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.