Ten years ago this week, a lifelong dream finally came true. My first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, came out in hardcover. It introduced both me, and my character Eddie LaCrosse, who has gone on to feature in four more novels and a smattering of short stories.
Although the manuscript that became Wisp of a Thing was the one that induced my agent, Marlene Stringer, to take a chance on me, she sold The Sword-Edged Blonde first. As a newbie, I was more resistant to editorial suggestion than I am now. For all I knew, this would be my one and only book, and I had to make sure it was right. I naively insisted on the “purity of my vision” and ignored Marlene’s sensible advice (I have since apologized for that, and now pretty much take all her suggestions). Thanks, Marlene!
It was appropriate that The Sword-Edged Blonde was my first published novel, too. It began as an idea I had when I was eighteen and in high school, as a way to impress a beautiful girl. Of course, I never actually showed it to her, and she was actually a teacher, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway. Still, it stayed with me, going through many permutations (the hero’s first name was originally “Devaraux,” for example. Yeah, yeah, I know) before it became the story as it now stands. And when it came out, I finally told that teacher how she’d inspired it, and dedicated the book to her.
I went through all the usual first-novel traumas. With no idea of how to deal with editors, I was cowed and compliant; their issues were minor, thank goodness, because that close to being published, I’m pretty sure I would’ve gone along with anything they suggested. One thing they did insist on was a new title: the manuscript sold under the simple title Rhiannon, since the Fleetwood Mac song was a big influence on the mood. I drew up a short list of alternates, and everyone agreed The Sword-Edged Blonde was it. It combined fantasy and noir, and gave readers a big hint about what they’d be getting.
When it came time to get those all-important cover blurbs, I knew immediately whose opinion I would want: Charles de Lint. He needs no introduction here, and when I wrote to ask him, he graciously agreed to read it, and even more graciously provided a blurb (fun fact: ten years later, I provided a blurb for his book, The Wind in His Heart). There are cooler things than one of your favorite living authors saying he likes your stuff, I suppose. But not many. Thanks again, Charles!
Speaking of covers, as much as I liked the original cover art by Justin Sweet, which did depict an actual scene from the story (that’s more rare than you’d think), it bugged me that it got all the details wrong. There were no Mongol warriors in the story, the girl in the scene was not the titular blonde, and to this day, I wonder what inspired Eddie’s harlequin pants.
And a big surprise on the cover was that my name—a total unknown, remember—was as large as the title. That can be awfully intimidating when you’re just starting out.
I was lucky enough to get a starred review in Publishers Weekly, one of the big three in mainstream reviewing. If there’s anything that’ll stir your blood as a newbie, it’s getting validation for something you’ve carried in your head and heart for a long time. And most of the other reviews were positive.
So happy tenth, SEB. And for all you other writers struggling with rejection and despair, here’s another fun fact: as I said, I had the idea for this book when I was 18. I was 44 when it came out. That’s a little over a quarter century. So just because it doesn’t happen right away, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Keep writing, keep submitting, and remember that the only people guaranteed to fail are the ones who quit.