J.K. Holmes — My Journey, So Far

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First, I’d like to thank all the wonderful Magical Words authors for inviting me into their house for my first ever guest blogging appearance. I’m honored to be in such good company.

Now, as to the madness that has consumed my life…

The journey to see CRIMSON SWAN published has been interesting and unusually short in terms of the publishing industry. I began writing the book as an undergraduate student at the University of South Alabama in the spring of 2006. Until that point, I’d written a few short stories but I knew my heart
lay in novels.

The concept behind CRIMSON SWAN had been bouncing around in my head for about a year before I actually began writing it but I was apprehensive about submitting it to my classmates for critique. I was writing about vampires, law enforcement, and forensic science. In comparison to the literary works most often associated with university creative writing programs, my writing is very different. I write genre fiction with lots of action and complex plots. For example, CRIMSON SWAN is a dark urban fantasy set in the small
fictitious southwestern Mississippi town of Jefferson. Alexandra Sabian, a vampire and Enforcer with the Federal Bureau of Preternatural Investigation, moves to Jefferson from Louisville, Kentucky to escape the ghosts of her father’s murder and to put a violent past behind her.

The story begins with the discovery of the third dead vampire in two weeks. Alex, as the only FBPI Enforcer assigned to southwest Mississippi, is investigating the slayings but runs into opposition from the local human-run sheriff’s department and an anti-vampire group, the Human Separatist Movement. Further complicating matters are the omnipresent media and the arrival of a new Enforcer, Varik Baudelaire, who is also Alex’s former fiancé.

Tensions between Jefferson’s human and vampire populations mount, as the tensions between Alex and Varik also escalate. The stress of the investigation takes a toll on Alex and a latent psychic talent begins to
reassert itself. When the tensions in the town finally erupt into violence, Alex find herself at the center of a maelstrom that threatens to strip away everything she holds dear, including the one person she thought was safe from her past’s influence — her brother.


As you can see, CRIMSON SWAN isn’t the typical academic fare. However, the fiction workshop classes had (and still have) an outstanding and open-minded instructor: Carolyn Haines (author of the Sarah Boothe Delaney mystery series, REVENANT, MANY BLOODY RETURNS, FEVER MOON, and many more). Carolyn was (and continues to be) very supportive of my work, as were the other students. With their encouragement and Carolyn’s guidance, by the time I finished my undergraduate degree in fall 2006, I’d nearly completed the entire book. Even though I now had a degree, I wanted to learn more, to explore the voice I felt I was just beginning to find, and I’ll admit that the idea of having to find a “real job” and repay my student loans was something I loathed. So, I started graduate school, again at USA, in spring 2007 and continued studying with Carolyn.
In May 2007 when CRIMSON SWAN was down to its final chapters, Carolyn negotiated with her agent, Marian Young, to read a portion of my work. I’d attended a few conferences and had pitched CRIMSON SWAN to a couple of agents with no success. While there were no guarantees that Marian would offer to represent me, it was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. I sent her manuscript and she guided me through a couple of editing rounds. Our personalities meshed well and after I made the final cuts, Marian loved the changes and took me on as a client. Needless to say, I was thrilled!
Marian started sending CRIMSON SWAN out to editors in June 2007 and continued to do so for months. Whenever she received a rejection, and there were many, she would forward them to me along with her words of encouragement. The rejections were all the same: “We agree Ms. Holmes has talent, but…” or “I really liked this book, but…” It’s very easy to become discouraged when faced with rejection after rejection, but Marian and Carolyn were both confident the book would sell, which gave me confidence if not patience. (More on this later.)
Finally, in late November 2007, Danielle Perez, a senior editor with Bantam Dell (Random House), gave us a rejection but, with some coaxing from Marian, also provided feedback on CRIMSON SWAN, laying out the areas she felt were in need of improvement and agreed to a second reading of the manuscript. For the next four months, I tore CRIMSON SWAN apart, restructured, re-plotted, re-wrote, and added nearly one hundred pages to its length. I stressed over it. I cursed over it. I forced myself to work through the writers’ block
that threatened to derail me and my academic studies. (Yes, I was still attending grad school full-time during all of this.) I sent it back to Marian in March and she forwarded it to Danielle.
Then, we waited. And waited. And waited some more. On May 27, 2008, Marian called with the news we’d been hoping to hear for nearly a year. We had an offer! Danielle wanted to buy CRIMSON SWAN as well
as a second book. Both would be released as mass market paperback originals, with CRIMSON SWAN being released in September 2009. We accepted the offer, and my life has exploded outward in so many directions and so quickly that it’s a little overwhelming at times. But, looking back on the past two years and the experiences I’ve had and the friendships I’ve created along the way, I know I have the support of some very talented people, and that support will make all the difference in the coming months as CRIMSON SWAN continues its journey to publication.
My experiences thus far have been charmed, but I’d like to pass along a few words of advice to other writers who are still waiting for the phone call that changes our lives. My advice is to be patient but persistent. I know my journey was shorter than some, it wasn’t without its challenges and frustrations, and, in all honesty, I’m one of the last people who should speak of patience. However, this experience has taught me that the publishing industry moves at its own pace and that pace is very often slower than we, as writers, would like for it to be. 


While you’re waiting for that life-altering phone call, and in addition to writing every day, network with other writers, whether in person at conferences or online in chat rooms, e-mail lists, or blogs. A strong
support system comprised of others who understand how you’re feeling makes the time between sending your manuscript off to an agent or editor and receiving that phone call pass quickly. Also, when  networking, ask questions. Learn from others who have traveled this road. I’m sure you’ll find that many are only too happy to share their stories.
I know I have been, and I wish the best of luck to published and unpublished writers alike. May your hard drives always have space, your ink cartridges always be full, your paper supply endless, and your phone call forthcoming. 


Thanks, again, to Faith, David, C. E., and Misty for inviting me to share my
story. It’s been a blast!

Jeannie Holmes
Author, CRIMSON SWAN
September 2009
www.jkholmes.com

 

 

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14 comments to J.K. Holmes — My Journey, So Far

  • Jeannie,
    This business continues to surprise me by being so small and insular and yet so big and unwieldly. When we asked you to blog today, I had no idea who had helped you on the road to publication. But — I’ve known Carolyn Haines for *years* and consider her a good friend. I wish I lived closer to her!

    Danielle Perez gave me feedback on a book years ago. We had drinks at a conference and chatted. She is a ball of fire. You had good people at your back. How did you meet Carolyn? Was it first through school?
    Faith

  • Great job, Jeannie! And what an awesome story. Wow!

  • Hi, Faith

    Yes, I definitely had (and still have) good people watching out for me. I haven’t met Danielle face-to-face yet, but I’m going to a conference in New York in a couple of weeks and hope she and I can cross paths there.

    I first met Carolyn at school. She was my second fiction instructor. My first instructor was a very nice man but his class was cut-throat. The critiques were brutal and left me doubting whether or not I’d made the right decision in choosing creative writing as an emphasis. I’m not Faulkner or Hemingway and Carolyn encouraged me to write what I wanted to write. I think having that freedom has helped me tremendously. Since being in her class, she and I have become good friends. She’s a wonderful person, an outstanding writer, and a great mentor. I’ve been very fortunate to know her.

    Jeannie

  • Hi, Jennie

    Thanks and it’s great to meet you!

    Jeannie

  • M Ladner

    Jeannie,

    I’m so happy publication has found you. I’m giddy for you!

    I do have an odd sort of question, geared toward market and finding that market. In addition to traditional networking via writing conferences and personal introductions, you mentioned connections via internet chat rooms in your networking. As a writer trying to find a market, my question is do you feel at this stage of your process that one means of networking has garnered you more support and education on where you fit it on your journey to publication? Knowing what you are writing is so important, and being given the freedom in school to do so is invaluable. So in short, in your opinion, has internet networking become an essential means of finding a niche and success as a new publishing writer?

  • Jeannie,

    I’ve watched with great pride as you made the journey from “young” writer to published author. I knew from the first moment I read your work that you were a polished writer with stories to tell. And your growth gives me intense pride and pleasure. I can’t wait to read Crimson Swan as a “fan” instead of a teacher.

    The pub date is September 2009. In that time, you’ll write the second novel dealing with this setting and characters.

    Do you think your small town Mississippi setting played an important role in getting an editor’s eye?

    Carolyn

  • Faith waves to Carolyn!
    Whoowhoowhoo!

  • Hi, Carolyn

    Ah, you’re gonna make me blush! LOL

    I do think the small town setting may have played a roll. Urban fantasy books are typically set in larger cities, such as Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or St. Louis, so I think the fact that I deliberately chose to take the “big city” issues and confine them to a much smaller area is a little out of the ordinary for the genre. (Jefferson is described in the book as having a population of around 6000 people including the vampire community.) I also think that by setting it in southwestern Mississippi, which is an area of the state that is largely ignored by fiction writers (and even in real life), helped a lot. It’s an entirely new frontier for readers to explore, and editors and readers are always hungry for something new. So, yes, I think the setting was a factor in catching the editor’s eye.

    The second book…it’s being plotted out now and the small town adventures continue.

    Jeannie

  • Hi, M

    Thanks! My giddiness is still running rampant. I don’t know how much more my husband and cats will be able to stand.

    Excellent question, but, oiy, you’re making me really think on this one. First, let address one item you mentioned: the importance of knowing what you’re writing. I think that we, as writers, tend to gravitate toward the genres we like to read. I grew up reading science fiction, fantasy, and horror so it feels natural for me to take the concepts within those genres and blend them into urban fantasy. Having said that, when searching for a market, ask yourself “What do I like to read?” and start there but don’t be afraid to branch out. You may be surprised by what you find yourself liking.

    I don’t think internet network as become essential for finding success as a new writer. I think it’s become essential for finding success as a writer — period. Honestly, I don’t know how much my on-line presence factored into the sale of my book, but I spent (and still do spend) time interacting with people on MySpace, Facebook, various e-mail lists, and forums. The internet offers a global network where if I strictly relied on conferences, I may only have a regional network, maybe national if I really worked at it and was willing to travel. Since selling Crimson Swan, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support from my network. I’ve had people from as far away as Germany and Australia contacting me to tell me they can’t wait to read the book. I never would have been able to reach them if not for the internet.

    Publishing is a strange bird. New authors are given a very short amount of time to garner an audience so we are almost required to have an audience attached to a book before it’s even sold. For that reason, authors working within the same or similar genres will often band together to promote one another, such as here at Magical Words or on the Live Journal community “Fangs, Fur, and Fey.” Sites such as these can be very helpful to anyone who is still searching for their “home” market. For example, I’m a huge horror fan and I originally wanted to write horror. I soon discovered that my very off-beat sense of humor didn’t really mix with horror. However, it fits fantasy very well. So I play close to the border between the two genres and throw in a healthy dose of science fiction and a little mystery for good measure — sort of a “Shaun of the Dead” meets “CSI” approach. I discovered some of my favorite urban fantasy authors through recommendations that were posted on e-mail lists and message boards. I probably wouldn’t have known I could mix humor, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery if I hadn’t first been exposed to it on-line.

    *whew* Hopefully, I answered your question without too much rambling and hopefully, it made sense. Like I said, you really made me think on this one. 🙂

    Jeannie

  • Hi Jeannie,

    Many thanks for sharing your story with us. Your advice — patience and persistence — is spot on. I’m delighted that things have worked out so well for you, and I hope that we’ll see you here at magicalwords again soon!

    Thanks again,

    David

  • Hi, David

    Thanks very much for inviting me. 🙂

    Jeannie

  • Lindsay Curry-Dawson

    Jeannie!! Wow. What a thrilling opportunity for you. I’m so excited for you (and of course for your husband and cats!) Can’t wait to PURCHASE one of your novels instead of having to read it in weekly chapter increments. 🙂 Congratulations!

  • Lindsay!!

    Thanks. Once the book is out, I’ll very interested in hearing feedback from everyone who has read the book in the weekly chapter installments. You’ll have to keep in touch and let me know what you think. 🙂