Twenty Years in a Bathtub
(And how the Wicked Women Writers Challenge helped me climb out)
by Laurel Anne Hill
Five years ago, Dan Kois wrote an article for the New York Times: “Why Do Writers Abandon Novels?”
“Look, writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub,” Kois quoted Stephen King as saying. “Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It’s a wonder that most of them don’t.”
Right on, Stephen. And sometimes one tub repeats the sinking process.
Way back when (around 1993-4) I wrote a fantasy short story: “Like Flecks of Mica.” The piece didn’t work as a short story. By 1997, I was paddling from Boston to London in my write-a-novel bathtub. The contraption deep-sixed. I raised it and salvaged the remains of my story. The tub sank again. I repeated the process several times, changed the book’s title, and even managed to acquire an agent in 2003. When my agent died, my manuscript turned into a waterlogged zombie. Coated in seaweed, my story threatened to eat my brain. Even my writing group—led by the amazing Charlotte Cook—couldn’t advise me how best to keep the vessel afloat.
Out of self-preservation, I abandoned ship and refocused on other projects. In 2007, KOMENAR Publishing released my award-winning novel, Heroes Arise (ForeWord Magazine Bronze Award, Science Fiction).
Heroes Arise changed the writing “game of zones” for me. I moved into the world of science fiction/fantasy conventions as a fledgling professional. I also encountered more opportunities for the publication of my short stories, including “Flight of Destiny,” a steampunk horror piece that won me the Horror Addicts (HA)/Wicked Women Writers Challenge title of “Most Wicked 2011.”
“Flight of Destiny” was my first attempt at steampunk. To receive a vote of approval from HA listeners meant a lot. In fact, the win thrilled me almost as much as the ForeWord Magazine award had. Best of all, I’d had so much fun creating and recording the story. Wow!
I remember my husband and me sharing a bottle of French champagne to celebrate the occasion. I also recall the warped wheels in my brain rotating, transmuting timidity into brassy nerve. If I could steampunk a short story and win a prize, could I steampunk a failed novel and at least get the blasted thing published?
I revisited my novel manuscript, which was then going by the alias: Mystic Light from the Mountain. The story was supposed to be about Juanita, a young woman on a life-saving mission—a Latina who could visit and communicate with the dead. That wasn’t always on the page. I was too hung up on the ghosts of her ancestors. The first half of the novel felt disjointed. Juanita begged me for more room to do what she had to do.
Goggles wouldn’t be enough. My bathtub needed marine-grade caulking. In other words, my write-a-novel tub would require strong forward momentum and a consistent hand on the helm to stay afloat.
A “Flight of Destiny” and Heroes Arise type of hand.
I did my best to deliver. Thus, I’m happy to announce that Sand Hill Review Press recently accepted my novel manuscript—now entitled The Engine Woman’s Light—for publication by early 2017. Hugo Award-winning professional artist, Julie Dillon, is in the process of designing the cover.
Hmmm…1997 to 2017 represents twenty years. That’s one hell of a long transit time to London. I’m glad I kept striving to reach port. Juanita tells me she’s pleased, too. We’re grateful for all the people—especially freelance editor, Derek Prior—who tossed life preservers to us (or gave us a tow) along the way.
For more about me and my writing, go to: http://www.laurelannehill.com.