rosemary edghill: in the footsteps of dawn

People always say that writing is a lonely business, by which they mean that if you're doing it right, and doing it as a full-time job, what you're going to be doing as a writer is shutting yourself up alone in a small room surrounded by books and bits of paper for as much as 12 hours a day and for as many as seven days a week with nothing but you and your writing implements of choice listening to the voices in your head and putting them down on paper. This is the job definition of a working writer. When I get the rest of it out of the way, this is what I do, and what every writer does, because nobody else can do it for us. We sit alone and get the stories in our head that we have to tell down on paper.

Ideally all this solitude this produces books and short stories that people want to read. Ideally, someone will pay you for those books and short stories, maybe even pay you enough to live on. And usually this kind of isolation is not that big of a change in lifestyle for a writer, because writers start as readers, and readers....

(you're with me here, right?)

...spend as much as twelve hours a day sitting alone in a room....

Well never mind, you get the idea.

I was a reader before I was a writer. I can't offhand think of a writer who wasn't. Cereal boxes, comic books (we'll come back to that) SF Magazines, dictionaries... pretty much anything with words in a row. (My favorite question from non-readers who'd see all the books in my house: You read all those? Oh, no, they're just there to hold up the walls... )

The question a lot of people ask me is: how did you get started in your career as a writer? At the time I was preparing to make that irrevocable step into the larger world of Novelist, I'd sold a handful of short pieces to magazines that paid in copies -- which means that instead of giving you money, they give you several copies of the issue your story appears in -- a few horror shorts to magazines with names like CREEPY and EERIE, and stuff like that. So the idea of putting words on paper and sending them out into the wide world (and getting PAID) wasn't all that unthinkable, and I could certainly get behind the whole idea of getting paid for it....

But the whole idea of writing something longer ‑- about 600 pages longer, as it turned out ‑- was a real jump. It took real motivation. I'm sure you want to know what that motivation was.

Crankiness, spite, malice, and revenge.

I was reading a book ‑- which happened, as these things do, to be a Regency novel ‑- and not thinking at all about becoming a writer. At the time I was doing production and design at a New York graphic arts studio, a location which later found its way as background into some of my books, so I figured all my artistic impulses were pretty well taken care of, as well as a steady paycheck. But as I was reading along I encountered a passage in which the heroine took a train from London to Malta ‑- the island of Malta, you understand, an island surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea without a single bridge leading to it ‑- in 1805, several decades before the invention of the passenger train, ignoring all the rules of both history and geography ‑- and the Writing Fairy landed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear: you can do better than that.

Unfortunately, I am weak-willed and easily led, and had fallen in with bad companions besides. It was not long before I had settled myself down in front of my venerable IBM Selectric III (an actual electric typewriter) and typed: The early morning sunlight of the brilliant late March day sparkled off the sills and railings of the quiet row of townhouses in this fashionable section of London....

How hard, I thought, could this be? (Did I mention that I didn't know how to type at the time?) I had the collected works of Jane Austen. I had the collected works of Georgette Heyer. I had Will and Ariel Durant.

I had no idea what I was in for.

One year later I had a six hundred page manuscript (I called it The Earl and the Houri, but wiser heads later prevailed and it was eventually submitted under the title Turkish Delight), written entirely in secret, and a circle of friends who were pretty sure I'd lost my mind. Since I wasn't sure when I started out that I could actually finish a novel, since I'd never written anything longer than twenty pages at that point, I didn't want to tell anyone what I was doing, but I knew I needed every scrap of free time to work on it. That meant turning down dinner invitations, movie nights out, and weekend visits to the point that my nearest and dearest were sure I'd joined some weird religious cult or started prospecting for UFOs. It was a real relief to be able to come out of the closet in December 1985 and admit the truth:

I had become a novelist.

While I'd been working on Turkish Delight, I sold an SF short story called Hellflower, and my next project, while waiting to see if anybody wanted to buy Turkish Delight ‑- which it turned out someone did, if it was 50,000 words shorter, so India (Edghill, one of the bad companions I mentioned) and I cut that much out of it. Overnight. ‑- was to expand the Hellflower short story into a novel, which sold to DAW Books and became a trilogy: Hellflower, Darktraders, and Archangel Blues. For Hellflower, I switched to a computer (having also learned to type by now). My first computer was an Apple IIe with 128K of memory and no hard drive. It could save a whole ten pages to a file, and 80 pages to a 5 1/4 inch floppy, and I considered it a major leap forward technologically....

In between those books, I continued to write more Regencies -- three more, in fact, and then a funny thing happened.

Nobody wanted any more Regencies.

This is actually something that happens fairly frequently in Publishing. Tastes change, lines are cancelled... but by then it didn't really matter. I missed writing Regencies (but I wouldn't be away from the 19th century for long), but by now, even though I still had a full-time day job, I was also a full-time writer ‑- having become, while I wasn't looking, a genuine, dues-paid dyed-in-the-wool Writer. I'd write anything. In fact, when I finished up the Hellflower series, and my editor at DAW suggested I try a fantasy next, I said "sure!" and started writing The Twelve Treasures.

I didn't tell her I was also working on a mystery series in my spare time. And a time-travel-romance. . . .

And then my agent asked me if I'd like to collaborate with Andre Norton.

First I said "THE Andre Norton?" and then I said "yes!" and then I said "you're kidding!" and then I said "on what?" and it turned out that my four Regencies had been a lot more use to my career in Fantasy than I'd ever thought they'd be, because Miss Norton, SF Grandmaster and famous writer of The Star Ka'at and the Witchworld Books, among zillions of others, had an idea for a fantasy set in an alternate-history Regency universe and was looking for a co-author with a Regency background to work on them with her. And those became the Carolus Rex books: James Bond meets Jane Austen in a Regency that never was....

So I not only got to do the drooling fangirl thing with one of my favorite authors, but I got to go back to one of my favorite time-periods, use all that research that I thought I'd never have any use for again and do a cool Man from UNCLE/Wild Wild West pastiche. Who says you can't have fun at your job?

By this point, several years and several books after Turkish Delight, I was a fairly-well-established author, and because of that I was getting offers of other sorts of work. One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to make your inner child work for a living. Case in point:

I've been a comic book fan all my life, and an X-Men fan since issue #1. And because of that, I've gotten to write two X-Men tie-in novels, Smoke and Mirrors and Time's Arrow Book Three and a short story in Ultimate X-Men, which is not only ultimately cool, it is the ultimate refutation of all those people who ever said that reading comic books would never be any use to me in life. Hey, reading comic books got me a job, didn't they? As well as the chance to play in the Marvelverse.

So that's my story. Basically it all started because I thought I could write a better book than one I was reading and have fun while I was doing it.

Why do I bring this up? Because I've had a lot of fun going through all of my work in order to construct this webpage (did you know it's actually possible to lose entire universes behind the bookshelf?) and it's left me thinking that it's time to bring some back to life. I invite you to browse through my collection. Perhaps you'd like to read samples of my novels, or curl up in the library of short stories. I've also compiled some related extras, such as outlines, proposals, and novels that never were, if you're the type who likes to peer under the hood. And I always love to hear from readers -- you can contact me through my journal, where I'll also announce updates.

Who knows? Maybe someday I'll be reading you...

Rosemary Edghill was born long enough ago to have seen Classic Trek on its first outing and to remember that she once thought Spock Must Die! to be great literature. As she aged, she put aside her fond dreams of taking over for Batman when he retired, and returned to her first love, writing. Her first SF sale (as eluki bes shahar) was the Hellflower series, in which Damon Runyon meets Doc Smith over at the old Bester place. Between books and short stories in every genre but the Western (several dozen so far), she's held the usual selection of odd and part-time writer jobs, including bookstore clerk, secretary, beta tester for computer software, graphic designer, book illustrator, library clerk, and administrative assistant for a non-profit arts organization. She can truthfully state that she once killed vampires for a living, and that without any knowledge of medicine has illustrated half-a-dozen medical textbooks.

Her last name -- despite the efforts of editors, reviewers, publishing houses, her webmaster, and occasionally her own fingers -- is not spelled 'Edgehill'.