The White Mists of Power
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First, let me establish the fact that The White Mists of Power, the first novel I sold, was not the first novel I ever wrote. As with most writers, I wrote quite a few novels before selling one.
However, The White Mists of Power was the first novel I finished as an adult.
Huh? You might ask. Well, I started writing novels when I was a kid. My first (which I blush to remember) was a Partridge Family tie-in, written in (of all things) a Gothic romance style. Yes, I had a thing for Keith Partridge. Yes, I had read the other Partridge Family tie-in novels and I had been inspired.
Needless to say, that book has never been published. Neither has the classic Star Trek I co-wrote with my friend Toni Rich during our 7th grade English class. Or any of the other pretentious novels I wrote in high school (all mimicking something or other).
I wrote all of those books longhand. When I got serious about publishing, I wrote on a typewriter and, anal me, retyped every single page with a typo rather than using Wite-Out. With that kind of obsessiveness, a novel seemed impossible.
I had to get my first computer before I attempted a “real” novel. I wrote that novel, The White Mists of Power, out of order, then sat on the floor of my office with the chapters spread before me, organizing them into something that made sense. Little did I realize that process would be my normal process on novels—only at some point, I was able to ditch the actual physical sorting process for a virtual one.
Because I made my living as a non-fiction writer, I included a cover letter that had back cover copy in it—and that copy was good. Because of the cover letter (and the book), my novel worked its way up the food chain more than once. It didn’t sell, but I got letters back from vice presidents of companies or heads of book lines.
I had no idea that was a good thing.
I went to Clarion, learned I’d made a “mistake” in that novel. But I was a few novels down the road, and I decided not to fix it. I did retire the book, since it was “flawed.”
I wrote other novels (which didn’t sell) and a lot of short stories (that did sell), and then I got nominated for every award that existed in science fiction and fantasy. An agent called me, selling himself, and asking that I be his client. I had no idea that was unusual either, and stupidly, I didn’t research him from a business perspective. That led to serious problems down the road (he had sticky fingers), but at the time, I went with it.
He needed a novel to sell. I only had one that wasn’t under submission elsewhere, so I sent him The White Mists of Power. He sold the book within a week. Then I gave him a list of the other books I had under submission, and he talked to the editors.
He sold eight books of mine before the first ever saw print. For a while, I thought that was how it worked: you wrote a book, submitted it, got paid, and no one would print it.
Although the lack of publication wasn’t his fault; it was mine. I kept winning awards, and the publisher kept deciding to move the book around in the schedule. First, the book was to be a standard release (no promotion, no nothing). Then it became a second release (behind some big name author). Then it became a lead title.
I was a pretty young thing. After the senior met me, he decided to promote me as well as the book—very baby-doll cheesecake in a 1990 kinda way. I was hugely embarrassed, but the strategy seemed to work.
Almost three years after the novel sold, it finally hit the stands.
Then the reviews came out.
I cringed even more. Remember, the book had a “mistake,” as I learned at Clarion. But to a person, every critic—every person—who has read that book has loved that mistake. The mistake is a giant, unexpected (but set up) twist, and it made the book rise above standard fantasy fare into something original.
Seems if I had gone to Clarion before I had written the book, my originality would have vanished with the “should-haves.”
I have taken that lesson to heart. I don’t like should-haves, and I don’t do them if I can avoid them.
Ironically, I’ve published several first novels since—at least reviewers think so. Mostly, the reviewers are correct from their perspective. My first Kris Nelscott book about Smokey Dalton got reviewed as a first novel most of the time (the publisher didn’t want to admit that I was a white woman writing about a male African-American detective). My first Kristine Grayson novel got reviewed (when it got reviewed) as a first novel in the romance field—and so on with each and every pen name I’ve used.
Now, I ignore all that noise and just write what I want to write.
But that first novel—that first sale? It was an extremely big deal. I felt validated (more than all those short fiction awards made me feel), and I felt like a Real Writer.
The day of the sale, my boyfriend (now my husband) Dean Wesley Smith sent a dozen roses to my day job. My first novel sale, my first dozen roses. I think he bought me dinner too, but I don’t remember. The rest of that day was a gigantic blur.
I don’t remember the day the novel got published either. I just remember how it felt to finally sell that “flawed” novel, and the way my voice didn’t work for hours afterward, and how lucky I felt.
You know, I still feel lucky every time I publish a novel. I’m privileged to work in this industry, doing what I love, something I’ve done since I was a little kid scrawling on a yellow legal pad. It still amazes me that people like those scrawls and pay me cash money for them.
By the way, The White Mists of Power is still in print, which is why I won’t tell you what that “mistake” is. Check it out for yourself and see if you can find it, and, if you’re a writer, figure out what a workshop would have said about it. You’ll know it when you see it.
And for the record, “flaw” and “mistake” are in quotes, because I now realize that I didn’t make a mistake at all. Rule breaker that I am, I wrote that novel exactly the way it should have been written—