My First Sale by Loretta Chase, “Don’t You Want to Write a Book?”
I’m reposting this because I stupidly miscommunicated with someone about this date and the first sale series and so I’ve got nothing. But given the fact that I think Loretta Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways is one of the best romances I’ll read this year, I thought I’d pull it up again and pimp her book. It’s on sale next Tuesday. In the meantime, you can read the first three chapters of Julia Quinn’s The Lost Duke of Wyndham for free online and the entirety of The Duke and I, one of my favorite Quinn books.
When I wrote to Ms. Chase, it was on a whim. I never thought she would email me back and agree to share her “first sale” letter. Chase is like, well, a minor god to me. Lord of Scoundrels is one of the seminal romances in my thousand book reading history. This novel was originally published in 1995 and remained in print since that time, over ten years and counting. I suspect its a book that my daughter will enjoy when she is of a romance novel reading age. Avon has re-released Lord of Scoundrels this month with a new cover and a corresponding ebook. Chase’s books all feature her trademark dry wit and her clever dialogue. I never tire of re-reading her books.
I don’t know if I was born to write but the habit started early, about the time I learned to hold a pencil. I wrote and passed notes in school, maintained a voluminous and mainly one-sided correspondence with various people (some living down the street), poured into a journal the tortured explorations of my inmost soul, filled notebooks with very bad poetry, scripted a 37-act play, and struggled–for years, and callously disregarding the destruction of innocent forests–to complete The Great American Novel.
My choice of undergraduate study, therefore, will surprise nobody. Yes, I knew there was no future in getting a degree in English but I did it anyway because this course of study required reading fiction and writing. Oddly enough, that impractical choice led to my first professional (i.e., someone paid me for it) writing job, an exhibition catalog. This in turn led to my writing scripts for corporate video–where people who looked perfectly normal paid me handsomely for doing what I was going to do anyway, for free and despite the anguished screams of, say, anyone who’d ever had to read my poetry.
The video work led me to a man who kept saying crazy stuff like, “Don’t you want to write a book?” and “If you can make an entertaining script about filing systems, you’re inventive enough to write a novel.” He eventually turned out to be my husband, which came as a great shock to both of us.
He is a very persuasive man. Before long, I found myself studying the romance genre, which led me to the traditional Regency, a subgenre that seemed to have been made for me: 19th century setting in which English lords and ladies exchange witty repartee. The research was as much fun as the actual writing. Making time between the day job and the video moonlighting, I wrote my first Regency, ISABELLA, in about two years. After half the world critiqued and proofread it, the manuscript went into an envelope with the required SASE and over the transom to one of the many publishers who, according to all the authorities, were going to reject it. Everyone knows the first book always gets rejected. In fact, we are not to expect publication until we’ve completely papered our walls with rejection letters. That was the rule. I understood it. I’d read writers’ biographies. Unless you were, say, Charles Dickens, it would take a while before a publisher recognized your genius. Since I was not a genius (my poetry made this quite, quite clear), I confidently expected ISABELLA to be lost in a slush pile in NYC, never to be heard from again. And so, six months later, I was halfway through the next rejection magnet (THE ENGLISH WITCH) when a woman called me. She claimed to be an editor in New York. She claimed to love ISABELLA. She asked if it was “still available.”
I did that thing where you take the phone away from your ear and stare at it. Then, “Um…yes,” I said. A few minutes later, I’d sold my very first book to the very first publisher to whom I’d sent it.
At the time, I decided this was just one of those happy anomalies, the exception that tests the rule. But years later it dawned on me that the rule about getting repeated rejections and trying again and again is about mastering the craft. In my case, all those years of writing terrible poetry and plays and the unfinished Great American Novel were years of practice. They helped me develop the skill to write entertaining scripts about filing systems, for example. In turn, the corporate writing taught me, among other things, how to write dialogue and how to get an idea across in a few words rather than several pages and how to keep the audience from falling asleep when you are explaining how to fit test a respirator.
Oh, and it does help to have someone in your life who says crazy stuff like, “Don’t you want to write a book?”