On Finding Diamonds

When an editor or agent says that one of their greatest joys is finding a story in the slushpile that stops their pencil tapping or makes them miss their train home, it’s easy for the struggling, oft-rejected writer to doubt their sincerity. After all, these people are so hardened to sending out rejection slips and dashing a young writer’s hopes that it’s hard to imagine them being joyful about anything.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the three years and almost 500 novellas I looked over in the process of combining the three Panverse anthologies, I discovered there were few things as exciting as finding a story that sucked me in and held me. This was especially true when the writer was an unknown: the opportunity of introducing a strong new talent to readers is both a huge joy and a great responsibility. As a writer myself, I know only too well what hopes and aspirations go into every submission.

One of the very first stories I received for Panverse One was from a young woman in Perth, Western Australia. Titled Blue Night, Silver Dawn, Joanna Fay’s  36k-word novella was a dark fantasy; the writing was fluid and lyrical, the character work powerful, the world dizzying. And despite having some issues, this story, saturated with love and hate, blood and betrayal, hope and despair, horror and beauty, gripped me and wouldn’t let go. I knew it wasn’t quite a Panverse story, but it was so powerful, so rich in both passion and terror, that I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage this young talent and help her find her way into print. I sent her a critique.

To her credit, Joanna did more than take my critique, she ran a marathon with it. Over the next couple of years, I was privileged to read more of her work and watch, amazed, as the story grew and blossomed. Blue Night, Silver Dawn became Daughter of Hope, the first novel in what has turned into the Siaris quartet, and has just been released by fast-growing small press, Musa Publishing.

Here’s a short interview with Joanna:

All this, and a gorgeous cover, too!

DC: When you first sent me Blue Night, Silver Dawn, had you written/envisaged the quartet yet or was it really just a novella?

JF: Behind Blue Night, Silver Dawn I already had a large, cumbersome mass of writing that I had envisaged as a single novel. At a critiquing retreat with my writing group, WA Egoboo, in late 2009, the unanimous verdict was that the ‘single novel’ was definitely a trilogy. Blue Night, Silver Dawn had started out as a short story about a character who I knew as a survivor in the world of Siaris, in a time-frame about fifty years before the opening of the trilogy. Once I asked this character, Revetia, what her childhood was like, she was so eager to talk that the story turned into a 40,000 word novella in the space of a few weeks.

When the call came out for novellas for your first Panverse anthology, I had no idea that what I would get back was a kind ‘no’—with great encouragement, a laundry list of issues to address, and the suggestion that with a secondary subplot the novella could go up to novel length!

The story gained another whole angle and much more complexity as more members of Revetia’s extended family got involved than I had ever dreamed of. I started consciously linking it at that point to the later novels, The Siaris Quartet took shape, and the novella turned into Daughter of Hope. Not exactly a ‘plan’, but it has probably worked because I knew the world very well.

DC: Siaris is a world of breathtaking complexity, complete with its own creation story and a history stretching over great swaths of time. When did you start building this world?

JF: Siaris first started appearing in my dreams (that I can remember) at eight years old. I started drawing its people and landscapes from around twelve, and the first stories were written during my teens. By my late twenties, I had amassed some three thousand pages of ‘dramatized history’, most of which got thrown out in a moment of ‘clearing the decks’. Six years ago, I came across the last few hundred pages in an old packing box and wondered whether this world and its characters might appeal to anyone besides me. It’s quite a strange, vulnerable feeling putting out there what was essentially a personal world, and also a total delight, as readers and fellow writers have responded to it with enthusiasm (and criticism, but that has its place too).

The last three years have been a period of intensive focus, learning the craft of writing to an audience without losing the integral aesthetic of Siaris or the authenticity of the stories and characters. I am now halfway through a first draft of the final book in the quartet, and have also written (and had published) several short stories set in a future time-frame…that have sprouted visions of sequel novels. So I may not be leaving this world anytime soon.

DC: Beyond Daughter of Hope, has Musa contracted the whole quartet? At what intervals (time between release)?

JF: I have just signed a contract for the second novel in the quartet, Traitor’s Game. It is scheduled for release on February 8, 2013, through their speculative fiction imprint, Urania. I’ll be very happy if the novels continue to be published at seven-eight month intervals.

Friends, I really can’t recommend this writer highly enough. Joanna has won a number of prestigious awards for her poetry and received an honourable mention from Ellen Datlow for her 2011 story, Black Heart. If you enjoy Dark Fantasy in any form, read Joanna Fay.

Joanna’s website is here, and Daughter of hope is available in eBook at $4.99 from Musa Publishing (summary and excerpt here), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “On Finding Diamonds

  1. Pingback: Review: Daughter of Hope | Lynette Aspey

  2. Aidan Fritz

    You don’t mention the other lesson to take from this. A no means exactly that. The story might be good, but it might not be the right fit for the anthology.

    I’m looking forward to checking out Joanna’s book.

    • Heh. Fritz, so true. Another thing I discovered to be true about editors is that it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what the ‘right’ story is till you see it. Also, any anthology is a moving target, narrowing as stories are accepted, since there has to be a certain balance and dynamic between the stories included.

  3. And thank you Dario for introducing a new reader to Joanna – know to order the first diamon

  4. Isn’t it remarkable how destiny and fortune can align themselves to bring about exciting new discoveries for mere mortals? Success stories like this are a great pleasure to read. Thanks to both of you for sharing a part of your journey.

    • Cordelia, welcome, and thanks for commenting! I’m glad that you enjoyed reading about Joanna’s road to publication. There’s definitely luck and circumstance, but persistence in the service of talent is what really gets you there. Getting that butt in the chair day after day, even when it feels like wading through mud. For me, that will and tenacity (see my last post also) is every bit as inspirational as the other part! 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Cordelia! Yes, the acknowledgements page for Daughter of Hope ends with ‘I know my good fortune’…so true! I’m sure my story-world’s *immortals* are happy about it too…;)
      As Dario says, there’s the other side too…the will and perseverance. The uniting thread, to my mind, is belief – the belief in what you’re creating, in ‘the vision’ – and that it is intrinsically worth sticking with and putting out there. And the glue, of course, is love; being in love with what you’re writing… 🙂

  5. Pingback: ‘Daughter of Hope’ and her origins… « Joanna Fay

  6. Dario, I can’t thank you enough for your words above…let alone the astute and generous critique and encouragement you’ve given me along the way, in getting ‘Daughter of Hope’ to where it is now! A bright star must have been shining when I sent ‘Blue Night, Silver Dawn’ to you…
    Here we go again….THANK YOU!!!! 🙂

    • Jo, you’re so welcome. It was interesting to go back and remember the discovery of your novella in the slushpile, and the strong impression it made on me. I’ve found that one of the really great things about the Science Fiction/Fantasy writing community–and perhaps the wider writing community–is its openness and camaraderie. So many people have critiqued, helped, and advised me along the way. It’s a real thrill to see a talent blossom, and we all know how much hard work it takes on the writer’s part. I’m honoured to have met you along the road.

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