Magic Circles in the Sidewalk

A couple of weeks back, in response to my wandering “Friends of a Rainless

Changer and Legends Walking

 Year,” several of you were kind enough to mention how much you liked my novel Child of a Rainless Year (published May 2005 and still available).

A number of you then went on to mention how much you had liked one of my much earlier novels, Changer (published in December 1998 and currently unavailable).

Today’s wandering is a two-parter. First, I’m going to take you behind the curtain and show the circumstances that led to Changer being written. Then I’m going to address a question asked by Alan Robson of New Zealand, namely, why I’ve apparently “given up on the story.”

So freshen your coffee or tea, and travel back with me through time and space to Summer 1994, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

At this point, I’ve been living in Santa Fe with Roger Zelazny for a month or two. We’ve decided to take a break and go for a stroll, window-shop, grab some lunch. We’ve parked the car on a side street and are walking toward the plaza along a very narrow sidewalk.

I notice that someone had inscribed an elaborate pattern into the concrete when it was wet. I stop, astonished at what I see.

“It’s a magic circle, a pentagram, complete with crystals!”

Roger nods, keeps walking, not in the least surprised.

That was the moment my novel Changer was born. I don’t mean in its final form – like Athene from the head of Zeus, full-grown and in armor – just that at that moment I resolved to write a novel set in New Mexico soon, before the shine wore off the place, before I, too, took magic circles in the sidewalk for granted.

Now those of you with methodical minds are checking copyright dates, noting that the book wasn’t published until December of 1998. You’re thinking, “What happened? I’ve heard that publishing can be slow, but four and a half years?”

To be honest, Changer had a more troubled birth than most of my novels. I started it soon after the events recounted above. I had a strong image of what Changer himself looked like, that he was an immortal, associated with a community of immortals. The revenge theme was also firmly in place. If I recall properly, Changer was the first of my novels that I sold before it was fully completed.

But life got in the way of writing. After Roger died in June 1995, I was deeply depressed and overwhelmed. Suddenly, not only was my beloved dead, I had to find a new place to live, figure out what I was going to do, deal with all sorts of fallout.

However, at that point, I was also working on the computer game Chronomaster. That project had to be finished. I don’t program, but I wrote the storyline, based on some ideas of Roger’s. Later, I wrote the dialogue that went into the game itself.

(Scot Noel, my contact for the Chronomaster project, was astonishingly and amazingly kind and supportive. I met with a lot of kindness in those black days.)

When Chronomaster was done, I went back to work on Changer. I have a note in the daily writing journal I keep that by early September I had a hundred pages written.

A little later, I was approached by Prima Publications and asked to write both a novelization of Chronomaster and the player’s guide. I was also beta-testing the game. I worked on all of these projects simultaneously. I find a note in the writing journal: “Thank God for work.”

While all of this was going on, I was also house-hunting, moving, doing edits for my novel, When the Gods Are Silent. I finished the Chronomaster projects. By this time, the contracts had been finalized to let me fulfill one of Roger’s final requests – that I finish his two uncompleted novels: Donnerjack and Lord Demon.

I also signed a contract for Changer at this time.

The manuscript for Donnerjack had to be completed before I could write anything else, so I immersed myself in it. By mid-June of 1996, Donnerjack was written and mailed off.

Now that I had some time to myself, I wrote some short fiction and tried to get back into Changer. I found myself writing more slowly, unable to make any significant progress. Finally, I figured out why. Changer had been begun during one of the most difficult periods of my life. I couldn’t go back there, but neither did I want to abandon a story and characters that meant a lot to me.

I consulted with Jim (who by then I was dating), then made a tough decision. I would discard the whole of what I had written – roughly two hundred pages at that point – and start over fresh. On September 16, 1996, I began again with a somewhat different approach, using what I’d learned about employing multiple points of view when writing Chronomaster and Donnerjack. This enabled me both to “open up” the novel and explore a more complex storyline.

That version of Changer is the novel that came out in December 1998 – a book that started many years before with a magic circle inscribed on a sidewalk in Santa Fe.

Whew… Deep breath. Go refill your coffee. Then I’ll answer Alan’s question. (Warning or reassurance: I don’t plan to always wander at such length).

So, obviously I cared a lot about Changer. Why then have I, to borrow Alan’s words, “given up on the story”?

The short answer is, I didn’t. The publisher did and the publisher would say that the readers did.

There was a sequel to Changer. My title for it was Changer’s Daughter, a title which, like most of my titles, usually seems to mean one thing and, if you think about it when you finish the book, means something beyond the obvious by the end.

However, for reasons I’ve never understood, some higher-up at Avon books decided Changer’s Daughter was a bad title. My editor and I literally went through dozens of alternatives before settling on Legends Walking. (I was never happy with this; I kept envisioning Legends Hopping, Legends Leaping, whatever).

Avon also completely changed the style of the book jacket. Where the cover of Changer had been stark, stylized, and brightly southwestern in flavor, this jacket was busy, dark, and semi-photorealistic. So, between the altered title and altered jacket style, I’ve since learned that many fans of Changer had no idea that in December of 1999 a sequel, Legends Walking, was released.

The booksellers noticed. Avon ordered a reprinting almost immediately, but their action was too little, too late.

(I find this ironic, since the same group of people would be behind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a book that I’ve always thought was as much like Changer as two completely different novels could be).

When my agent and I proposed a third book in the athanor series, we were turned down. End of the road. Dead.

(Shall I be pathetic and admit that this was the same week that I learned my father was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease? Why not? I think it’s crucial that readers realize writers face life challenges outside of the marketplace).

Despite Avon’s viewing the books as not worth following up on, Changer has continued to have readers. It also won the Zia Award in 2000, the first time ever that an SF/F novel has been so honored. So why hasn’t it been reprinted?

Simply, Changer is now considered too long. In 2006, at the American Library Association conference, I was wandering the show floor with my then-editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books. A librarian who obviously knew him from elsewhere came up to him to chat. Patrick politely made introductions. The librarian raved about how much she loved my books.

Then she looked Patrick in the eye, all but grabbed him by the collar and shook him, and said: “Changer! I want Changer!”

Patrick blinked and said: “Next contract.” I was thrilled. But the offer wasn’t made. When my agent and I later pursued the matter (by then I was working more closely with Melissa Singer, also of Tor), Melissa read Changer, said she loved it, but also said that it was too long to be cost-effective as a reprint.

Dead again.

So will Changer ever come out again? Will the legends ever walk? I don’t really know. However, I do know this. The likelihood of my being able to sell a third book in a series where the first two books are out-of-print is about as likely as rain falling up. (It happens occasionally, but not very often).

Did I give up on the story? No. Would I go back if opportunity came? I might. I’d need to sit down and re-read the first two novels, see what new stories occurred to me. I’m a different person this decade and more later. I can play at time travel, but I can’t go back to who I was.

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13 Responses to “Magic Circles in the Sidewalk”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    Thank you, Jane. That explains a lot about both the books and about the stupidity of publishers. Compared to a lot of the junk that slithers onto the bookshop shelves, Changer isn’t long at all. These days it is probably an average size; perhaps even less than average size. Methinks the publisher doth protest too much, so to speak. Could there perhaps be some jealousy involved? Tor didn’t publish the first two books and thetefore maybe tbey have a jaundiced view of them?

    For what it’s worth, I loved Legends Walking as well. Both books left me wanting more. And I know I’m not alone in that feeling.

    Would the small press publishers like Subterranean be interested in follow up books? Their major markets seem to be in so-called minority interests. That is why they are small presses after alll. I must confess that I spend far too much money on books from the small presses. But my defence is that they often publish much more interesting work than the larger players in the game do. By definition the large publishers have to cater to the mass market and the mass taste and all too often that leads to dumbing down of the product – tbe lowest common denominator, perhaps. And a reluctance
    to take risks. Someone once coined the phrase “Extruded Fantasy Product” and i’m sure we all know what is meant by that!

    It isn’t invariably the case. If it was, then I doubt that many of your books would have been published at all for they are often edgy, out of the ordinary, anything but extruded fantasy product. Which is a major reason why I love your books so much, of course. But I can’t help wondering just how much publisher’s sour grapes are involved in the athanor series.

    I would love to read more of them, and I’d certainly be prepared to pay over the odds for an expensive small press edition. Do you have any ideas or notes or rough drafts for a third novel? You told me once that there was a short story as well, but I never managed to track it down…

    This is the longest piece of continuous prose that I’ve ever written on my ipad. I hope it makes sense — the first bit has scrolled off the top of the screen and I can’t work out how to get back to it to proof read it. So I hope I haven’t said anything too outrageous!

    Aren’t gadgets wonderful?


    Alan

  2. Katie Gruetzner Says:

    Not related to /Changer/ at all, but there’s an article about mah-jongg in today’s Wall Street Journal. Apparently it’s making a comeback in certain yuppie circles:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703631704575552683266650568.html?mod=ITP_TEST

    Jane Lindskold, Trendsetter. ^_^

  3. heteromeles Says:

    Thank you, Jane.

    I won’t pry into who owns the rights to Changer and its sequels, but if (and once) you have control of it, here’s what I’d suggest:

    (Re)Publish them yourself. Please.

    You might want to wander over to http://www.deanwesleysmith.com, and read his series on Killing The Sacred Cows of Publishing, but the short answer is, you may be able to make 50-60% of the cover cost of each book by selling an electronic version, and/or you might run it through a POD service.

    This is pure economics. You have a whole group of readers who have never read Changer, and there’s no reason not to release it (and the rest of your backlist), especially in electronic format. Because the Amazon and the flock take a far smaller share than does the a big publisher, you can afford to sell fewer copies and let word of mouth carry it along.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    Hi Folks… I hope this doesn’t stop comments, but I really wanted to clarify something ASAP

    Honestly, I don’t think there was any “sour grapes” involved. Tor did bring out my first novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, as a reprint and did a lovely job. Melissa Singer is a pretty honest human. If she told me what she did, she honestly believed it wouldn’t sell as much as a reprint.

    Whether or not she was right, I don’t know, but I think she was honest.

    Heteromeles:

    I know Dean and think he’s a grand professional…

    I own the rights to both Changer and Legends Walking. Right now I’m not interested in doing my own e-book or POD. It’s a lot of work and not work for which I have the skills. I know too many good writers who aren’t writing because they’re coding.

    I’d be happier to negotiate with someone else to do this.

    Katie: Thanks! I haven’t gotten that far in my WSJ today, but I shall look for that one…

    • heteromeles Says:

      That’s cool.

      I’m probably going to end up learning ePub and POD fairly soon, as people are clammering for reprints of my mom’s books. If you’re interested in a year or two, we might have something to talk about.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    Oh!

    And the athanor story Alan mentioned is in the anthology FAERIE TALES edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis, from DAW, 2004.

    It’s called “Witches’-Broom, Apple Soon.”

    Proof, by the by, that even a calender can provide inspiration for a story…

  6. Paul Says:

    I had been hoping for (at least) another volume in the Changer novels, too. I’m not sure what it takes to show publishers where a readership exists. Obviously, there’s one here.

  7. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Well, I’m late in responding, but count me in, too. I loved both books and would have happily continued with the series. Whether the cost of purchase was above and beyond “normal” cost for a book, I’d buy it. I agree with Alan that there is too much on the shelves today that doesn’t grip me the way Jane’s writing does.

    It struck me as poignant that something with the very real soul of a book would somehow be denied the right to live because of the arbitrary nature of the publishing world. I know that’s my weird way of looking at the world, but it left me sad.

  8. Rowan Says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever told you this part of the story… Changer was the second book of yours I read (right after Brother to Dragons, and the only thing I could find in Los Alamos), and I was absolutely tickled to find out that it was set in New Mexico. I can’t remember now if I read the blurb that said you lived in Albuquerque and it just didn’t click, or if I somehow missed that information completely, but it would not be until a year or so later that I realized you were a local.

    Later, I learned the valuable skill of actually reading about the authors themselves. I was very young, and it was a learning process.

  9. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I have both Changer and Legends Walking (and all the rest of the books of yours I have) on my “save and re-read” shelves, because I LOVED them and due to my abysmal memory for plots, will happily read them again, because I *know* I will love them. Bummer about no further books in the series. I like long books, if they’re good, and yours always are.
    There are few authors whose books I save to re-read.

  10. janelindskold Says:

    I’m always surprised that someone would be interested in the writer — sort of odd, coming from an English major, I know.

    But I’m glad that at least some of my books are “re-reads” for people. Those are the ones I tend to share with friends.

  11. WY Says:

    Too bad you didn’t get a contract for a third book. It’s such a great series you created. If people had the chance to read them now, there’d be lots of demand for more, but they’re just so hard to find now.

    Changer is probably my favorite of your books. I saw it on a library’s sale cart, before I’d read anything by you, and almost didn’t get it. I had so many books at home already, I didn’t want to get more, but the little bit I read got to me, so I ended up buying it.

    Well, it became one of my favorite purchases almost immediately. The characters were all so funny and real, and the narrative never seemed to drag. I really regret not getting the sequel at the same time. It was also there on the cart, but I was trying to be good and compromise. Ah, the regrets! It took me years to find another copy, and I still reread them.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    It’s always neat to hear how someone discovers a book.

    Library carts… Mixed blessing for an author, but often used book sales are the only way to find those titles the publisher has let go out of print.

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