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First Book Friday: Harry Connolly

Welcome to First Book Friday, an ongoing series exploring how various authors sold their first books.

Harry Connolly, also known as burger-eater on LiveJournal, spent last month giving away books every day leading up to the release of his second novel, Game of Cages.

One thing I like about this one is that, like so many published stories, it opens with a great hook…

#

Jim, thanks for the opportunity to tell my story here in your space.

The first thing to know about selling Child of Fire [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], my first novel, is that it happened after I’d already quit writing.

I’d spent years trying to sell longer works, but had no success; you might say I was a smidge discouraged. The book I’d written just before Child of Fire was very difficult and very personal; I’d literally wept while composing the first draft. What happened when I sent it out? Form rejection after form rejection.

I was angry (with myself, not with the people who’d rejected me–that’s
one of my most important rules). I thought I’d been doing everything I needed to do, but apparently not.

For my next book, I used my anger as fuel. I started with a strange incident that needed to be investigated. I loaded the story with antagonists and conflicting goals. Then I ramped up the pace and kept it going, making even the slower parts, where the characters just talk with each other, quick and full of conflict.

But I was sure I was wasting my time. If my last book hadn’t gone anywhere, why should this one?

Now for some context: I was a stay-at-home parent while writing Child of Fire. I’d be at the local Starbucks when they opened at 5:30, write until 8:30, then go home and make breakfast for my family.

I cooked, cleaned, and spent a lot of time with my son. We lived cheaply and my wife’s job covered the bills–we didn’t have a much money, but we had a lot of time together. It was a good life.

Then it fell apart. My wife was injured and needed surgery. The only health insurance we had was a Mastercard[1] and she had to take leave from her commission-only job. Naturally, I went back to work, doing my best to cover the housework while working long hours. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t keep up with the medical bills. Bankruptcy was starting to look unavoidable.

And I was ashamed.

I’d sacrificed so much to pursue my writing, and what did I have to show for it? A series of joe-jobs, no money, no car, no rainy day fund, nothing. All I had was a box full of rejection letters. After talking things over with my wife[2], I decided to go back to grad school and get a career. Be sensible. Maybe I’d come back to writing when things were more stable. Maybe.

Of course, I still had Child of Fire on my hard drive. It seemed disrespectful not to query it. I’m naturally a fatalist, but you don’t stop doing the kata just because you flubbed the middle. I mailed queries…

And I started getting requests for sample chapters, then whole manuscripts. Eventually, three agents offered to represent me, and I signed with the one who had the highest, most concrete expectations of me. Back went the GRE study guides to the library.

That was December of 2007. By February of 2008, it looked like Child of Fire was going to auction. Instead, Del Rey jumped in with a six-figure pre-empt bid, which we accepted. Since then, my debut novel has been placed on several best of the year lists, including Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 of 2009.

And… you know how so many writers say they danced for joy at their first deal? Or when they signed with their agent? I didn’t. Both times I collapsed into a chair with a profound sense of relief that I hadn’t wasted my life after all.

[1] I know it wasn’t a great idea to go without health insurance. I know
we gambled and lost. Please don’t lecture me on the virtues of jobs with
benefits; I already know because I lived it.

[2] Who is just fine, btw.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
mtlawson
Sep. 10th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
That is an amazing story. It's great to see a happy ending come out of it.
pats_quinade
Sep. 10th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
That's a fantastic story (and one that gives a lot of struggling writers hope, I'd imagine).

I really loved the very visceral anger in "Child of Fire" -- the story seemed to have an awareness that the world was a place that didn't much care about you, and horrible things could happen to people who didn't deserve it. It's really interesting to see what your circumstances were while writing it, how much your life influenced that tone.

Also, glad the wife is okay, and that you kept sending the novel out even after you gave up. It was a fantastic read.
kmarkhoover
Sep. 10th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
This was great and I'm very glad you shared it with us. :)
burger_eater
Sep. 10th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words from commenters so far. Jim, thanks for the chance to tell my story.

I'd meant to lurk in this thread today to ask any questions, but I was up nearly 24 hours yesterday to put my wife on an airport shuttle van for her yoga retreat in Sicily. So right now I'm going back to bed.

I'll check in later, though, in case anyone has a Q. Good morning!

Edited at 2010-09-10 04:26 pm (UTC)
zhai
Sep. 10th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
Just flipped through the first few pages of Child of Fire on Amazon and ordered it for my kindle. Thanks for the heads-up! I'm glad this story had a eucatastrophe in it. :)
margaret_y
Sep. 10th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
Mr. Connolloy, thank you so much for sharing this. Those of us in the trenches absolutely live for stories like this. I cheered out loud when I read the end and your book has just sailed the top of my TBR list.
mongrelheart
Sep. 10th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
That's an awesome story! I really enjoyed Child of Fire. Game of Cages is definitely on my TBR list.
lunalila
Sep. 10th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. All of us struggling authors out there live vicariously through them :)
Adding your book to my wish-list!
jjschwabach
Sep. 11th, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
Nice story. And glad your wife is okay.

BTW, I'd never lecture anyone about health insurance. Too many jobs don't even offer it, or offer something that hardly qualifies. I'm not sure why the US clings to this antiquated idea that socialized medicine is Evil. No one who actually has it seems to think so...
mtlawson
Sep. 11th, 2010 04:44 am (UTC)
Because there's too much money involved.

I remember going to my sister-in-law's graduation from vet school, and the guy they brought in as the keynote speaker was some lobbyist from the state. His speech consisted mainly of "welcome to the upper class". I think that attitude is part of what drives the response to national health care.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 11th, 2010 10:14 am (UTC)
Great Story
I just wanted to say I loved Harry's story and that Child of Fire is one of my favorite urban fantasy novels. When Bill Martell plugged it on his website I knew I would love it so I went down to the bookstore and picked it up (this was before I had my Nook). I have to grab Game of Cages soon. I want the book badly but I'm working so much so that I can go to Oregon next month that brain is ususally mush when I get home. And then I forget to go out and get it. And write slightly rambling blog posts. =)
ladysaotome
Sep. 13th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for such an open & honest story. I'm so glad things worked out.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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