Tea With the Black Dragon

Varieties of Tea

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This is the first book I published, although perhaps the tenth I wrote.  Thank the gods none of the others saw print, because they were all floundering messes. A kind woman named Elizabeth Lay, who was an agent, sat me down and had me read aloud every line of the manuscript I had sent her.  My embarrassment at my clumsy phrasing and lack of story arc was great, but aside from opening my ears to what I sounded like, she also hinted how I could have written it better.  My hostility to her suggestions rebounded into the creation of new phrases and story lines which were not my originals nor her suggestions, but a third path.  This is, I think, how writers and editors work together to create a books that stands by itself.  We writers never appreciate the gift until much later.

Perhaps 18 months after I gave her the ms., I got a phone call in the kitchen.  It was my agent, and she said to me “First, sit down.  What ever you’re doing, just sit down.”

And so I sold a book.  The advance was miniscule, and so was the percentage, but she said it was a foot in the door, and indeed it was.  Part of the deal was that I was to write for Bantam Books another book which would be more ‘classifiable’  in the fantasy genre.  I did write them another book, but I fear it was no more classifiable than the first.

The public reaction to this tiny novel astonished me.  I had to remind myself frequently that public reaction comes and goes like the weather, and that I was still the same writer on the edge of publishability as I was before.  That attitude has helped me to survive the ego-wrecking world of publishing and of criticism.

By the way, I wanted the book called OOLONG, which means Black Dragon in Chinese and is also a sort of tea.  Bantam would not buy the title, and in the end it was just another battle between editor and writer over the proper words.  I still think OOLONG would have worked.

6 thoughts on “Tea With the Black Dragon”

  1. I read Tea with the Black Dragon many years ago, and loved the peaceful feeling that the story evokes, despite it’s blood and treachery. It’s sat on my shelves, along with all the other books I read and reread over the years.

    The other night, while looking for something to overcome a bout of insomnia, I pulled it off the shelf, and while it did not cure my ills, it returned me to my delight. Not many of it’s neighbors can still do that 30 years on.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank YOU, Dahne. Feel free to jump in for other things. I intend this site to be a sort of forum. Perhaps an inconvenient sort of forum, but I don’t have the money of Facebook. Nor the ads!

  3. I don’t think it’s any more inconvenient than any other forum asking one to put one’s thoughts into words and communicate. My thoughts never go seamlessly into words, and the words rarely seem to mean what I wish to say.
    BTW, you are not the only person who often converses with fictional characters or their authors, or is unhappy with the general lack of grammar and precise pronunciation. One of my biggest beefs has always been ‘nuculer’ instead of nuclear. And I have happily chatted away to people who were not there -though rarely aloud, as I have always tended to be as silent and unseen as possible- for as long as I can remember. I also often find my mind narrating my life, as in “She slipped on her shoes and prepared to walk the dog- again!” It surprised me that other people don’t do this; it adds quite a hint of literary spice to the dullest of lives.

  4. This is one of my favourite phantasy stories. I was scrounging around my bookshelves and couldn’t find it yesterday — realizing I had not read it in a number of years. And so this morning I uploaded it to my ereader and am discovering it all over again.

    1. Thank you. I don’t have the same high regard for it. It was rewritten so many times and the publisher didn’t allow me to use my voice as I wanted, but I was a newbie and didn’t know I could refuse to comply. Perhaps I couldn’t have done. But the book unexpectedly made my name. As a condition of buying it, Bantam required of me a book in the ‘Sword and Sorcery’ genre. I was not familiar with that, but I created a story about Savoy in the 14th century and called that Damiano. (I don’t recall there were any swords in it, though.)

      1. I think what I liked about it was it wasn’t a Sword & Sorcery fantasy. Urban fantasy hadn’t become hot yet and I was reading too many things that were trying desperately to cash in on Tolkien and instead sounding like Sword of Shanara. I liked Damiano too BTW.

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