Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Zombie-Strewn Road to Publication

Alright. I promised the inspirational road to publication story, and here it is.

I decided that I wanted to be a writer in 1994. (Fer real.) My big problem was that I didn't know what I wanted to write. I started out with poetry. (Fer real.) A few of my poems went out into the big wide world, like "Slumber Party with the Pope" and "Taming the Unicorn," if by "big wide world" you mean Toledo because those first publications were local press sorts of things. I fervently wished that I looked good in a beret, because that is what poets are supposed to wear. (Fer real, and don't you wish I'd stop saying that?)

Something about the shape of my head is not beret-compatible. It's not pretentious enough.

I didn't fit in with the poets. The rest of me wasn't pretentous-shaped either. So I moved on to plays. My play "Why Nubile Young Women Make Fabulous Kidnappers" was produced on a real honest-to-goodness stage. My favorite part was where they dumped all the snacks on the floor about two lines before they had to eat them.


Anyway, that was fun, but it didn't feel right either. I wrote a screenplay. I wrote role playing books on spec. I wrote a NaNo novel that started out as a fantasy satire and ended up as a political satire. I was just happy that I finished the darned thing. And then I wrote a book about a mother who performed an exorcism on her own son.

Yeah, can you say 'dark'?

None of these things fit me, and finally, idiot me sat back and asked myself what I like to read, and what I want to write rather than what I thought I should write if I wanted people to take me seriously. That's when I realized that I don't want people to take me seriously at all, because my favorite books are the ones that make me laugh. And damnit, I like YA, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

This was about a month after my twins were born, and I started my first YA manny then. It took about four months to write; I learned how to feed the girls with my feet so I could type too. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. I joined a critique group that helped me maintain my sleep-deprived sanity. I wrote and obsessed and wrote some more. And when I finished it, it didn't suck. It made one of my critique partners snarf soda all over her keyboard. That compliment alone had me floating for days.

I started to query, and the manuscript requests started to pour in fast. I was convinced that I was hot bleep. And maybe I was, but even hot bleep needs to find the right home. I got a lot of "I love this, but I have too many superhero books," and the usual "I love this, but it's not right for me."

And then, my dream agent requested the manny. Kate represents Maureen Johnson, and I pretty much slept with Devilish underneath my pillow for a while. Devilish convinced me that there might be a market for my brand of supernaturally tinged silly. She requested the full. She offered representation. I cried when I got the email, because I am at heart a big overemotional wuss.

That, and I'd been working toward that call for 14 bleeping years.

When I signed with Kate, I was thrilled. We got a lot of great feedback on that first book and more close calls than I can count. But I had a lot to learn as a writer, and in the meantime I'd started a new manuscript about how a completely rational person could come to the conclusion that zombies exist. Poor Slayer got mercilessly pimped for information about theoretical zombie viruses. There was copious staggering around the Harris household while I tried to envision the fight scenes. I perfected the zombie moan.

No Pain went out on submission. I got an offer almost one year to the day from when I signed with Kate. I left a completely incomprehensible message on Slayer's phone and met him out on the front step. His first words? "I told you so."


But here's the point of this whole overlong saga: Don't give up. Because I'm looking back at those 15 long, neurosis-filled years, and I have to say that they were worth it. Just keep working at your craft. Those stories that you see about overnight offers are very much in the minority; people who work in publishing are so god-awful swamped from what I can see that I wonder that they are still sane. So even when you do get an agent, you may or may not be doing some major waiting. This is not because you suck, or because there is a secret agent and editor coalition in which they take clandestine bets on which author will crack under the pressure first. It's because they're short-staffed and swamped under a manuscript tsunami. If you are just starting out, please bear this in mind. Be kind to agents and editors. They are on your side. They do not work for the zombies.

And really, it's a matter of clarifying what you want. I am not an overnight sensation. But I am a professional writer. Zombie-obsessed. Prone to kookiness. But professional as all get out, and I'm darned proud of it.

Don't worry. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled nonsense tomorrow.


Stephanie Faris said...

I'm still curious about you feeding your kids with your feet!

I love stories like this one. It gives me hope. I've been working toward the call since the 90s too...only I got a little waylaid during my divorce...but now I'm back on track. It just seems like I'm past expired at this point!

Maureen said...


Jamie Eyberg said...

Carrie, you are an inspiration to us all. Thanks for sharing your story with us (and now we can't to pick up your book and read what it is all about).

Mariah Irvin said...

Thanks for sharing this!

Sometimes I feel like I'm still in that "what should I write" stage. I took me two years to finish my manuscript, and after all that I think I just might stick with it!

MeganRebekah said...

What a fascinating journey! Like everyone else, I love reading these types of stories. Thanks for sharing yours.

storyqueen said...

Carrie, this is a great post!

Thanks for a snippet of your road to greatness!


Danyelle L. said...

And this is why you are my hero(ine)! :D

Susan R. Mills said...

Thanks for sharing, Carrie. What a great and ispiring story.

Laura Eno said...

Thanks for posting this. When viewed from the outside, many writers' paths look like overnight success, when the years of struggle aren't revealed.

Aaron Polson said...

Thanks Carrie. Thanks for writing about zombies.

Thanks for hanging on so we could enjoy your writing.

Natalie Whipple said...

Carrie, you are one of my heroes! Thanks for sharing so much, and triple thanks for giving up pretension! You in a beret and scarf sipping tea just doesn't work—unless you're doing some kind of satirical skit.

Cate Gardner said...

Fantastic post, Carrie. I love reading about long fought battles to publication that end in success, gives me hope.

Valerie Kemp said...

I have been away from the net for a while so I'm just learning about your deal today. CONGRATS! That's so awesome! I love stories like yours, it gives me hope and the drive to keep on typing.

Are you going to the Michigan SCBWI conference next weekend? It's my first and I'm so excited to meet other writers!

Sherrie Petersen said...

That made me so happy I could cry. Fer real.

Love ya, Carrie :)

Nicole said...

I've just added you to my very sacred list of writing heroes! Hearing your story gives me hope.

I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I should write. I swing back and forth between utter silliness and profound symbolism.

Now what I want to know is when will the book be available to the public? I want to buy it the day it comes out!

Jessie Oliveros said...

Everyone keeps telling me about the waiting and necessary patience it takes to write and publish. I keep hoping you are all making that part up.

Carrie Harris said...

Stephanie: Well, step one is to make sure that your feet are clean. Step two is to get flexible enough that you can prop the bottles up with your toes so you can type. It really DOES work.

Maureen: It's sooo awesome of you to stop by. THANKS!

Jamie: It's about zombies, of course. And puking. And really, what's more inspirational than THAT? ;)

Mariah: I can obviously identify! I'm sure you'll find your niche; just don't give up on the search for it!

Megan: Awww. Thanks for reading and commenting.

storyqueen: That's zombie-strewn greatness. ;)

Danyelle: And this is why I wear a cape all the time. Heh.

Lazy Writer: I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Laura: Oh yes! It all seems so easy when you see it from the outside, doesn't it? And sure, there are people who strike it big, but we sloggers outnumber them 100 to 1. So don't give up!

Aaron: Right back atcha. Except for the zombie part.

Natalie: Yeah, the pretention part makes me laugh. The funniest part is that I'm not really exaggerating.

Cate: I'm so glad; that's exactly what I was hoping for.

Valerie: I'm SOOO upset that I can't go. Slayer works all weekend, and I can't exactly bring my kids to the conference. I hope you'll tell us all about it!

Sherrie: Awww. Love right back atcha!

Nicole: Who says that utter silliness and profundity can't coexist? I think it CAN; it's just a matter of finding that impeccable balance between them.

But then again, what do I know? I write about zombies.

And I will absolutely give you a pub date as soon as I know it!

Jessie: Oh, I wish we were! LOL

K.C. Shaw said...

This made me feel better, and made me want to high-five you through the monitor too. :) I've been writing forever, but I only got really serious about it around 6-7 years ago. I guess that means I've got some time to go. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I love love love reading stuff like this. You are amazing, Carrie. Thanks for sharing!

Keri Mikulski said...

Love this story, Carrie!! :) Hugs. :)

Kelly H-Y said...

This was so wonderful to read ... thanks for sharing!!! And, congratulations again!!

Susan Sandmore said...

There IS SO a secret coalition. And they've bugged my office. ::shifty eyes::

I'm still so happy for you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Carrie. You're story is inspirational.

PJ Hoover said...

Fantastic story, Carrie! Thank you for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

Hi :)
Thanks for sharing Carrie.
Perseverance and tenacity combined with talent is the wisdom I take from your story.
Love & Best Wishes,

Rebecca said...

This is a great story Carrie (love publishing stories!)
I have twins too, boys, now 8 (and 2 other boys. How old are your girls? I never mastered the skill of feeding the boys with my feet (the skillz you learn when you have twins!!) but when I had four littlies I used to feed them in the bath!

Good luck with your book, it sounds fabulous!

Julia said...

Awesome post, Carrie! Woot!

Anonymous said...

This was the Best. Post. EVAH.

Seriously, I loved reading this. I think we need to remember that writing is work and timing as well as glitter and confetti.


But congratulations on everything! Serves you right. :)

Kiki Hamilton said...

Love the story! Love the feeding the children with your feet! Love the happy ending! I'll bet there will be many more happy endings here!

Amber Lough said...


I have to say that I got teary eyed at the end of this post. Seriously.

Nadine said...

Great post! (stopping by from Kiersten's blog)

Congrats on the offer!! I can't wait to read the book!