It Starts with a Dream: from Novel Idea to Agent Offer

Today, one of my biggest writing dreams comes true.

Today, I’m signing with my agent, Maeve MacLysaght of Ladderbird Literary Agency. Maeve’s passion for my spooky, time-bending science fiction mystery and her commitment to representing queer, diverse SFF makes her an ideal champion for GALATEA’S PARADOX.

An aesthetic image shows, from top left: a dark haired woman with blue face tattoos and a bold gaze (original character art by @za_ra_h_); a wall of code illuminated in blue green and orange; a space station orbiting an orange planet; two blurry figures on a background of blue and orange; a city scape in red and yellow viewed from above; a red headed woman with parted lips looking up to the left; a Black man wearing reflective glasses looking down to the right; a futuristic corridor; a pattern of hexagonal structures with a bright star behind them
Aesthetic features original character art (top left) by Zara H.

This is the story of a…story.

Signing with an agent is a huge step for me and a necessary one toward fulfilling my ambitions for this manuscript.

GALATEA’S PARADOX is an ambitious book. Its creation and development stretched my abilities to their limits. From breaking my brain with research on time dilation and relativity, to learning how to write multi-POV, to revising its 117k words in 2.5 months during Pitch Wars, this novel has challenged me at every stage.

But it all started with a dream.

Literally.

2010: the dream.

I don’t think I’ve told the story of the original germinating idea for GALATEA, because frankly, I kind of forgot about it. But recently I was digging around in my old documents and I found my first attempt at telling the story of Verity Lee.

“I’m all right, Galatea,” he told me.  That was his name for me, a joke, and the first story he had ever told me.  I had my own name for myself by that time, but few knew it.

After today, you all will.

Galatea, unpublished short, 2009

It’s strange to think that it was over ten years ago when I woke from that vivid dream about an android woman’s fight for liberation from her sadistic designer. The programmer had endowed his creation with the ability to feel pain, not out of necessity but because he liked it. But this quirk, unbeknownst to him, also granted her free will.

The dream and the character haunted me, and though I wasn’t doing much writing at the time. I wrote a short 1,200 word vignette in which the woman learns to suppress her pain and kills her designer. As in the original dream, he doesn’t die, but uses technology to sustain himself, becoming a cyborg himself.

So she kills him again.

Even a newly conscious cyborg, regardless of the ready-made knowledge available to her—the emotion-recognition software, the linguistic subroutines—is still a fool in many ways, maybe more so than a newborn child.  A newborn child does not follow orders.

Galatea

I didn’t think about this as the germ of a novel at the time. I felt compelled to get it down, but once I had it on the page, I left it at that—for six years.

2016: the concept.

2016 was a rough year for me. No, that’s an understatement. It was a hell year, politically and personally, the kind when you have to tear yourself down to the foundations and rebuild yourself to survive.

I guess it’s no surprise that I found myself thinking again about this story of getting free when you are designed to be anything but. I began to assemble a world around it in my head. I used things I loved or found fascinating as the building blocks: obsessive detectives and fearless space outlaws, found family, “Firefly but gender-swapped,” Alcubierre warp drive theories, and planets with wildly different environments.

A NASA space tourism poster with an image of children looking out at a red and blue landscape with large planets visible in the sky, reading "Planet Hop from Trappist - 1e, voted best 'hab zone' vacation"
In my head, one of these exists for Proxima B but I could not find it…

I had a vague idea that I would write the thing for NaNoWriMo that year, but it didn’t happen. I did create a Google document, though, and in it I wrote the first draft of a scene where a woman flees a disintegrating space station after committing a terrible crime.

It also had a lot of pictures of spaceships.

2017: the first draft.

I tucked my Google doc away, but didn’t stop thinking about it. When November 2017 rolled around, I was ready. I hammered out 50k words of a very messy half-draft.

The story got weirder as I wrote it. It jumped around in time. It was full of ghosts, haunted by a past that wouldn’t stay quiet. A genetically engineered gryphon appeared out of nowhere and stole every scene that featured him. A character I envisioned as a secondary villain gave indications of hidden depths.

A gryphon on a field of stars with a pipe in his beak and a hunter's cap, looking extremely pleased with himself
Thank you, Ren, for this delightful portrait of Perhelion impersonating Sherlock Holmes.

It was fragmented. Incomplete. On a wandering course for a destination I couldn’t really envision yet. But I loved what it did have, which makes sense, since I built it out of things that I loved.

2018: the vision.

Up until this point, I didn’t really have a goal or a plan for my writing. I had a vague idea that I wanted to get published someday, but I hadn’t taken any real steps toward that or considered it as a realistic possibility.

2018 was a watershed year for me. Thanks to the support of my now-spouse, I quit a job I hated and took a part-time attorney position. I was working toward living in alignment with my values, as my therapist put it. I finished the first draft of GALATEA’S PARADOX (most of it, anyway) over the summer.

Charts from the NaNoWriMo sites showing 51k written on GALATEA'S PARADOX in Nov. 2017 and 30k written in Camp NaNo, July 2018.
“Finished” for certain values of the word (future drafts added 40k words!)

In my spare time, I completed the entire 12 weeks of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Through all the morning pages and affirmations and Artist Dates, one message kept coming through.

I didn’t just want to write for fun. I wanted to be an author.

Well, crap. Now what?

2019: revision

I started poking around the Twitter writing community, trying to find my way. That’s how I learned about Pitch Wars, and now I had an initial course laid in. I knew I had a ways to go and a lot to learn.

Jean-Luc Picard says ENGAGE.
Make it so!

I didn’t have a full draft of GALATEA’S PARADOX at the time. Instead, I spent the summer of 2019 revising a different book, a little ditty about a reluctant succubus coming into her power. That was the book I submitted with high hopes to four Pitch Wars mentors.

I got no requests. Not one. Nada. Zilch. Nil.

When I tell you I almost gave up…

2020: when at first you don’t succeed, etc.

Oh, 2020. What a bizarre year you were. I lived last year in a state of existential terror and incandescent hope. When the world seems to be falling down around your ears, it clarifies things, in a way.

Two men sit against a stone wall, and one, apparently on the edge of tears, says "Get busy living or get busy dying."
As a wise man once said.

I got busy writing.

I also got married. There’s no someday in the apocalypse, no waiting for a better time. You pick your poison, your passion, and your person and you hurl yourself at them with singleminded determination because if you stop to think, you might not start again.

I spent the hot COVID summer rewriting GALATEA’S PARADOX and querying CAMBION’S LAW. Outside my home office window, the sky was heavy with wildfire smoke, while the news was heavy with doom and gloom. I put my head down and sprinted for the finish line. I had no expectations but I wanted to give it my all.

Giving up wasn’t an option. I was going to shoot my shot because hell, I might die tomorrow. If I had to go out, I would go out chasing my dreams.

Adele belts out, "At least I can say that I've tried"
Helloooo from the other side!

I got my first CPs at the end of August. Shout out to Abby and Mel , whose insights drastically improved my hot mess of a manuscript and who both gently but firmly told me that three POVS per chapter was Way Too Much.

When I got requests for BOTH books, no one was more surprised than me.

Everything seemed to happen at once that fall. I sent CAMBION’S LAW to Heather McCorkle and GALATEA’S PARADOX to Ren Hutchings and went on my pandemic honeymoon. A month later, during a rollercoaster of an election season, I got accepted to Pitch Wars with GALATEA and an offer on CAMBION at the same time.

No kidding: I received the offer email while I was on the intro zoom call with Ren, my new mentor.

2021: wait for it.

The biggest lesson I learned this year: so much of publishing is spent waiting. Waiting for inspiration, for beta reader or CP feedback, for query responses, full responses, contracts, submissions responses, edits, more edits, copy edits…seriously, it is just a series of waiting periods punctuated with moments of “oh my God, it’s happening!”

Aaron Burr performs "Wait for it"
There’s a reason this ambitious banger is on my 2021 playlist.

Don’t get me wrong, I worked my butt off this year. I revised three books and drafted parts of two more. I embarked on a self-taught crash course in book marketing, social media, and graphic design. I debuted. A lot happened! But there was also a lot of hurry up and wait.

This brings me to my big takeaway. Because after I completed my Pitch Wars revisions and went through the agent showcase, I sent my queries for GALATEA and waited. And waited. I watched while others in my cohort got their offers of rep, and refreshed an inbox full of rejections and tumbleweeds. At times, I forgot this book was even out there.

A man, labeled "me," looks at a butterfly labeled "dissociation" and wonders, "Is this a coping skill?"
Never miss a chance to bring this one out.

I did not feel like a Pitch Wars success, though I did feel lucky to have my other projects to focus on.

(For anyone reading this who is currently a Pitch Wars mentee, I hope you take this to heart for the future: do not give up or quit if this is your dream and you don’t get an agent immediately after showcase. You put in the work and it is worth it even if you aren’t seeing the fruits of your labor yet. Keep going!)

In September, on a call with Ren, she predicted that this year would follow the same pattern as last year, and that I would get an offer of rep the same day as my debut release.

Her prediction missed the mark…by just 24 hours. I got the call request from Maeve the day before CAMBION’S LAW released, 51 weeks from my first mentor call and publication offer.

Life is strange sometimes. After all the waiting, that Monday was a real trip.

2022: on sub maybe?!?

And with that, an exciting new stage of waiting has begun! Edits from Maeve are coming soon. Then comes submission. Then…who knows? I hope I can find a good home for this book of my heart, but come what may. If not this book, than another.

This is already extremely long, so I am going to stop there. I’m still processing that a new leg of my writing journey has begun. Look out for a more traditional “How I Got My Agent” post in future with query stats etc. when the dust has settled, if there is interest in such things. Let me know in the comments if you have questions for me!

7 thoughts on “It Starts with a Dream: from Novel Idea to Agent Offer

  1. Ay that premise about the android being programmed by a sadistic person is amazing. And that Galatea snippet you shared is gold. Little wonder you found your break. Please do keep us (me) updated on Galatea. I’ll be sure to check it out (am a sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast myself).

    Thanks so much for the inspiration, Erin, and I love your fiction voice!

    Liked by 1 person

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