Chelsea Campbell’s FIRE & CHASM, a dark fantasy in which a teen boy with no memory of his childhood puts his murderous impulses to work assassinating wizards in the war between adherents of the church and practitioners of magic, until he discovers one of his targets holds the key to unlocking his forgotten past, pitched as Dexter meets THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, to Miriam Juskowicz at Skyscape by Holly Root at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency (World).
A million years ago–or maybe it was more like eight–I wrote a book. I freaking loved that book and I put everything I had into it, and I really thought it was The One. (For those of you keeping track, I’ve talked about this book before.) It wasn’t my first book, or the first book I’d sent out–not by a longshot–but it was noticeably better than anything else I’d written. (Little known fact: I actually participated in Miss Snark’s first critique thingy where you sent in your first page and she told you what for. She actually liked mine. My hopes skyrocketed.) I sent it out to agents. I got my first ever request for a partial. Then another request for a partial that later turned into request for a full.
I honestly thought I’d made it, that this was it and life was going to be good from here on out because I was going to get an agent, get published, and have my dream career. (Ha! Life so isn’t like that, and publishing even less so, but it certainly felt comforting to think so at the time.)
But this book I’m talking about, this was not Renegade X. And Renegade X was my first book that got me an agent and got published, so you can probably guess where this is going.
The agents who were reading it rejected it. I never got any more requests. I tweaked my query letter endlessly and kept sending it out, even though I kind of suspected at this point that it wasn’t going to make it. And it didn’t. And I was kind of heartbroken about it for awhile. (Okay, really heartbroken.)
I was mad at myself for believing in that book, for loving those characters and that story so freaking much. I felt like the book had betrayed me by getting my hopes up and then not being good enough. I forced myself to keep writing, even though my heart kind of wasn’t in it right then, and had a couple false starts with new books that only made me more stressed and frustrated.
This period of disappointment and frustration was in the spring and summer that year. It messed me up a lot. I joined a writing group during Nano, wrote another book over fall and winter, and was starting to get some confidence back, if not enthusiasm. Then that next summer, I wrote Renegade X, which ended up being The One, though it has its own long story of how it got published, or how it almost didn’t get published, and then how it was unpublished and republished by me.
But anyway. Back to the book that broke my heart.
Cut to five years and many books later. I started up in the distance program (online) at Syracuse University, getting my master’s in library science. During the week-long residency we had to do in the beginning, I learned a lot about innovation and the importance of failure and how giving yourself room to fail is a necessary part of making or doing something great, not the end of things. (I didn’t end up getting the degree in the long run, but I learned an awful lot from my teachers and classmates, about innovation and life and bringing the hot sauce.) I started to rethink how I felt about failure that summer, and so I started to think about that old book that had failed me. I’d spent years trying to “live it down” in my mind, not wanting to talk about it, and whenever I did mention it, I had to also mention how horrible I thought it was. But now I started thinking about it again, and about how even if it had some problems, it had a lot of good things about it, too. There was a reason I’d loved it so much. There was a reason it had gotten some requests, even though the writing really wasn’t there yet. If anything, I was the one who had let it down, not the other way around.
I got an idea for the opening and started writing. I kept characters and concepts I’d loved from the first one and rethought the world and plot and how everything could go together. The first version had been my sixth book. This reboot was my twelfth. And it was so much better this time around, and I loved it again, and my beta readers loved it, too. It was finally the amazing book I’d wanted so hard for it to be in the past.
This book is Fire and Chasm. And I’m pleased to announce that it’s coming out next February from Skyscape.
10 years ago, I was working at Burger King (a really, really crappy Burger King where the fries were cold and the pop was uncarbonated, or at least the flavors anybody cared about were–it shut down just after New Year’s that year) and thinking I was really close to finding an agent and getting published. LOL. (I was nowhere near it.) At some point that fall, I’d gotten a slightly personalized rejection letter from an agent whose name I can’t even remember now. Looking back, it was obviously a form letter, but it had my name on it and was on the agency letterhead. Slightly thicker paper, cream colored. Not the thin, run-of-the-mill printer paper rejections I’d been getting. It basically said I wasn’t ready yet, but that they’d like to see my work again after I’d written another book or three. I was querying my 4th book at the time, if I remember right.
5 years ago, I was working at the ribbon shop (I made award ribbons, mostly for cat shows) and was actually on the verge of getting a publishing contract for the first time. That was The Rise of Renegade X, and it was my 8th or 9th book, depending on how you count them. (The book I’d started before it I would later finish, so technically RRX was my 8th finished book, but if you lined them up in chronological order, it would be the 9th.) I’d finished it about a year and a half before that, had recently fired my first agent, and was getting interest from a publisher on my own. In the next few months, I’d have a new, way better agent, and two offers.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that it would be another 5 years before I got published, I would have been devastated. If you’d told me 5 years ago that at the end of 2013, I still wouldn’t have gotten another publishing contract, again, I would have been devastated. Probably even more devastated than the first one, because at least then something good was coming, I just had to wait for it. (Or work really hard for it. Whatever.) And if you added on the fact that I wasn’t just contractless, but self-publishing–and, okay, not just self-publishing, but republishing my only traditionally published book because it had gone out of print and I’d taken the rights back–I would have been more than devastated. Probably absolutely crushed.
I would have had no idea how happy I was going to be.
To be fair, self-publishing has changed a lot in the past 5 years. But, from where I sit now, it seems ridiculous to me how upset I would have been about the supposed “failures” to come. It’s funny how our expectations of how things “should” go can get in the way of seeing opportunities. 2013 has been my best year in publishing, period. Not that there weren’t exciting moments along my traditional publishing journey, and everything I learned along that journey made me a better writer and publisher. But it wasn’t the only way to be happy, and it certainly wasn’t the only way to be successful.
This year, I got to write what I wanted. Which means Renegade X fans (and me) finally got to have a sequel. This year, I didn’t second guess what editors might buy from me or base what I wrote on what I might be able to sell to them. I wrote for myself, and for my readers. I had more fun writing than I have in a long time (though at least part of that has to do with getting better thyroid meds and not feeling like I was dying all the time, but that’s a different story), I ran a successful kickstarter campaign, and I published two books, which, in the past three months that they’ve been out, have sold more copies than I ever did as a traditionally published author. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve sold more copies of The Rise of Renegade X in the past 3 months than my publisher did in the past 3 years.
So, yeah. I guess the point of this post is that we don’t always know what will make us happy. I always knew I wanted a career writing books. That hasn’t changed, and it’s just as satisfying as I’d thought it would be. But how I got here, to a point where I even feel comfortable saying I have a writing “career” as opposed to just “a book,” was completely unexpected.
I’ve been getting this question a lot as people finish up The Trials of Renegade X. Everyone wants to know if there’s going to be another sequel.
And my answer to that is YES, definitely! I’m still in the planning stages, so I don’t have a title for you yet or a description, but know that it is coming. I’ve added it to Goodreads and set the release date as September 1st, 2014, and you can add it here.
I’ve been reading over The Rise of Renegade X, so I can read it back to back with The Trials of Renegade X, something I’ve never done so far, at least not since Trials was actually finished. Besides reading them for fun (because, OMG, I have a series, or at least if two books counts as a series, which it might not, but saying OMG, I have a … couplet? doesn’t have the same ring to it), I’m looking for style and spelling consistency while I do it, to make sure everything matches between books.
It’s interesting because as I read through it, I’m noticing that even though my voice hasn’t changed in the six years since I wrote this, my punctuation style has. I’m looking back at the first one and seeing that I used semi-colons. Seriously? I never use semi-colons, or at least not anymore. And I can see why I ended up using them then, but I just don’t structure my sentences the same way.
I’m also pretty sure I use a lot more italics these days, though that might be partly because I realized, while listening to the Harper Madigan audiobook, that no one will read the words as if they’re italicized unless I, you know, actually italicize them.
And since I’m republishing The Rise of Renegade X (someday, hopefully in the not-too-far future), it’s so tempting to think, “Well, I could just edit out those semi-colons, to make it match my style now.” But that is a big fat can of worms right there, and Chelsea’s first rule of revision is change as little as possible. That goes double for books that are already done, published, and have been being read and enjoyed by readers for years.
So I will just suck it up and face the facts that sometimes things change, and that’s okay. Also, I really doubt you guys are going to be reading the sequel, going, “WTF? There are NO semi-colons in this book! Where’s the smattering of properly used semi-colons I’ve come to expect from this series?!?!?!” (Though if you did, I suppose you’d be even more upset if I went and took them out of the first book. Best to just leave things as they are and let sleeping semi-colons lie.)
Back from the pony convention! Not that I was really gone, since I live here, but whatever.
For those of you who don’t know, Everfree NW is the local My Little Pony convention. I used to watch the original My Little Pony back in the early 80s, though I find that one doesn’t really hold up that well now that I’m an adult. But the new version of the show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is AMAZING. It’s on Netflix. Go check it out if you’ve never seen it.
Anyway, this was my first time at Everfree and my first time being a vendor at a con. (I make crocheted pony plushies.) I only saw the dealer’s room, but that’s my favorite part of conventions, plus the con pretty much came to me. VIPs from the show came by and complimented my ponies. The people from Friendship is Witchcraft stopped by, too (they re-edit episodes of the show and dub over them and it’s HILARIOUS and my favorite fan-made thing). And Peter New, the voice of Big Macintosh, came by and let me take a pic of him with my Big Macintosh plushie.
There was also a Sweet Apple Acres booth on the other side of the vendor’s hall, and a lady dressed up like Granny Smith. Every so often she’d shout that it was Cider Season, and for a limited time they’d sell little bottles of Apple Family cider, just like on the show. It was good times. And from my booth I met lots of cool people and saw lots of amazing costumes.
I had some Renegade X bookmarks on my table and told a few people that I was a writer and gave them one. Which was maybe a mistake, because I kept getting that, “Oh God, not another terrible writer–please strike me down before they start talking about their book!” look from people, which I haven’t gotten since before I was published. It wasn’t all their fault, though, since I’m horrible at telling people about my successes. (I blame the kids in elementary school and junior high who would come up to me and, in a mean, accusing voice, say, “You get straight As, don’t you?” Which, for the record, I didn’t, but that wasn’t really the point.) I always forget to mention the important stuff, like that I’m actually published and that Disney Channel is working on the movie. Oh, yeah, and that it’s freaking hilarious.
Oh, well. I like to think if they do end up looking up my book and reading the sample that they will be pleasantly blown away. Because, I mean, making cute crocheted toys is cool and all, but it doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort to learn as making awesome books does.
What are your successes? What skillz do you have that other people underestimate?
Wow, it’s been a while since I posted (guess I was in the writer cave longer than I thought). I looked at my last post, where I had 19,000 words in the sequel. HA. Now I have 115,000 and it’s DONE! That’s right–this book is going to exist. It’s going to come out this September. And it’s going to be really freaking awesome (but I think you guys knew that part already). And if you’re wondering what 115,000 words actually means, I’ll tell you that the first one was 85,000 words, making this a much bigger book. I would estimate that gives you guys another 100 pages to read.
Of sex and math jokes.
Just kidding. There aren’t any math jokes in this one.
I had so much fun writing this book. And drank so much coffee. And, while I miss the characters again already, it feels good to have it done. I finished the first one nearly six years ago. Six freaking years. And there were times since then when I was absolutely certain there would be a sequel, and times when I was absolutely certain there would not. But you guys kept writing to me, telling me how much you loved Renegade X and asking when there would be another one. And if it hadn’t been for you guys telling me all that, I don’t know if I would have ever written it. But you did, and I did, and now I’ve finished the best book I’ve ever written. And I can’t wait for you guys to get to read it in September!
And since, no matter how much planning I do, books have a way of morphing and getting away from me as I write them (or at least the best ones do), I reworked the book description. The old one wasn’t inaccurate, but it wasn’t so much the story anymore either. So here’s the new blurb:
Can a half villain ever be a full hero?
Damien Locke didn’t choose for his supervillain mom to disown him—just because he sort of defied her and ruined her evil plans to take over Golden City—and he didn’t choose for his superpower to be flying, a superhero ability that involves his least favorite thing: heights. But now that he’s living with his dad’s superhero family and enrolling at Heroesworth Academy, he’s ready to embrace his new life, get his H, and finally belong somewhere. But belonging isn’t as easy as signing up for classes, and Damien finds himself struggling to fit in more than ever.
Just when he’s sure his fate as a hero has been decided, though, he gets a new villain power that he can’t control. And things only get worse when he accidentally screws up one of his sidekick Sarah’s gadgets, altering her personality and turning her into a crazed, anti-supervillain vigilante—leaving him no choice but to team up with her annoying superhero boyfriend if he hopes to have any chance of getting the old Sarah back, before she captures—or kills—another supervillain like him.
Newsletter subscribers got a sneak peek at this last week, and now, as promised, I am proud to present the description for The Trials of Renegade X:
Can a half villain ever be a full hero? Damien Locke didn’t choose for his supervillain mom to disown him—just because he sort of defied her and ruined her evil plans to take over Golden City—and he didn’t choose for his superpower to be flying, a superhero ability that involves his least favorite thing: heights. But now that he’s living with his dad’s superhero family and enrolling at Heroesworth Academy, he’s ready to embrace his new life, get his H, and finally belong somewhere. But belonging isn’t as easy as signing up for classes, and Damien finds himself struggling to fit in more than ever. Of course, it doesn’t help that his sidekick Sarah has a new hero boyfriend—not that he’s jealous or anything—or that, just when he’s sure his fate as a hero has been decided, he gets a new villain power he can’t control. And it’s so easy to slip into his old ways when he catches his supervillain girlfriend Kat committing a crime at Heroesworth and covers for her, charming his way out of trouble. But as Damien’s attempts to lead a purely hero life continue to backfire, he’ll have to learn to embrace both his hero and villain sides, or else risk pushing away everyone he cares about and losing any chance he has of ever finding his place in the world.
And there it is! I’ve tried to keep it exciting but not too spoilery. I’ve got about a week left on the current WIP, and then I’ll be back to working on Trials full time!
P.S. Today is coincidentally the four year anniversary of the day I got the offer for The Rise of Renegade X. Crazy how time flies!
Am almost done with WIP. Disclaimer, it is not Trials, which I know is what everyone is waiting for right now. (Understandable!) But it’s still a book that’s very important to me. It’s much darker than my other work–sort of a dark fantasy YA version of Dexter–and I am, like, 8 scenes away from being done with it, though some of those scenes might turn out to be more like plot points and actually be 2 or 3 scenes, especially near the big climactic boss battle part.
I started this book about a year and a half ago now, or at least this version of it, and as I mentioned in my last post, I was pretty dead last year, thanks to poor thyroid treatment. It feels like I’ve been working on this book a lot longer than that. I keep recounting the time in my head and being like, “Are you sure it wasn’t two and a half years?” Still, very slow for me, and there were times when I worried I was just going to be stuck in the middle of this book forever. And I finished no books at all last year, and it wasn’t very long ago that I was also worrying that I might never finish any books ever again. Even though I know from experience that that’s not true, it certainly felt true when I was a thyroid-less zombie with hardly enough thoughts to survive, let alone put in a book.
This also isn’t the first version of this book I’ve written. I’ve talked about this before, but this is a book I first wrote 6 or 7 years ago. That version was pretty flawed, though I loved it so much at the time. And it got me my first requests from agents, though ultimately that was all it got. And it kind of broke my heart that nothing ever happened with it. I spent years blaming this book for being a failure, and resenting myself for loving something so horribly flawed. Well, the book had issues, but there were still things about it that made it good–reasons why it got any agent interest in the first place–and so I’ve taken those good things and transported them into a new, better book.
So, anyway, my point is that while it’s always amazingly awesome to finish a book, finishing this one is going to be extra awesome. And then, once it’s done, I will be working like mad to finish up Trials. Which is also awesome–I know because I was rereading some of it the other day and had to force myself to put it down and not get sucked in, at least not until I’m officially working on it.
What about you guys? Are you close to any finish lines of your own?
So, I don’t think I ever mentioned why I chose to self-publish Harper Madigan: Junior High Private Eye. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a noir detective story. It’s also MG, so self-publishing it isn’t the most obvious path to get it into the hands of readers. A lot of people have misconceptions about self-publishing, or at least that’s what I’ve been noticing lately. (I did not notice much last year. Last year was a dead sort of year, what with my doctor mistakenly putting me on way too low of thyroid meds and turning me into a zombie, which made for very little writing and even less of everything else. But I got a new doctor and better meds and a better dosage. There’s more to the story, but that’s another post for another time.)
Anyway, the hard truth of publishing is that good books do not always get published. The Rise of Renegade X came this close to not finding any love at all and fading into obscurity on my hard drive. In fact, Harper Madigan got more editor love than Renegade X, with three separate editors falling in love with it and wanting to buy. But editors alone don’t decide what gets bought, no matter how much they love it, and their houses said no, they couldn’t sell it. So here’s me with this awesome book that I still want people to get to read, but no publisher.
So what’s a girl to do? Put on her DIY hat and PUBLISH IT HERSELF, that’s what. And you know what? Putting it all together myself was a lot of fun and I was able to do it quickly and easily and pretty much stress-free. It was also a great way to get started in the world of self-publishing before putting out The Trials of Renegade X. I am very pro hybrid-career at this point, and while I hope to continue to find traditional publishers for some books, it’s not something I can control. I can, however, control how many books I self-publish.
And speaking of Harper Madigan, I have some good news to share about it! But not yet. Soon, precioussss. Soon. And I have good news to share about Renegade X, but if I wait a little while, it may turn into really freaking awesome news, so, again, we must all wait.
Mark your calendars for September, 2013! That’s right, The Trials of Renegade X will be released next September! This might seem like a long way off, especially when you guys have been so patient–a lot of you have been waiting for this since 2010. But September is when everything can be done by–both on my end and for others involved in getting the project out the door–and it’s going to be amazing.
And I have another book coming out next spring that hopefully I will be able to announce soon. It’s not Renegade X related, but if you like the voice in Renegade X, you’re going to love this one, too.
In other news, The Rise of Renegade X came out in Russian! I found out from a Russian fan messaging me on Facebook–one thing you learn very quickly in this business is that nobody tells authors anything. I knew we’d sold Russian rights, but I had no idea when it was coming out. Damien’s name in the translated version is “Damien Loki,” which seems appropriate. ;) Oh, and according to Google Translate, the Russian title is “The Desperate and Undefeated Renegade X.”