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Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus

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Element of Fire cover

It's My Anniversary

So this month, twenty years ago, I became a professional writer.

I wanted to have more things to post this month but between the copyedit and proofs of the Star Wars novel (which has been moved up to a release date of September 24, I'm not sure I mentioned that here) and trying to finish the first draft of Emilie and the Sky World (the sequel to Emilie and the Hollow World) plus other stuff, plus the house plumbing disaster with the recovery that went from March to May, plus a nervous breakdown, plus more other stuff, I really didn't get a chance. I'm hoping to do some quickie book giveaways here and maybe other things later in the month. (Also since it's Gay Pride, Canada Day, and July Fourth this week, I'm not sure how many people are going to be online.)

But I thought I would mark the day by talking about how I sold my first novel, The Element of Fire.

(If this some of this sounds familiar, I also wrote about it on the Night Bazaar site a couple of years ago when The Cloud Roads first came out.)

A couple of times lately I've been asked when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and the answer is I'm really not sure. I remember writing Godzilla fanfic when I was in elementary school and making giant multi-page maps of Monster Island. I think making up stories was always something I wanted to do.

I wrote fanfic all through college and some original short stories. I submitted the short stories in various places and always got rejected. (I was never able to sell a short story until after my second book (City of Bones) came out.)

After college, I was working full time at a job doing programming and computer support when I started writing The Element of Fire. I wrote at work during slow periods, waiting for programs to run or for someone to call for help. I didn't have a home computer at that point. I printed out what I'd written during the day and took it home to read over and edit, and then hand wrote new material on the weekends. Steven Gould and Laura Mixon lived in College Station at that point, and I used to get together with them and a few other people to do a writers workshop every few weeks. Steve Gould was writing Jumper at that time and I was bringing new chapters of The Element of Fire every time the workshop met.

When I was writing at work, my boss, who was a big SF/F fan, knew what I was doing and read the books as I wrote them. We were crammed into a space slightly larger than a walk-in closet with two mainframes plus workstations, a server, and other equipment. It was also cold and noisy, due to the intense air conditioning and air cleaners needed for the mainframes. The large HP printer was an important source of warmth essential for fighting off hypothermia. (I wrote The Element of Fire, City of Bones, and half of The Death of the Necromancer in that room. My hearing and my sinuses never quite recovered, but it gave me the ability to write under just about any conditions and ignore distractions. Even now, when I write at home, I need some kind of noise in the room and often write with the TV on.)

(It was very helpful to be encouraged by my boss. Every time I've done a panel that gets into the topic of finding time for writing, there's always one or more audience members who ask what to do about someone they live with who actively discourages their writing, and/or goes out of the way to interrupt or stop them while they're doing it. Once when I was at home working on The Element of Fire, an ex-friend/roommate saw what I was doing and said, "Oh, you'll never finish that." Well, I did.)

Steve and Laura moved to New York, and while Steve was still working on Jumper he was contacted by a relatively new agent, Matthew Bialer with William Morris. Steve wasn't ready to talk to an agent at that point so he recommended me to Matt. Matt called me, I sent him the first half or so of The Element of Fire, and he agreed to represent it when it was done.

It went to a couple of publishers, including one who at first showed interest, then ended up turning it down because they felt they were overbought on first novels. Tor offered for it and finally bought it, though there was a contract dispute that stretched for months (or centuries, as if felt at the time) (it was sort of a preview of what my later career crash would be like, except that went on for a few century-years).

The book finally came out in 1993, with a lousy cover and not so great back cover copy. It was a nominee for the Crawford award and the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award. It was eventually reprinted in French, Russian, Spanish, Polish, and Italian.

I like the ebook cover Tiger Bright Studios did much better, so here it is:

And it was an awesome book set in a fabulous world! Congratulations, and Happy Anniversary!

Well, I still have my first edition, bought in hb when it came out, of 'The Element of Fire'. The whacked out cover certainly caught my eye and I consider myself a savvy enough reader to dip into the book as well as reading the inside jacket copy. And I have never regretted my decision. I now own paperback copies as well as an e-copy, so my hardback isn't getting the work-out that it originally did. This one is on my comfort reads shelf (along with the other books set in Ile-Rien). Glad you wrote it, even more glad that you were able to sell it.

Cool, thank you! And yay for the nutty cover catching your attention. :)

Happy book anniversary! And thank you for the ebooks of your older books. I've enjoyed catching up with your backlist.

>>n ex-friend/roommate saw what I was doing and said, "Oh, you'll never finish that."<<

This person would definitely be an ex-friend/roommate after saying that to me!

Yeah, it wasn't a very good relationship.

Congrats on the 20 years, and may the next 20 go a bit more smoothly!

Happy anniversary and thanks for giving me some of the most enjoyable hours of my life.

Edited at 2013-07-01 05:58 pm (UTC)

I actually own 3 copies. My original MMPB, a signed hardcover I bought from your website, and the e-book.

Happy Anniversary!

Thank you! :) It's been so long I'd forgotten I'd actually sold hardcovers for a while.

Happy Writer Anniversary!

I was introduced to your books by "The Wizard Hunters", and after that really good read I've tried to get all your books (thank you for releasing your backlist on eBooks!).

Thank you for your books, and I hope you'll always have fun writing, and an easier time with your publishers.

Re: Happy Writer Anniversary!

Thank you very much!

Happy anniversary!

"A couple of times lately I've been asked when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and the answer is I'm really not sure. I remember writing Godzilla fanfic when I was in elementary school and making giant multi-page maps of Monster Island. I think making up stories was always something I wanted to do."

For me, I had always wanted to write, but I never really pursued the interest. When I read the first two Raksura books, I became so enveloped in and inspired by the world you created that probably about partway into Serpent Sea I sat down and just started writing. Your books are what drove me to finally pursue it as a hobby, and I just wanted to thank you personally for it.

You've been through what feels like a million different things recently, but I love the sheer amount of persistence you have, and hearing about how you made it through those times that no writer wants to go through is really encouraging to me.

Thank you very much. And I'm really glad I could inspire you. :)

Happy Anniversary!

I know I've posted this here before but...

I read Element of Fire when it came out in paperback, I believe I bought it at the grocery store (of all places) and I still have my original copy abused though it is. In that time its moved with me cross country twice and been a boon companion on many long plane trips. (It's a perfect plane book, great characters, intricate plot and delicious world building combine to help keep one unaware of turbulence). I've enjoyed it and your other books very much. Thank you for writing them.

Edited at 2013-07-02 01:19 am (UTC)

Thank you very much! (It's okay if you posted it before, I like hearing it. :) )

Happy anniversary, and thanks for many happy hours spent with my nose in your books :-)

Happy twenty years of writing! I have a well-worn paperback copy of Elements of Fire and it's one of those books I always enjoy rereading from time to time. I also appreciated that it introduced me to your writing and that despite all of your publishing ups and downs, you're one of the few writers from that time period, when I look back at my shelves, still publishing interesting, new work. Take well deserved pride in your longevity and tenacity.

Thank you very much! It's really cool that the book gets re-read. I think that's the ultimate compliment. :)