Happy Bookday, Rebel Flight!
Once upon a time (isn’t that the way all great stories begin?), I was asked to participate in a short story anthology. Julie Czerneda was the editor, and the stories were all supposed to involve a human relating to some special animal. I jumped at the opportunity, immediately emailing Julie to ask if I could write a story about a griffin.
“Nope,” Julie said. “Someone else already chose a griffin.”
“How about a dragon?” I asked.
“Sorry,” Julie replied. “I’ve already got a dragon.”
“A raven? Do you have a raven yet?”
“Raven’s all clear,” Julie said.
And so my story, “The Darkbeast” was born, with its raven protagonist, Caw. Caw was a darkbeast, a scapegoat in the Biblical tradition. He listened to the failings of his magically bonded companion, absolved her of her sins, and waited to be sacrificed on a holy altar when she officially came of age. The rebellious and brave young woman, though, chose not to sacrifice Caw. Instead, she set him free, fleeing her village and seeking her fortune on the high road.
Fantastic Companions was published in 2005. The anthology got good reviews, and a few readers commented specifically on my story. Then, we all moved on to other things.
But my raven darkbeast stuck with me. I kept thinking about what happened the day after the short story ended. I wanted to know how Caw survived when his life was spared. I wanted to know what his rebellious companion encountered.
And so I tweaked a few things. I shored up the religious underpinnings of Caw’s world. I identified twelve gods and goddesses that reigned supreme in the land. The heroine’s coming-of-age ceremony would naturally come at age twelve, so she became a bit younger, a bit braver, a lot more rebellious. A lot of names changed. Cultural roots were modified.
With a twelve-year-old heroine, traditional publishing companies decided the book was intended for middle-grade readers. I was fine with that — some of my favorite books are intended for that age group — but I refused to “dumb down” my language or to change the challenging aspects of my plot — the religious questioning, the very real meaning of blood sacrifice.
“It’s a well-wrought tale that finds that difficult balance between accessibility and depth…” — Publishers Weekly
“Tightly woven and carefully constructed fantasy.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Carefully chosen images and rich language set the tone for Keyes’s unique society…” — The Horn Book
“Will entrance fans of fantasy and satisfy those who prefer their stories more grounded in reality.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
And then nothing happened.
By the time the book launched, Borders Books & Music had closed down. Barnes & Noble refused to carry my novel for unstated reasons (although a buyer hinted strongly that the store did not want to promote a story about a child who rebelled against the religion of her parents.) The book’s cover was hotly debated by me, by my agent, by my editor — it was gorgeous, but it was bright and sunny (at a time when most middle grade covers were in dark jewel tones), and it featured a girl (immediately alienating half the potential reading audience.) Major national promotions were derailed by shipping errors, by changeovers in marketing staff, by a hurricane (yes, a hurricane!) that raged the week thousands of copies of the book were supposed to be distributed to New England children. Many Mindy Klasky readers never found the book, because it was published under a pen name, a move designed to prevent children from accidentally discovering my hot contemporary romances.
Nevertheless, I wrote a sequel, picking up from the solid conclusion of the first volume and spinning out another “what happened next?” story. I fought for a cover that depicted both a boy and a girl (I won, but the boy was a half-size figure in the distance of a wintry cover my agent — rightfully — said looked like a Christmas card.) The handful of bookstores that had carried the first book declined to order the second. Sales languished.
Ever a glutton for punishment, I proposed a third book in the series. Simon & Schuster politely declined to make an offer. Three years after my first darkbeast novel was published, all rights to both volumes reverted to me.
And now I’m publishing them for you.
Even now, the path has not been clear. In preparation for my new series launch, I selected a new title, a perfect title, a title of my heart — only to change it at the very last minute when a surprise book entered the publishing field with the exact same name and a marketing empire behind promotion. A handful of people remember my pen name and the old editions, and they’re confused by my new books. I’m targeting adults with my new series — they’re my original audience, and they’re the intended audience for my Glasswrights Series — even though my heroine is young, because adults can remember the passion and the mistakes of twelve-year-olds, even as they understand the full impact of decisions young people can be forced to make.
But none of those challenges matters today. Because today is Book Day. Because Rebel Flight is available in stores. Because I finally get to share Caw’s story with all of my readers, claiming it proudly, without hiding behind a pen name. (The second book, Rebel Lost, will be published on March 28.)
You can read the first chapter of Rebel Flight for free. I hope it makes you ask questions, the way “The Darkbeast” made me ask questions. And if enough of us care, I’ll finally be able to write that third book in Caw’s world.
Who knows? Maybe there are even more stories to be told in a land where twelve gods and goddesses guide tradition, demanding that one young woman slay her closest friend on a holy altar…