The idea came, as all fantastic ideas do, in the shower. I saw a vision of a girl in a black Victorian dress cowering before the specter of her dead sister. And I started writing.

Not long after, my friend Amy, who had gone through comps with me for our Master’s degrees, invited me to a Thursday night writing group she formed with her friend Stacia, who was also working on a novel. I cannot thank those ladies enough for their fabulous encouragement! We met weekly or whenever we could to write together, and read aloud some fragments of our projects. Having an audience was a huge boost, and they were so complimentary and supportive that I resolved to actually finish the beast. I completed Cultbreakers a year ago this summer.

My idea notebook where I record all my brain droppings

Here’s my pitch: Cultbreakers takes place in an alternate Gilded Age America where a variation of our history has unfolded and the supernatural lurks just beneath the surface. Julia Austerlitz’s sister, Elma, dies under mysterious circumstances, leading Julia on a twisting path to discover the truth behind her demise. While searching for assistance dealing with the disturbing paranormal activity in her family home, she encounters fraudulent Spiritualist mediums, a prominent illusionist, the son of a Voodoo queen and a mad professor confined to an asylum. As the clues unfold, it becomes clear that many of the elite and powerful in America obtain their success through the favors of ancient, malevolent gods known as the Primeval Sovereigns. This power can only be bestowed to the faithful through human sacrifice. In order to avenge her sister and save other potential sacrifices, Julia must don the mantle of Cultbreaker.

Awesome. I know 🙂

Since completing the work I’ve done a couple of quick edits, wrote a sequel for NaNoWriMo, and started the process of trying to get it published. This time I’m serious. I’m really going to do it. I remember sitting at the desk in my bedroom at 11 years old, gazing out the window, and dreaming about my name on the cover of a book. So basically, I’m super serious about this, you guys.

However, while being super serious, I also pretty much had no clue what I was doing when trying to sell this thing. As time goes on, I’ve been learning about agents, cover letters, and all the gory details of trying to become a for real writer. I first submitted the novel to Alloy Entertainment, the powerhouse responsible for the Vampire Diaries series. I actually got a manuscript request on my first attempt! Oh joy!

In the end, the editors decided it wasn’t for them, but were very complimentary about Julia, my main character. This was soooo disappointing, but encouraging in the same way.

I kept at it, querying agents and submitting my manuscript to publishing houses that didn’t require an agent’s intervention. I got a few rejections, and even more straight-up silence. A long, resounding silence — months at least. Then, last week, I got a request for the first 100 pages. JOY! I sent them along. Then a request for the whole manuscript! EGADS!

Oh, how I waited… I had that crazy tummy-flipping nausea joy in my gut all weekend. You know, the Christmas Eve feeling. At last the email came.

The answer was no.

At first I felt like my soul had been miniaturized and put through a garlic press. Y’know, like when you used to make Play-Doh hair/spaghetti? Ugh… so very, very crushed.

I forced myself to read back through the email. This agent spent a great deal of time on me. She read a 400 page book, and was so gracious to type up a very long email of comments and suggestions on how to improve. I looked them over and BAM — it was like fireworks exploding — I realized that she was right. Every comment and suggestion and problem she had with the manuscript was completely and totally LEGIT.

Too legit for me to quit.

I think my Facebook posts sum it up nicely:

“It’s really easy to get down on yourself when you get a rejection, but I have to remind myself of a couple things: I have had 2 full manuscript requests, which I think is a good sign. Both literary professionals were warm and complimentary, and had great suggestions on how to improve. They both thought my main character was the bee’s knees. There are just other things to fix that are totally fixable. There is no reason to scrap the whole project. I just need to do a revision and I think that’s pretty normal. I owe it to my MC to make her story better.

So, orders to myself: kiss your baby, then get started on your revision.”

*glares at manuscript* “Let’s polish you up, turd!”

I’m going to completely revise my manuscript. Not edit, revise. There is a difference. I can rise to this challenge, because this is work that I love. This was an opportunity for growth, and I say bless that agent’s heart for taking the time to help a stranger improve her craft.

Oh, and by the way, I know my old colleague Bickford would say, “You can’t polish a turd.” But you can. If you bronze it first.

And Cultbreakers is a bronzed turd.