As an author, I constantly have images going through my mind: what my characters look like, how my world looks, how my characters look in that world… you get the idea. Mental images are cobbled together from the many references I’ve stored up in my mind over the years. For settings, that’s not really an issue. But for characters, it’s another story (no pun intended)
Sneakthief started with a character: the Sneakthief. I had a vague idea of him: his role, his talents, etc. It literally came from playing a sneaky archer thief in Skyrim (I know I know… but is there any other way to play?) and a guard said, “Hands to yourself, sneakthief.” And it all began to spiral from there.
Once I had the general idea of the character, more started falling into place: his background, his place in the world, his relationships, his desires, his fears, his looks.
Theodore Tolliver has lived in my head for over two years now, and I’ve always been able to generally describe him. I’ve had to, since I’m writing his stories! But I’m not an artist, and lack the abilities to craft a visual representation of the character.
Enter Verfallen. Also known as Schattenriss on Archive of Our Own, Verfallen is a talented author, as well as super talented with Photoshop and most recently, Daz 3D. He opened up a Ko-fi this week and has commissions open, so how could I pass up the opportunity to bring Theodore Tolliver, my Sneakthief, to life?
Theo, as he appears in Sneakthief. A little roguish, a little younger, longer hair, just doing the best he can.
Theo in Turncoat. He’s seen some shit by this point, chopped a lot of his hair off (though not all… but I saw a model of him with no hair and he looked pretty good, so we’ll see what happens!) He’s had enough of being controlled, and he’s about to start fighting back.
I can’t really explain what it’s like to see my character come to life like this. He’s not just a description anymore. And when I write him, I’ll have an even clearer picture of what he looks like in mind.
If you’re looking to get a render of your character(s), I really can’t say enough about working with Verfallen. He’s put a lot of time into getting models and renders of his own character, Kai, down perfectly, so he understands what it’s like to want to see your beloved character come to life.
For writers with manuscripts out to agents, editors, or other high-stakes readers, waiting for feedback–whether it represents a publisher’s acceptance… is not only hard, it is also a twenty-four hour job requiring your undivided attention. When you are waiting, you must concentrate all your energy on not calling the feedback provider to “touch base.”
Joni B. Cole, Toxic Feedback
I’ve done a lot of waiting over the last several months. In a few of my other blog posts I’d alluded to Sneakthief ‘sneaking around’, and now that it’s resolved, I can talk about it a bit more in detail. But this post isn’t really about that, so much as it’s about what I’ve learned through the process.
Back in May, a sci-fi/fantasy publisher held an open call for submissions. They asked for the first three chapters, a synopsis, and an introductory letter. Since I had Sneakthief pretty much done, I decided to submit. One, I had nothing to lose, and two, I just needed to do something with it, if nothing else, to say I did. The publishers said they’d have gone through the submissions by the end of July.
Having that time frame was fine, because I didn’t have any expectations, and I had a bunch of other things to do. Turncoat wasn’t behaving, we were in the process of getting Smol Human’s diagnosis, work was crazy, and a couple months just wasn’t a big deal. But when August first rolled around and I got an email requesting a full manuscript, that’s when the waiting game kicked in.
I’ve never been good at waiting. My parents tell me a story about when I was very young, and they said we’d be going somewhere “this weekend” or something like that. Apparently I was a terror asking if it was the weekend yet. I don’t like surprises; I have a hard time with the anticipation, and like to know what to expect. I helped my parents plan my own 30th birthday bash ten years ago, to the surprise of the party planner at the venue. When we found out a Smol Human would be joining us, I needed to know the sex, needed to get everything in order in his room, had to have the name picked out. I think a lot of this stems from my anxiety; I have a need to control things because then I know what to expect and can deal with it. When I don’t have a plan and a few contingencies, I’m uncomfortable. One thing I love about my job now is that, even though there are surprises here and there, we have a LOT of SOPs, templates, processes, etc. We have a great CRM program and Outlook, so I have my tasks and everything laid out. While there are still adventures, it’s predictable to an extent and I like that.
While my autumn was pretty full and I was working with a lot of different things that kept me occupied, it was always in the back of my mind: what’s going on with the book? Do they like it? Are they laughing at it? Shit, I should have fixed this plot point (side note, the more I got into the Turncoat rewrite, the more I started to think of things that needed to be reworked in Sneakthief and that made me anxious too). Dammit, I missed that typo! All sorts of little things nagged at me. I didn’t realize just what a constant nagging feeling it was. Or I did, maybe I just didn’t realize how much it was impacting me.
My initial reaction, when they’d asked for the full, was to wait on the edge of my seat, heart skipping and blood pressure spiking whenever I saw a tweet from the publisher or an email come through. It did take time for me to realize that was an unsustainable way to exist, so I had to learn to wait.
Publishing is a business, and it’s a business that takes time. Editors have their regular list and clients to work with, and Sneakthief is about 100,000 words. They have lives and families outside of publishing. Sneakthief may have consumed me, but I cannot expect it to consume others because that’s unrealistic and unfair. So I had to figure out what to do in order to manage the waiting game.
Turncoat’s rewrite helped quite a bit; I tried doing some work for NaNoWriMo, and that helped a little because I was still writing. I played through GreedFall, and wrote fanfic for that, which helped a lot–I got great feedback on it when I posted it, and it felt good to have story feel like it was flowing, when Turncoat was being so obstinate. The holidays were looming, so that definitely helped! I did a lot of sewing and bingeing Netflix and Prime Video (Good Omens, She Ra, and Dragon Prince are favorites), which helped let me creative mind wander. And on December 18th, I got the email that they’d like to take Sneakthief to the next step: an acquisitions meeting in early 2020.
If I was anxious before, it was in high gear now. This time I had a timeframe, which helped: end of January. Which of course has meant that the first month of the year was anxiety-inducing and kind of messy. I had NEVER expected my book to get to a point like this, and if I’d been panicked about emails before, now was exponentially worse. I’d managed to finish a Turncoat draft I was happy with by December 31st, so I tried diving into Scapegoat. Still working on that one. I played games: Skyrim is always familiar and good for mindless play, wandering around, etc. I did another no-kill Dishonored run, which was fun.
With something this big on the line, it’s hard: I’d be lying if I said a huge part of me was hoping for the best: an acquisition and contract. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of the worst: nothing, and they hated the book. I started sniffing a LOT of lavender.
What did end up happening is somewhere in the middle: the final answer was a no, but not because they didn’t like my story or my writing! It was a timing issue, which I know is a reality of publishing. It’s a business and they have lists and clients and a lot of moving pieces, and the ultimate decision isn’t a personal judgment of me or my writing. Some other good came out of it, so overall, I call the journey a win.
So I’m not getting Sneakthief published yet–so why a win? Because I learned about how to wait: how to occupy my time and my mind, how to focus on the present and not worry about an unknown future, and to not pause my work because I’m waiting. If I’d waited to move forward with any of my work in those few months, I wouldn’t have what I do now. So much other good came of it: community, and the opportunity to work with people I respect. I couldn’t put my life on hold, going day to day without doing anything else. I’m rereading Joni Cole’s Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive for the creative writing class I’m rebuilding, and that quote about not using all your energy really hit me.
Things take time, and waiting is hard. We’re in an instant culture where we get search results in fractions of seconds, and Instant Pots can cook a roast in minutes instead of hours (I love my Instant Pot, don’t @ me). Continuing to create, to push forward even when what’s forward is unknown is hard, but so worth it. And when all else fails, sniffing some lavender doesn’t hurt.
Needless to say, a huge burden feels lifted. I wonder how I would have managed finishing the course rebuild, and then teaching it, while having to revise a 100k word manuscript on a deadline. I wonder how I could have managed a lot of other things, and think that just maybe the timing was off for more than just this particular publisher. I don’t feel anxious (well, about that) anymore. I can breathe. I can focus on the next adventure, which has already started, and feel really good about it.