The Call

I have some squee-worthy news. My novel, tentatively titled Are You With Me? will release as a Harlequin Blaze at the beginning of 2014. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

A few writer friends have told me that it isn’t always easy to identify the moment when you get “the call,” that long-awaited telephone conversation in which you cross the line from writer to author. And I’d have to agree. But I do think that at some point, you know you’ve fully made the transition. You know that however surreal and lurching and slow the process might have been, you are now on the “other side.”

And it’s a great feeling.

I sold my novella, Ticket Home, to Samhain in May 2012 for publication in April 2013. Ticket Home is part of a collection, one of five stories in the Strangers on a Train series, whose tagline is “Romancing the Rails.” On February 4, 2014, it will be released as a paperback anthology. I love this project. I’ve loved it from the very beginning. I love the wacky way it started, as a brainstorming session on Twitter. I love the women I work with. I love my story, and I love all four of the other stories. Hard.

 And yet, the way I sold Ticket Home, it never quite felt like my sale. My big moment. Partly because it is a collaborative project. And partly because of the way I found out I’d sold. I had flown across the country for the inspection on my brand new house. I was completely focused on the inspection—whether I’d like the house, which we now owned but which I’d never seen, whether the house would pass inspection, whether the negotiations that would follow the inspection would be as awful as the ones that had preceded it. My heart pounded as I waited to leave my mother-in-law’s house for the inspection, and I refreshed my email a million times, just for something to do.

In dropped an email from my wonderful editor at Samhain, Anne Scott. She wanted to buy my story, along with the other four, for Samhain. But she wanted some revisions first.

Oh, God!

There was no time to absorb the news. I had to race to the inspection—and for the next several weeks, the inspection and the other realities of the move consumed me. I finished the revision Anne had requested and she acquired the manuscript. But there was no moment. The day we celebrated on Twitter was a great day, but by then, my own sense of thrill had passed.

The next several months whisked by. My husband and I had two enormous financial transactions to deal with, and some nasty complications. Finally we moved into the new house, but our kids couldn’t sleep, summer visitors descended on us, and we worried about our new responsibilities. Just when I was starting to feel a “new normal,” school started, and my kids’ anxiety levels—and my own—ratcheted back up. We spent the early fall in a frenzy of friend-making activities.

Finally, I settled into a working groove and forced myself to revise Are You With Me? and send it out. I’d forgotten how hard it was to psych myself up for querying, and I knew that querying agents with a category-length novel wouldn’t make things any easier—many won’t read or rep category.

But then my first miracle happened. Emily Sylvan Kim of Prospect Agency loved the novel and offered me representation. Emily had been on my radar screen for years—before I knew she would turn out to rep my critique partner (who is also one of my favorite romance authors). I was thrilled by this turn of events, but because it all happened only a couple days before our cross-country Thanksgiving trip, I didn’t find time to celebrate it properly.

My mother disapproved. “You have to celebrate everything,” she said. “Every little victory. Because it’s a very uncertain career.” She’s a literary writer who has seen a book rejected by acquisitions despite love from an enthusiastic editor and a three-book contract vanish after the series was orphaned by an editor’s departure to another house. “You have to make sure you celebrate whenever you can. Everything.” She opened a surprise bottle of champagne for me the day after Thanksgiving.

That bottle of champagne helped me process how far I’d come. Two years before, I’d decided that since I loved reading romance so much, and loved writing literary fiction, especially the love scenes, I should try romance. I’d written a single-title-length novel and sent it to—I don’t know, eighty agents? Some of them had loved it but none of them had offered representation. Since then, I’d written one more single-title novel, a novella, several short stories, many abortive chapters, and Are You With Me? I’d lost my fear of querying, my fear of networking with other authors, my fear of conferences, and my fear of Twitter. I’d met amazing writer friends at RWA chapter meetings and online. I’d done it all one step at a time, without completely registering how much I’d accomplished, how much I’d risked of my ego, or how far I’d come.

I sipped my champagne and felt where I was. On the edge. On the brink of something. Emily was sure she could make it happen, and her enthusiasm, her certainty, was infectious.

She was also right. Just a few weeks after the champagne toast celebrating her offer of representation, Emily called to say that one of the editors who had Are You With Me? was on the brink of making an offer. Not quite sure whether it was time to celebrate yet or not, I went out to lunch with a friend but didn’t toast my almost-news. We finished up lunch, and I stepped outside to find a message from Emily. A little earlier, she’d told me that that she’d gotten a promising email from a second editor, and she thought it might be an offer.

I live in the Pacific Northwest now, and the weather here in January is gray. It’s one of the things that makes me sad about my cross-country move—that, and leaving behind family and close friends. The morning had started out bleak, but as I sat in lunch, the sun came out. Brilliantly, strongly, which it rarely does here in January. The temperature had warmed, too, and I found myself standing on the street in my little town—charming, sweet, bustling, exactly like a village in a romance novel—and talking on the phone with Emily while the unexpected sun shone on me.

The second editor had offered! And in response, the first editor had sped the book through acquisitions and made an offer as well. There were two offers on my book.

There had been twenty phone calls between me and Emily over the last few months—new hope and wait-some-more and no-really!-soon! and it had started to feel like there might be no one call. And there wasn’t, really, even that day. I walked around town and stopped in shops and waited for Emily to call back with updates, and I can’t keep straight which call contained which revelation.

Ultimately—I started with a spoiler, so you know how it turns out—I took the offer from Harlequin Blaze, and I’m thrilled to be working with veteran editor Brenda Chin to bring Are You With Me? (if it keeps that name) to readers early next year. I have recently learned that this makes me a “Blaze babe,” a distinction I’ll wear with pride.

I have celebrated—dinner out with my husband with a “Raspberry Truffle,” two scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and Chambord. I will celebrate again when my girlfriends take me out next week. I think my mother is right—it’s important to celebrate early and often and as many times as you think necessary. But the truth is, that moment, standing there in the sun, in the town I’ve come to love, listening to Emily lay out the terms of the two offers, marveling at the capacity of life to be miraculous? That was my call and my truest celebration.