The story of The Practical Orphan’s Guide began about nine years ago, when I was a freshwoman at the all-female Mills College in Oakland, California. I was taking a class called ‘Advanced Fiction for Children and Young Adults,’ and was supposed to be working on a story about a group of kids who were the result of a mad scientist’s experiment meeting up in their teens and discovering their special powers. (It was very X-Men, before I knew what X-Men was.) Whenever I got stuck on that, which was often, I worked on what was then known as Practical Kate, a spoof of sorts on all the fantasy literature about young orphans who have magical adventures. In its very first iteration it was in the third person, but once I switched to first person PoV, the book really took off. By the end of my first year at Mills I had a completed draft (with my other book languishing at around six chapters).
I spent the next year editing it, and then started sending it out to be rejected. This went on for some time, while I picked at it and tweaked it, until I decided that I had to leave it alone at some point and it sat in my metaphorical drawer for two years. Finally, when I was at USC I had the chance to interview an alum who was a published author, and we hit it off. He even offered to introduce me to his first agent, and I ended up sending her the manuscript.
The response was pretty harsh. Not unfair, or inaccurate, but blunt, and my confidence took a serious blow. But once the initial shock faded, as it always did, I considered what the agent had said and realized that maybe the book I’d set out to write when I was eighteen wasn’t the book it could be now that I was twenty-six. So a few months ago, when I was out of school and unemployed, I decided to really sit down and rewrite the whole damn thing with a new direction. I thought I’d take a page from NaNoWriMo. I was going to do it in two months by writing every day.
Well, that two months became three, and then four, and I think I ended up at around five. Which is actually pretty good for a 94K draft, though it felt like forever when I was in the middle of it. It’s a gigantic mess, with massive plot holes, cardboard characters, and actual gaps in the narrative where I got stuck and decided to skip to the next scene. There are at least two more complete drafts to be done, so it won’t be finished for awhile. But it is there. And it will be stronger, and a better foundation for a series than what I had before.
Meanwhile I’m working on a brand-new book – the first of a trilogy – that’s a little more sci-fi than I’m used to. It’s new territory and it feels really good to explore.
Until next time.