about South America and I don’t like warm places. I don’t even like to write about people in the heat I hate it so much. I like my people bundled up in sweaters in climates where they can see their breath. I like Chicago. So South America is out and so are jaguars. But a black panther has possibilities… a werepanther. So now I know what my man will shift into. A cat, a great big cat.
I write 30k words, because that is the limit, and send it off absolutely sure that it’s good and they’ll of course want it. This is the first time ever in the history of me that I am just so sure of myself that it’s scary. I’ve got this in the bag, I’m going to be in my first ever anthology!
The rejection comes fast. They don’t want it and not only don’t they want it, but even if I change it, they don’t want to see it again. Ever.
Okay. Deep breath, regroup, begin again.
So I add 10k words because I had more to write and send it off to the new publisher, certain that they will want it. A shape shifter story is right up the new publishers’ alley. Right?
When I was first started writing I thought I needed an agent. I thought that’s how it was done. An agent would do the whole submit and rejection dance for me, with me, and we would be partners. I soon found out that because I write, not m/m but first-person, that an agent was not in the cards for me. The agents I contacted didn’t like first-person and they didn’t think it would, or could, sell. This was also; it turned out, why the second publisher didn’t want it.
They felt that the “point of view was problematic. Instead of drawing the reader in, the POV was actually off-putting. Instead of pulling us into the story, it distanced us. We didn’t get a good sense of who the characters were or what motivated them, not even Jin. The reader needs to connect with the characters for the intensity of the emotional and sexual tension in the story to ring true. Because we were unable connect with the characters, their attraction to and feelings toward one another fell a little flat.” End quote.
So, if I wanted my dear friend Jin to ever see the light of day, I was going to need to learn how to write third-person.
I started writing first-person because of S.E. Hinton. I blame her for both making me love being in the main character’s head right away and for liking stories about boys. Once I read about Ponyboy and Soda and Darry, I was done. I have such respect for women that make their female characters come alive. I devour Katie MacAlister books but I myself have never been able to write well from that standpoint. So because of S.E. Hinton, I write books about boys in first-person. It’s all her fault.
So I tried for a week to change Jin from first-person POV to third and ended up taking away all his passive-aggressiveness and whining as well as his strength and passion.
My sister said of my rewrite, “he wasn’t perfect the other way but he was more real.”
He was more real, because he had a voice.
I like voice. I like to hear the character right away. People know this about me; I like books that just start.
Interview with the Vampire, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Outsiders, of course, are some of my favorites. All first-person, all just start. I had to put it back, put Change of Heart back into first-person and find a real home for it.
As I licked my wounds and worried, Wes & Toren by J.M. Colail came in the mail. The first thing I noticed about the book is that it’s written in first-person. And like I always do with books that are similar to things I write, I checked to see who published it. Wes & Toren changed everything just like The Outsiders did years before. Because, I thought, if Dreamspinner Press will publish one first-person book, maybe they’ll look at another, maybe consider publishing another. Maybe they will at least think about it. And they publish romance so I was hopeful.
By now my manuscript had blossomed and grown and it was at 70k plus words and when I sent it off I was terrified. I had been hopeful before and that had not turned out well. But it was different and Dreamspinner loved Jin and Logan and my creation finally had a home.
When I gave my friend Ali her autographed copy of Change of Heart she said that it was certainly lucky that I didn’t get into the anthology like I wanted. And it was. Everything happens for a reason.
Mary Calmes currently has several novels and shorter-length stories out through Dreamspinner Press and Club Lighthouse Publishing. Her Series "A Matter of Time" is scheduled to be released in print through Dreamspinner Press in August 2010. For more information about Mary and her work, please visit her blog at http://marycalmesbooks.blogspot.com/