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How my first book came to be

Roy Schwartz

For my first blog post on this site, I figured I’d tell the story of how my first book came to be.

I first met Lee in 2007.

She was an assignment in a creative writing class at the New School University, where I was a senior. I can’t remember what the assignment was, but it began, for some reason, at least in my case, with a young girl.

Lee, being Lee, didn’t do as she was told and didn’t stay where she was supposed to, just a writing exercise. I used to get my best writing done between the witching hour of midnight and four am (back when I was carefree and not the father of a sleepless toddler). Lee started showing up, always stepping out of the deep shadow behind my bedroom door, always out of the corner of my eye.

She seemed sad, like she had lost something. She gave form, I slowly realized, to the heartache I experienced as a child, like we all do, in that time after we realize our parents can’t do everything and before we learn we can handle anything.

I named her Lee, spelled like a boy, after my roommate, who was a girl. Though their personalities are quite different, the real Lee also was, and I suspect still is, whimsical and wide-eyed.

Lee was a fairytale heroine, I decided, like Little Red or Alice or Dorothy, because those stories always mean more than you think they do and because I love them and because Lee didn’t seem quite normal enough to be in a normal story. (I know they say there really isn’t such a thing as “normal,” but there is. It’s what you become whenever you forget to be extraordinary. Be extraordinary whenever you can.)

But her story needed to be real, or as real as a fairytale can be, because those are the stories I respect reading and want to tell. Make-believe stories don’t have to be safe and sweet and fluffy like cotton candy. They can be dark and dangerous, like monsters lurking beneath the surface, waiting to grab you. Be warned.

When I finally finished the book, mostly thanks to my friend Dave who insisted I had to, I submitted it to literary agents. It got rejected, a lot. If I had been told that it was bad, or that my writing was bad, I could have at least given up properly and gone to law school or gotten a job in sales or whatever else you’re supposed to do after college. No such luck. Reply after reply, I was told how much they liked it, except something. And that something always changed.

One agent wanted me to make Lee younger and the story less disturbing. Another said to make her older and the story grimmer. I was told that the first act was too long and also that it was too short. Eventually, I found someone who liked it for what it was and wanted to sign me on. Then the economy collapsed, the Great Recession began, and within a month he shuttered his doors.

So I bid farewell to Lee, after having shared my headspace with her for over a year, and consigned her story to the nether reaches of my computer, where it sat collecting virtual dust as the years went by.

Then Rebecca happened.

In 2011, Rebecca was a new author, and a friend of my new girlfriend, Kim. She had written a YA urban fantasy novel, you see, and Kim remembered I’d written something fantastical for younger readers as well (I had since become a writer of serious things for adults). Rebecca loved my book, but her agent didn’t, and so it ended there.

Except that, six years later, Kim had become my wife and Rebecca had become a successful author, as well as an editor for a British publisher named Aelurus. (Which is the masculine noun for “cat” in Latin, in case you're wondering.) She was kind enough to remember Lee, and introduced her to Jeffrey, the publisher, who liked her as well.

And just like that, the little girl who’d shown up in my college room between midnight and four started appearing again, this time in my study at the back of the house. Watching me from the shadows, just out of the corner of my eye, as I reworked and polished her tale with better craftsmanship honed by experience.

She’s gone now. My part in her story is done. She’s waiting for you, to come with her into the darkness and meet the others.

The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There is a book I’m very proud of. A book I hope you’ll like. But it’s not a safe book. Be warned.


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