The Skylark’s Song

How The Skylark Got Her WINGS

Those Who Would Kill A King by Archia

Those Who Would Kill A King by Archia

In a WWI alt-history fantasy, the first female Glider pilot becomes a reluctant vigilante to escape capture behind enemy lines. Disguised and armed with a stolen rocket pack, she becomes the infamous Skylark and changes the course of a war where the poor and downtrodden are the only ones to pay the price.

 

Reuts Publications, publisher of my upcoming The Accidental Turn Series, has just announced that we have also signed another three-book deal for The Skylark’s Saga.

So. Wow… wow.  Well, I know what I’ll be doing for the next two years. Two three book deals. How cool is that?

Are you all excited? I am very excited. Nervous, yes, but happy. Very, very happy.

The story of how The Skylark’s Saga came to be is this:

I moved to Toronto in 2007, did my MA, and made some author friends. In that time I wrote and polished Triptych, and in April 2009, pitched it to Dragon Moon Press. While they were reading it to decide if they wanted to sign it (they did, and it came out to great critical acclaim in 2011) I, like the dutiful author I was, began a new novel.

Or tried to write a new novel, at least. Over the next two years I started and stopped a few books, finished one and promptly shelved it, and in general spent a lot of time spinning my wheels and trying to figure out where I wanted to direct my career. I wrote and published The Dark Side of the Glass, but none of the novels I wrote or came up with were what my then-agented was looking for.

In 2010 I looked at my new author-type friends Lesley Livingston and Adrienne Kress and thought, “Gee, this YA thing is taking off in a bigger way than I thought it would. I can… I can do that, can’t I? I can write an action/adventure Chosen One love story in an alternate world with a YA protag. How hard can it be?”

(In retrospect: turns out? YA is really effing hard. I have so much respect for YA writers. So much. I was barely a teenager when I was a teenager, so trying to get back into that mindset was difficult for me.)

So, with this idea that I wanted to write my first YA book, I began looking for ideas.

Then of my friends, during a particularly inebriated party at a Steampunk convention in mid-2011, dared me to make up a story based on the costumes/personas of the people in the circle who were drinking with us. I did. It was about a mechanic-turned-vigilante, a brothel madam spymaster and her hired muscle, an evil king, and a debonair bounty hunter. And the next day another friend said to me, “You know, that was a good idea. You should write that.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed, but you never know until you try, right? So I tried.

Eventually I had to shift around some of the personas, and swapped some of the characters, but in the end I think it actually made for a good story. More than that, there was definitely enough story there to keep the narrative going into a series.

Right around when I finished the book was when I was starting to look for an agent. Now that I had the leverage of the award-nominated Triptych and the help of my editor to connect with some bigger agencies, it was a much different experience than when I had been shopping Triptych my first novel.  I sent the book around, and got a handful of requests for partials, and about five requests for fulls. Three of the agents wanted The Phone Call.

I scheduled three phone calls, and took them sitting the hall outside of my day-job office.

One agent offered straight up; one agent offered pending revisions. One agent (Laurie McLean)  said that she was considering offering pending revisions. However, she said (in a very warm and motherly way, which I thought was very good of her) suggested that if I had an agent who loved the book enough that he was willing to sign me and work with me on the revisions, that I might be better to go with him. That, she explained, was proof of an agent really loving a book – that they loved it even when it wasn’t ready yet.

So, I signed with him.

Of course, I didn’t realize that he would want me to change everything about the book.

He thought the girl was too feminist; that my prose was too issue-laden (he kept saying, “No, write me something like Triptych” which, if anyone’s read it is the most issue-laden book I’d ever written); thought I should turn my protagonist into a boy or make her prettier; didn’t like “that Victorian romance nonsense – if they’re gonna do it, they should just do it“; seemed okay with how I made her religious, even if it was a made-up religion, but was sometimes snide about it; didn’t like that there wasn’t originally a romance in it at all and really didn’t like it when I explained that “getting a man isn’t actually the be-all and end-all of every girl’s existence, you know. Especially when she’s a vigilante wearing a rocket pack and spending her nights dodging bullets.”

He was contradictory, confusing, and kept trying to pare it back into something more and more insipid and washed out and …. meh. I loved the novel less and less the longer we worked it. I was getting really upset. The one thing he did that I really agreed with was to suggest removing the bounty hunter character, as he kept getting in the way of the protagonist being, well, heroic.

In the end I wrote 74 drafts of the damn thing.

He started shopping it because, I feel like, I bullied him into it. I was sure that he was just being whiney about how empowered the female character was. But by then the book was so muddy that no one wanted it. Editors barely understood it. Heck, I barely understood it, and I wrote the darn thing.

I was very, very disheartened with my first experience with an agent.

By chance I met Laurie McLean at BEA a few months later, and she asked me how things were with The Skylark’s Song and I was so frustrated and upset with it all that I barely managed to keep from bursting into tears on the spot.  We talked instead about what she thought of the book, and what changes should have been made, and I departed the conversation furious with myself that I hadn’t gone with her as my agent. What Laurie suggested was a lot more thoughtful and level headed than what I had been wrestling with.

It made me realize that I had picked wrong. While a good agent in his own right, my agent was not the right agent for me. After several more conversations with my agent, I decided the best thing for me and my work was to part ways with him. Soon after, Laurie offered me representation and I was happy to accept.

We took The Skylark’s Song back about twenty five drafts, back to when the story was a lot let muddied and my protagonist was still herself. I created plot synopsis for two more books – The Skylark’s Search and The Skylark’s Sacrifice, with a vague hope that maybe someone would want a trilogy.

And right around that time, I was talking to Bob of Victor Sierra, and he had mentioned that they were writing a new album, Yesterday’s Tomorrow. I jokingly asked if they’d like to write the actual Skylark’s Song Song, and he said yup and I sent him the book and… then they actually did it. Which. Okay. AWESOME.


It made me feel confident in my book again. It made me realize that when I looked at the book I only saw the upset and suffering that it had caused me. But when other people read it , they were seeing the story that I had originally fallen in love with.

The story that I had forgotten to love amid all the edits and revisions, and un-revisions.

A story that I fell back in love with.

While Laurie shopped The Skylark’s Song, I finished up what eventually became The Untold Tale. (You can read the publication journey for The Untold Tale here.) It was signed earlier this year with Reuts Publications.  Laurie was still shopping The Skylark’s Song then, but I had started to prepare myself for the truth that Laurie might want to shelve it. I still loved the story and the world, but there are times when, as professional writers, you have to make the choice to stop flogging the project that won’t sell and focus on one that will.

There were vague plans about boutique publishing, or self publishing, and I even reached out to some artist friends to request quotes for cover images.

But that is not what ended up happening.

You see, when a publisher signs a book (or book series) with an author, they generally ask the agent “Hey, does that author have anything else we could look at?”

And when Reuts asked this, Laurie said, “Why yes. Yes, she does.”

I don’t know what happened on the Reuts side of things (probably some squeeing – that’s Ashley, Summer and Kisa for you, they’re unabashed fans of all the books they’re publishing; it’s so flattering), and I’m sure their post will walk about their reaction to the book, but on my side there was a lot of blinking and disbelief.

I know, more than once, I said, “Wait, really? Wait. Really? Really-really?”

The book that I thought nobody would want was wanted. The book that I feared, once upon a time, was unsalvageable was salvaged. The story I told my friends, laughing, sitting around at a convention, dressed up and dreaming, will be shared with the world. Songs were written about it, and now it will finally see the light of day! (In 2017!)

So I’m happy to say that as of The Skylark’s Song has been signed in a three book deal with Reuts!  And there are developments coming with the song. And that I am going to cosplay the bananas out of this book.

Links to More Cool Stuff!

JM FreyHow The Skylark Got Her WINGS
Read more

THE SKYLARK’S SONG – SIGNED!

Skylark Announcement

Skylark - PM Screengrab

About The Books

From the REUTS Press Release:

THE SKYLARK’S SAGA is a three-­book YA WWI alt­history fantasy from author J.M. Frey. Scheduled to release in 2017 from REUTS Publications, The Skylark’s Saga combines the militaristic steampunk of Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan with the espionage of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate and rebellion of Marie Lu’s Legend ​Trilogy. Suited for a 16+ ​audience, this gripping series features a PoC protagonist and centers on the morality of vigilantism, the burden of power, and what it means for the poor and downtrodden when the nobility play at war.

“The Skylark’s Saga is the story of seventeen ­year ­old Robin Arianhod, a flight mechanic with uncanny luck who’s been raised in the shadow of war. But after unexpectedly becoming the first female Glider pilot, Robin’s luck fails. Targeted by the Coyote, a ruthless enemy dishonorably picking off crippled airships and retreating soldiers, she finds herself shot down and forced to seek shelter behind enemy lines. The only way to survive—and finish her mission—is to don a disguise containing the mystical rocket pack she stole from the Coyote and become the infamous Skylark. Told with Frey’s signature ability to subtly weave social commentary into adventure, The Skylark’s Saga tackles issues of racism, classism, and the grittier side of heroism in a soaring tale that asks readers to look at the morality behind the vigilante.”

The Skylark’s Saga follows The Skylark over three books as she tries to not only end the Saskwayin-Klonn war, but also put paid to the class feud between the Saskwayin Benne and her own people, the traditionally migrant Sealies. All while, of course, trying to figure out the origins of W.I.N.G.S., her wondrous rocket-pack, and to find the true King of Klonn and get his butt back on the throne… before the Coyote corners her into having to take it for herself.

Links

About the Author

J.M. Frey as Thalia on the set of "Ruffus the Dog's Steampunk Adventure!"

J.M. Frey as Thalia on the set of “Rufus the Dog’s Steampunk Adventure!”

J.M. is an actor, voice actor, and SF/F author, fanthropologist and professional geek. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. She is a Steampunk nerd at heart, best known on the internet for her Steampunk Shadow Cat and Steampunk TARDIS Gown cosplays, and is looking forward to finally being able to stretch her literary WINGS into this aesthetic.

Her debut novel TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards,  won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, was nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly.

JM FreyTHE SKYLARK’S SONG – SIGNED!
Read more