Musings on Publication

I’m a week out from the publication of my debut novel The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. And I’ve been reflecting on how I got here, and what it’s meant.

Diane at Notre-Dame

Here I am, in my element at age 18, in Paris on a trip with my mother. I’m standing beside one of my beloved grotesques. I’ve always loved sites like Notre-Dame. Photo: Patricia Harrison

I’ve been writing novels since I was 14 years old. My early novels were fantasy adventures, and I had my characters do things that I dreamed I could do:

  • Stand up to people who claimed they were stronger than you.
  • Communicate by telepathy with wild animals.
  • Carry ornate daggers or swords, and know how to use them.
  • Travel to unusual worlds.

Back then, I wrote as voraciously as I read. Novel after novel, story after story. I always had a new idea. Everything gave me ideas. Everything inspired me. I always felt like writing.

I did not, however, always feel like revising. Back then, I didn’t even know what revision meant. Spell-check, read it through, and then it’s done, I thought. And I liked it that way: I always had time for my next idea.

It may come as no surprise that I remember very little about those novels. In fact, I remember fragments of only four of them. (The descriptors in the earlier list are it.) I think of these novels as things that were somehow ethereal, like flowers: beautiful for the moment, then fading. And I didn’t mind because there were new blooms that would then be replaced in an endless pattern.

While that was a comforting pattern to be part of as a teen and a young writer—each future novel meant more than the current one, each idea was ready to build on the last—I’m very glad that I grew out of it and learned to revise. Revision really is the secret to any good work of fiction. And there’s an art to it. Revision is a crucial part of writing, a part that I now love. It’s a process of discovery, of lifting a layer to find a new one that you hadn’t known existed, and doing that more than once.

A writer needs help with revision. It’s unrealistic to expect that you can think of all the possibilities that are behind the mists of your work by yourself. Critiquing readers are crucial, and so is an editor. Mine have helped me to catch errors, improve my telling of the story I wanted out there, and polish everything until that electronic file of words turned into a novel reaching far beyond what I had originally thought possible.

Revision isn’t the only way to attain publication, but it’s an essential part of the journey. There’s also the basic ability to spin a story well, and luck.

Diane at Tantallon

And here I am in my element at Tantallon Castle, North Berwick, Scotland, at the time that my novel was accepted by Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin Young Readers in 2016. Photo: Diane Magras

And there’s being in the right place at the right time. I’ve dreamed of being published for many years, but I’m glad it’s happening now and didn’t happen before. I have a family, and I understand what that means more than I had ever understood in the past. I’ve experienced great joy and great loss. There are scenes that I wrote with tears in my eyes because I understand in my core how it feels to have a beloved family member die, to know when you’ve found the truest friend of your life, to love your child with all your soul.

And I know what it means to find happiness in small things—the warmth of the sun, the taste of good food, the sound of birds in the trees—and in big things too, such as having a childhood dream fulfilled.

And I know that, like my characters at the start of my book, that this is just the beginning of my journey as an author.

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