Hello, lovely readers! Today, IceyBooks is hosting a stop in the tour for Diane Zahler’s SLEEPING BEAUTY’S DAUGHTERS. I’m thrilled to have a guest post with the author on her journey to publication. Be sure to stay til the end – you can win a hardcover copy!
The classic fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty is transformed into a dazzling new story of two sisters fighting a powerful curse by Diane Zahler, the acclaimed author of The Thirteenth Princess. Briskly paced and full of lush descriptions, readers who enjoy the work of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine will be swept away by this spellbinding novel.
The daughters of Sleeping Beauty, Princesses Aurora and Luna, have grown up in a cliff-top palace by the sea, where they are carefully protected by their parents. No one visits, the girls cannot stray beyond the castle walls, and all sharp objects are forbidden here.
But accidents will happen—particularly when an old curse still has power. Soon, in spite of all precautions, Aurora is struggling not to slip into an enchanted sleep.
Frantic, the princesses accept the help of a young fisherman named Symon and embark on a daring ocean voyage to find their aunt—a fairy who may be able to break the spell. From fearsome beasts to raging storms, many dangers befall them, yet they must not give up . . . for if Aurora sleeps, she will not wake for one hundred years.
A Long, Strange Trip
I’m so happy to be here at IceyBooks – thank you for hosting me, Hafsah!
When Hafsah asked me to write about my journey to publication, I immediately thought of the trek my husband and son just finished – up to the top of Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in New York. They hiked all day, fifteen miles round trip, braving muddy bogs, fields of boulders, stumbles and a nearl ydisastrous fall, scrapes and bruises, and countless bug bites. They conquered the mountain, but it came close to conquering them. So it’s been for me — though my own journey lasted several thousand times longer, and I suffered relatively few bug bites along the way.
Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters is my fourth fairy tale novel, and from the time The Thirteenth Princess was published in 2010 till now, everything moved so fast it sometimes has felt as if my own life is enchanted – the good kind of enchantment. But before that…well.
I always knew I wanted to write, from the time I was old enough to read. And I always knew I wanted to write children’s fiction. I read kidlit constantly – I worked in the children’s room of a public library in high school and college, and was lucky enough to get to see all the new books before anyone else. My first post-college job was in children’s publishing, where even as a lowly editorial assistant, I had access to an endless supply of great children’s books. But those of you who have a day job and also write know that it’s incredibly hard to find the energy and creativity to write after a long day at work, and I found that I just couldn’t do it. So I quit and started to freelance.
My freelance gig was composing textbook lessons, which meant that I’d write all day and then…write. I wrote a children’s novel, and it was really terrible. I didn’t realize how terrible it was until a kind friend who was also an agent agreed to try to sell it and couldn’t even get a nibble. Finally I looked at it honestly and realized that the prose was awkward, the plot derivative. So I retired that novel and wrote another – also bad, though not quite as bad. Again, no luck. Then I turned to historical fiction. By this time my agent friend had become hugely successful, but I was too embarrassed by my first attempt to ask her to represent me, so I submitted the book myself. Historical fiction is a notoriously hard sell, and though I got many complimentary rejections, they were still rejections. I rewrote the novel again and again. One editor liked it enough to take it to his editorial board, promising me a phone call the next day with the verdict. Then he disappeared from my radar. It was weeks and weeks later that I finally trapped his assistant into admitting that they had decided not to publish the book. He was just too much of a coward to tell me himself.
Are you depressed yet? I sure was. There were many, many times that I despaired. My husband got a regular workout lifting me out of the slough of despond. Each time I got a rejection, I allowed myself 24 hours to wallow in it. Then I sent the manuscript out again. The cycle of rejection-despair-back-to-the-post-office went on for – count ‘em – over twenty years. This became one of my favorite websites: 30 famous authors whose works were (repeatedly and rudely) rejected by publishers. The fact that Judy Blume took two years to get published didn’t make me feel better. Two years? Big deal. But I soothed myself by reciting, “A Wrinkle in Time was rejected twenty-six times. TWENTY-SIX TIMES.” It was my mantra.
I wasn’t a total wash as a writer during this time. I wrote three quiz books with my sister, one of which was a bestseller in Seattle and Denver, where it appears that people love to take multiple choice tests. Our publisher actually sent us on tour with the first two books, and we went through media training and had our makeup done professionally (and hideously; this was the 1980s!). We got to appear on local TV and radio and to stay at REALLY nice hotels and order room service. I also published two nonfiction books for high school students, one on the bubonic plague and one on Burma. And I wrote textbook lessons as my day job, though my name isn’t on most of those.
Finally, my historical middle-grade novel landed at HarperCollins. They liked it, though not quite enough to publish it. But they asked if I had anything else I could show them. I’d been working on The Thirteenth Princess for a couple of years by that time, and had just finished a draft, so I sent that to them. It found its way to the desk of an editor who adored fairy tales, and from there life went into hyperdrive. Two contracts for two books each came quickly, and then the dynamic agent Jennifer Laughran agreed to represent me. I was whatever the opposite of an overnight success is. An over-decades success? Or even – since I started writing in the twentieth century — an over-millennia success?
In retrospect, I’m not actually sorry it took so long. The other books I wrote, and the endless textbook writing, gave me the opportunity to hone my skills. I know how to craft a sentence. My subjects and verbs are always agreeable. I learned how to do every possible kind of research, a skill that turns out to be surprisingly useful even in fantasy writing (all of my fairy tales include some history and legend from different cultures). And I will never, ever split an infinitive.
When readers ask me what advice I’d give an aspiring author who wants to publish, I say the same things other writers do: read as much as you can, write as much as you can. But I also say, and I think I mean it more than most: be persistent.
Don’t give up. Keep on truckin’. Every rewrite makes you better; every rejection makes you stronger. Even if you take a quarter-century to get published, as I did, it can happen.
And like me, you will really, really appreciate it when it does.
About the Author
I grew up reading children’s books and never wanted to do anything but write them. Then I got a contract for THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS and A TRUE PRINCESS, and then PRINCESS OF THE WILD SWANS and, coming in August, SLEEPING BEAUTY’S DAUGHTERS. Magic does happen! I live in the country with my husband in what is aptly nicknamed the Bug House.
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