Shelving My Emotions
The Order of the Key was my dream novel, the book of my heart. I invented the idea for it when I was fifteen years old and I never expected to be shelving it, unpublished, twenty years later.
Jeez. Twenty years later. I don’t think I ever thought of it in those terms.
To be fair, I haven’t been working on it this entire time, and the book I’m stuffing in the musty shelf of my mind is definitely not the book I started with. The version I’d created at fifteen contained a completely unlikeable, hormonal, emotional (possibly based on myself) super-cool highly powerful sorceress teen, and she hunted vampires as she romanced her way through a team of stalwart heroes. Hey, cut me some slack. It was the age of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it showed. The current, much cooler, much more mature version involves a fun and likeable geek who blunders her way through a semi-corrupt organization that fights interdimensional monsters and manages to find herself leading the rebellion to overthrow the corrupt portion of it.
When I say it has grown by leaps and bounds, I’m not just talking about its intriguing premise. The writing of the original novel was horrid. But it was the first thing I’d ever finished. I was proud of it.
I took a long break after the initial trilogy I wrote, always planning to write a book four, but college got in the way. I majored in Creative Writing and quickly learned all the reasons why Origins of a Hero (the original title) sucked horribly. It definitely needed a rewrite, and I would get around to it. One day.
And then I gave birth to a baby, who suffered through colic while I suffered through post-partum depression. The first six months of his life were honestly the hardest of mine. When we both thrived, I realized I could do anything–I returned to writing in earnest.
That’s when The Order of the Key was born in its true form. It was accepted by a small publisher after only a few months of querying. Then that publisher crashed. I jumped to another small publisher run by people I had met at the first one. That time, my book was sorely mistreated, sometimes put on the backburner, other times edited in a way that tore at the heart of the story. The arguments over the direction of the story (and the direction of the company, as I had taken a job there) eventually came to a head, and I requested my way out of the contract. Shortly after I left, that publishing company folded.
I was heartbroken. I had wasted over a year promoting a book that never came out, and that now, may never come out. I had signed with both publishing companies out of an emotional need to see my book in print–no matter what it took.
But that’s the wrong way to go about all of this.
Leading with my emotions, with my intense love for these characters who had dogged me since I was a teenager, made me make foolish decisions with my work. All at once, I understood where I had gone wrong. By being desperate. Desperate never got anybody anywhere but humiliated.
I shut down my fear and entered Order in a contest called Pitch to Publication, where you work with an editor and get your story showcased in front of agents…and I won.
It returned my confidence to me. Suddenly, I just knew I’d be on the way to publication in 2017. I’d worked with a professional editor and the book was better than I’d ever envisioned. I had honed my query until it was sharp as a spear and was ready to take aim. 2017 would be my year.
2017, as it turned out, was not my year.
I queried. And queried. And queried. And got all of two requests for more. I wanted to keep trying. This was the book of my dreams. The book I most wanted to see in print. But I’d sworn to myself that emotions were where bad business decisions lived.
I’m shelving the book. It’s the hardest writing choice I’ve ever made. For two decades, my main characters shared prime real estate in my noggin. I cared about these characters. I wanted everyone else to get to know them and to love them as much as I did. But I had to accept that the market simply wasn’t interested in the book I was trying to sell. At least not now.
I’ve written a new book. I’m editing it now, and I’m also excited to get this book out into the world. It’s not the same excitement.
The Order of the Key was like my first love. Exciting and new and wrought with tension and a roller coaster of emotions. It may never see the light of day, and despite the pain that causes, I’ve gone through my grief stages. I’m ready to move on. I am a widow remarrying, and my journey is far from over.
Justine Manzano lives in Bronx, NY, with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Things You Can Create and Best New Writing 2017, as well as Sliver of Stone Magazine, The Greenwich Village Literary Review, The Holiday Café, Twisted Sister Literary, The Corvus Review, and Fiction on the Web. She received the Editor’s Choice Award for her work in the Best New Writing anthology. She currently maintains and runs a free editing service, The Inkwell Council, and her own blog at JustineManzano.com, where she discusses her adventures in juggling motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery.