I loved Unpronounceable from the first sentence, thought the main character, Rose, was my kind of main character, and laughed out loud every time I read what I had written. It didn't start as a book. Unpronounceable started as a story, a story that spilled out in one hurried hand-written session with my notebook. From the moment I finished, I knew this was a story worth publishing. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn't get a publisher to agree. One magazine sent me back a xeroxed narrow slip of paper, maybe 1/8 of a page, that didn't even bother to thank me for submitting. In two sentences, the note informed me they would not publish the story and that in the future, I should learn about proper English spelling and grammar. So you understand why this was demoralizing, here is the first sentence of my submission.
"I wouldn't never have left New Jersey, let alone the planet Earth, if it wasn't for my sister, Alice, who you should know up front got all the genetic engineering bonus points my parents was assigned, leaving me with whatever they could come up with sperm-and-eggwise."
Perhaps you understand that I was not demoralized because I didn't know how to write with proper grammar. I was demoralized because the editorial staff at a respected science fiction publication failed to understand the concept of writing in the vernacular. With US postal service and the requirement that stories not submit simultaneously, it was too much to have waited for such stupidity. I put the story away for a few years. Maybe the world would change.
And lo, the world changed. The internet changed the submission process. Not only was communication simpler, but the email program keeps track of timing for me. If I wondered how long it has been since a submission, I click the sent folder and voilà.
One day I came across Jim Baen's Universe online and submitted to them. This led to publication in a respectful and enjoyable process that was the opposite of the can't-even-waste-a-whole-piece-of-paper-on-you rejections of yore.
The Baen's Universe experience inspired me to continue with the story. I spent every day happily developing the story and laughing out loud at my own writing. It didn't feel like I was writing it, so it wasn't exactly like the person who laughs while telling you a joke. it was more like Rose came up with her responses, and when I "heard" them, I had no choice but to laugh.
About 20,000 words in, I hit a snag. Something was happening to the narrative, and it was sagging. I had gone in a direction that was all parallel and no forward. I did some calculation and realized that if I'd been writing a screenplay, I'd be done at 20,000 words. Instead, I was looking at being at best 1/5 done, and I wasn't feeling the story could hold that weight.
Now I know nobody is going to make a movie from a comic science fiction screenplay starring some female and requiring millions in CGI. Not gonna happen. But I decided I didn’t care. I wanted to know how Rose’s story came out, and the novel was not going to get me there before I ran out of gas. So I threw the novel into Final Draft and began formatting and rewriting. The story needed to begin a bit differently, and lots of scenes had to shift for the visual of film. But by the time I hit my previous stopping point, I was on a roll, and the screenplay came together nicely with some serious slapstick and satisfying revenge and resolution. It had only taken me four years, but the story I’d begun was finished and I was deeply satisfied with the story and my writing.
Did I mention nobody is ever gonna make this movie? So if I wanted Rose to “live,” I would have to finish the book. Stripping the screenplay formatting off the last third and re-attaching it to the aborted novel, I reworked the skeletal format of the screenplay into regular prose. The finished manuscript came in just under 40,000 words. Not enough for a novel. I’d have to come up with a way to double the word count at least. Maybe I could add gobs of description. Maybe I could add a separate structure from the POV of another character. All that seemed wrongwrongwrong.
So once again, I put the manuscript aside.
Until I went to WisCon, the Women in Science Fiction Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I was visiting a friend and had a day to kick around by myself while she was busy. I saw WisCon mentioned in the paper and decided on a lark to go. I’d been an avid scifi/fantasy reader as a kid and teen and figured it would be a lark.
So there I was in the book room talking to a publisher. I mention the book while talking to the editor because I’m telling the story of my rejection letter. She rolled her eyes. I then lamented that although the story had been published by Jim Baen’s Universe, it was too short to be a novel and I didn’t see a way to do anything with it. She said they publish novellas in a series called Conversation Pieces in a tone that sounded suspiciously like she might be interested. I shook my head saying they were a serious feminist literary press and my book was pure farce, fart jokes and alien sex all included. She snorted and informed me that she had a sense of humor. So we agreed that I’d send them the manuscript after the Con.
I sent it in the next week or so. Soon, after a round of rewrites, they officially offered to publish Unpronounceable, sent me a contract, and it was in print within a year, a mere 19 years after Rose first poured her peculiar brand of humor and heart onto the pages of my notebook.