Some very excellent news to announce: yesterday the contract was signed for my novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon! It’s my 25th book but my very first novel, and it’ll be released in June 2020 from Epigram Books. I could not be more excited! I started work on this book in my final semester of graduate school, way back in 2005; there was a lot of worldbuilding and character development and experiments in tone, but once I had the first line, I knew that there was something special here:
It was late morning when Zed arrived, incognito.
(I ended up adding a prologue later, so this is no longer the first line, but I still love it and its nod to Kafka.)
I worked on it off and on for the next few years, but then got stuck at about 30,000 words and didn’t know where to go from there. Something was holding the novel back; something fundamental wasn’t working. This was around the time that I started teaching secondary school in Singapore, which was more than a full-time job and required all of my mental capacity, so I put the book aside for a couple of years. And as frustrated as I was that I wasn’t able to write the book during that period (though I did create flash fiction regularly to keep my hand in), I needed that time for my brain to subconsciously identify the problem and come up with a solution.
One of my protagonists, Zed, was supposed to experience a fall from grace that would push him out of his relatively comfortable life and propel him into the obstacles I set up for him. And to dramatise this fall, I portrayed him as an arrogant asshole who actually had his life transformation coming to him. But since the first part of the story is from his POV, I realised that this was alienating to the reader. Zed needed to be more accessible from the start, so that when his fall comes at the end of that section, we’re compelled to turn the page to find out what happens to him next.
So I reconceptualised his character from scratch and rewrote those first 30,000 words, and that momentum allowed me to continue on and on until I eventually reached the end. As a sort of bookend, I crafted the final 30,000 words during the 2012 Write-a-Thon for the Clarion Writers Workshop. A few months later, I started my job as Fiction Editor at Epigram Books, and came back to the manuscript for editing. I engaged a number of trusted first readers, who gave me excellent feedback, which I used for the next draft.
At that point, I sent the novel off to a literary agent who had apparently been following my short fiction career up to that point, and he agreed to represent me. I was thrilled to work with him, but after an initial flurry of submissions to publishers, he unfortunately sat on the book for the next five years and became less and less communicative. In early 2018, I broke off our association; earlier this year, I pitched the book to my boss at Epigram Books, since it shares a fictional universe and timeline with Diary of One Who Disappeared, and it was accepted, at last, 14 years after I first imagined the story (and 7 years to the day after I first started work at Epigram Books).
I’m incredibly excited to be able to share this novel with readers next year, and I feel that it’s some of my best work. So yay! I’m officially a novelist! 😀