Enough about my journey to book publication. Let’s hear from another author, novelist Sheila R. Lamb. I first encountered Sheila on Twitter in 2010. We were on the same road, creative writers looking to grow. Since connecting, we both researched, enrolled in, and graduated from low-residency MFA programs. We also both became published authors (well, mine won’t be out until October). Here Sheila shares her story:
Writing a book is a long process. Or it should be. We all know this. We’re a little suspicious of folks who say, “I wrote my novel in a month.” We’re suspicious, but we’re still jealous when they out-sell us on Amazon. It happens. Adding a two-year MFA program to my writing process definitely lengthened it, and it was for the best.
I started my historical fantasy trilogy about Brigid of Ireland in 2003. Begun in longhand on yellow legal pad, I spent much of my time in the library, doing research. Then I’d go back, and craft the history and mythology into a story. As this was my first foray into the writing world, I did what I was supposed to do. I joined a local writing group. I joined an online writing group. A lot of people read and critiqued various chapters and drafts. By then end of two or three years, I had what I called “done.” I thought I had finished the Brigid book. I queried. I got rejected.
Then life happened. I put the draft away for several months. Two moves, new jobs, and a new apartment later, I looked at the manuscript again. It sucked. Ok, so the plot wasn’t bad, it had some good twists. But what I had was a skeleton. It had the word count but it didn’t have the details.
So I revised again. Realized, from the advice of a critique group member, that I had two or possibly three books. I revised again, I divided the manuscript, and (guess what?) revised again, focusing on book one. I queried again. This time, I got a few bites, a few requests for partials and fulls. I also received a personal rejection from my dream agent who said this was right up his alley but that he did not represent unpublished writers.
Somewhere around this time, I moved back to my home state of Virginia. The manuscripts (now plural) were put away (again) for several months. Enter the MFA. I debated long and hard about whether to begin an MFA program (the pros and cons are a topic for another time).
What I realized is that I needed to learn to write better and write differently. I was stuck in these now three manuscripts, stuck in the genre mode. For me, I wanted to expand and improve the way that I wrote and the way that I read. And that is exactly what happened during my two years at Queens University of Charlotte. I read literary work, nonfiction work, poetry, and enjoyed it. Through close reading, I saw how writers crafted their work, their art, through careful word choice and structure. My thesis was a collection of short stories, several of which have been published in literary magazines. I began working for a literary magazine, first as a book reviewer, and now as the Santa Fe Writers Project journal editor.
Back to the manuscripts. Every now and then during the MFA program, I’d tinker with them. Again, I looked at Once A Goddess with fresh eyes and felt good about it. I began revising the second and third manuscripts. I even, briefly, tried self-publishing but decided it wasn’t for me (there’s a whole business side of things). When I graduated, I started a new historical fiction manuscript, still in progress, and I’d go back to Brigid’s story. I sent it again to a handful of agents and received all positive, personal feedback. For example, one agent said she liked it but was booked with first-person manuscripts. I started researching small presses and independent publishers. Many small presses are strictly literary. Many small presses are the complete opposite of literary – many are strictly romance. Once A Goddess was a tough fit. Finally, I found Solstice, a small publisher of genre fiction. I queried and pitched Once A Goddess as a historical fantasy. They accepted. Once A Goddess was recently released. Fiery Arrow will be along shortly, and currently, I’m finishing the third manuscript (remember the skeleton?).
Is the Brigid trilogy the literary fiction I studied in my MFA program? No. It’s not supposed to be. However, what I’ve learned throughout the entire decade process is how to write. It requires daily dedication, daily time. It requires a variety of skills; the ability to see specific words on a page, to the overall arc of a plot. It requires the ability to let go, put something aside, and start something new. And when we start something new, that’s when everything else comes back into focus.
Sheila Lamb received an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. Her stories have earned Pushcart and storySouth Million Writers Award nominations and can be found, along with a few photographs, here. She’s also the journal editor for Santa Fe Writers Project.
Her first novel, Once A Goddess, has been published by Solstice Shadows, an imprint of Solstice Publishing. Fiery Arrow, the second book in the Brigid trilogy, is also forthcoming from Solstice. Read an excerpt from Once A Goddess HERE.
Sheila has traveled throughout Ireland and participated in the Achill Archaeology Field School. She loves Irish history, family genealogy, and is easily distracted by primary source documents. You can find her on her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook. She lives, teaches, and writes in the mountains of Virginia.