Every book has at least two stories. The story within it and the story of how the author wrote it. This month is the 3 year anniversary of when I started my first novel, not knowing where it would lead.
Once upon a time, I had a group of friends that I would roleplay with over Skype. Thinking back on it, it was a kind of strange experience. At the end of the day, we’d all hop on to message back and forth in character. Our settings ranged from starships to medieval castles to deserted islands! We had recurring characters that we’d put in increasingly ridiculous situations, and brand new ones that we’d play around with. We’d take turns being the bad guys. Some really strange storylines came out of it, but it was fun and a great way to decompress. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
In August 2017 I was helping my mom weed the garden, and I started telling her some of the storylines. The longsuffering woman that she was, she listened to me as I told stories of magic powers, dystopian worlds, and the antics of some of my friends. During my retellings, I explained to her one of my new favorite storylines; a detective with short term memory loss. Byron Constantine. At that she took pause with an offhand comment of, “I like that idea. Maybe you could write a book about it.”
That offhand comment led me to write my first book, “Constantine Capers: The Pennington Perplexity.” It took me 9 months.
For reference, before this point I had never even considered becoming an author. Sure, I liked to tell stories, but that was not in the game plan. I don’t even remember what the game plan was, other than my degree was in Interdisciplinary Humanities—which was also due to my mother’s gentle nudging.
I’m not sure how long it took me to actually get started on writing the book, but at some point I made a “fake” draft, taking some of dialog that we wrote in the roleplay and playing around with it. That fake draft turned into 30,000 words before the end of the year. I was in college classes and had a part time job, but somehow I found time to squeeze in writing time.
I planned my study abroad to London, Paris, and Rome long before that conversation in the garden. We would be staying at the BYU London Center for 6 weeks, Paris for 3, and Rome for 3. I became even more excited about it once I started the novel. After all, “Constantine Capers,” takes place in Victorian London. What better place to do research?
In January 2018, I had no school and no work for about 3 weeks. I spent the majority of it doing all the readings for the study abroad ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have as much homework in Europe. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t work on my book as well. Somehow, I got all the readings for 12 weeks done in 3.
That study abroad was the best thing that could have happened to my book. I didn’t have to go on a wild goose chase on the internet to try and get the most accurate descriptions of the places in my book. I was there. Granted, there was a time disparity. 2018 London was vastly different than 1888 London. But I could see most of the buildings that existed at the time. I could take notes of locations and history that we learned about on our outings. I breathed in the culture and synthesized it into my book.
My favorite place to write was one of the landings attached to the main staircase. I could watch people come and go from the comfort of my armchair. A window to a patio with gorgeous plants behind me, my laptop warming my lap. I’d write in the evening and while waiting for others to get ready to go out. I’d write on the bus rides to Stonehenge, Bath, and Scotland.
And, even though I spent significantly less time writing than doing anything else, I somehow wrote most of the remaining 60,000 words while I traveled in Europe. I finished my first draft at my sister’s house while babysitting, about a week after I got back. 9 months and my baby was born.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. I had to edit and polish and cut and add and send it to a dozen beta readers. Some of them were friends from my study abroad, and they’d laugh and take note of the fact that my detective lives in 27 Palace Court: the same address as the London Center. And they’d wonder why the uncle’s house sounded so familiar until they realized that the interior description matched the description of the London Center exactly, even accounting for the number of steps in the staircase.
I made my “final” edits to the manuscript the week of Thanksgiving in 2018. I was at my own uncle’s house, and I remember staying up until after midnight finalizing the changes and reading over everything so that I could send it off to a publisher the following week. And I did. And I let it be.
In February 2019, I ran into an old acquaintance at the Life the Universe and Everything conference here in Utah. We caught up on each other’s lives, asking why each of us was attending, and she found out about my book. Turns out, she was the cover designer for a small press called Immortal Works that operates out of Salt Lake City. She dragged me over to their booth in the vendors’ room and introduced me to Rachel Huffmire. I pitched my book and must have done something right because she asked me to send me a query with my first chapter.
Of course, I was a prideful little naive author. I knew that my book was good enough that it would be picked up by the first publisher. Or at least, that was what everyone else had told me. I determined that I would hold out until I knew for certain. After all, I only had another month before I heard back. It ended up being 9 months total that I waited for that rejection.
So I set the book aside. I decided that I would wait until I graduated from college to try again, to find an agent, or to self-publish. I was done.
But then I visited a friend who had just returned from a mission. We both liked to write and would talk about our projects here and there. She wanted to go into publishing. I still didn’t know what I wanted. I told her about the rejection and about Immortal Works and she told me to just go for it. “What do you have to lose?” So I made up my mind to polish my first chapter to death and send it off.
Working with Immortal Works was a dream in comparison to the other publisher. I heard back within a month and a half. And it wasn’t a template email either. I was talking with a real person, (Rachel Huffmire to be precise) and she wanted the full manuscript. Not only was that not a long time to wait, but I had a hope spark in me that I didn’t have before. That spark kept me going in the 6 months that I waited to hear back.
It was January 29, 2020. I was walking between classes, trying to get some food into me before I had to sit for another hour. I pulled out my phone to check my email as I walked down the hall. It was at the top of the list. I opened it and skimmed through. For some reason, my eyes stuck on the phrase “at this time.” My heart sunk as my mind filled in, “we aren’t interested,” and I closed my email app, not wanting to read the whole rejection. But something in the back of my mind twinged with curiosity. I opened it again and actually read it. “At this time, we would like to offer you a contract for publication.”
It’s been a rollercoaster since then. I’m still in college planning on graduating next April. My book comes out next March. Three years ago I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At this point, I have three novels that I’m working on! I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and the experiences that have led me to this point and I recognize that I am incredibly blessed to be here.
Everyone’s story of self-discovery is different. This is mine. And I am so excited for everyone to come to love my characters and my story when “Constantine Capers: The Pennington Perplexity” comes out in March of 2021! If you’re interested in reading the first chapter (Right now! For free!) then enter your email below. You’ll get an email with a link to the PDF.
Check out Rachel Huffmire at https://www.rachelhuffmire.com/
Check out Immortal Works and our authors at https://www.immortal-works.com/