The year 2009 is likely to be one of Jeannie Lin’s most memorable. In the span of eleven weeks she accepted representation from her agent, Gail Fortune of the Talbot Fortune Agency, sold her Golden Heart® finaling manuscript, Butterfly Swords, to Harlequin Mills & Boon and went on to win the Golden Heart in her category.
A former high school teacher, Jeannie spends her days working at her IT job and her nights writing China-based historical romance set in the 8th Century during the days of the Tang Dynasty. Her swordfight romances bring medieval warriors from the west across the silk roads to the empire of ancient China in action and intrigue filled adventures.
Jeannie and her hubby of one year took a romantic trip to Europe this past spring, a belated honeymoon, enjoying the sites of such cities as Amsterdam and Brussels. They wandered the canals of Amsterdam, gawked at the Red Light district, and explored Belgian chocolate shops. Can you say aah!
When she’s not at the day job or hanging with her characters, Jeannie likes to go to local farmer’s market with her husband and plan elaborate meals. She’s also bent on discovering all the tearooms and used bookstores in St. Louis. Jeannie is a fan of Top Chef Masters, her own culinary specialties being her version of Chicken Cordon Bleu and Cranberry Glazed Ribs .
Join me as we learn more about Jeannie and her writing journey.
Jeannie’s Journey Begins
•When you began writing four years ago, what were your long-range plans? Did you set out to get a book written within a specific time frame or to be published by a certain age?
I really just wanted to write as a hobby at first. I was teaching full-time and it took up my entire life; nights, weekends, I even dreamed about school. I was always thinking about my students and my lessons. I wanted balance, and I’d always loved writing, so I decided I’d try to write a full-length novel. No rush, no time limit.
•How long did it take you to learn craft and feel comfortable sending your work out for others to see? How many manuscripts did you complete in that time?
I’m still learning the craft with every page, but it was about two years before I finished my first manuscript. By that time, I decided I had invested too much heart and soul for this to be a hobby. I tried to query agents and one editor with my first manuscript, but realized very quickly that it wasn’t going anywhere. I completed the second one and decided to give that one a go because it was stronger than the first. While I queried with Butterfly Swords, I wrote my third manuscript.
•Your stories have a unique setting. What was it about the time and place you chose that said, “This is it”?
I was trying to blend the Asian wuxia stories I loved with the traditional Western fantasy I read so fervently in high school. It was “Jin Yong meets J.R.R. Tolkien”. Of course, most westerners will only recognize one of those names. 🙂 On top of that, I’ve always been fascinated by the strong female figures of the Tang dynasty, but many of them had such sad, tragic endings. Because that time period was such a muse for me, it became my anchor. As I researched and learned how to develop characters, the story became more historical in nature.
•How did you first meet your characters? Did they start carrying on conversations in your head? Did you picture them acting out scenes movie-style? Or did they appear in your dreams?
Oh, I always laugh at this. My characters never “talk to me”. I wish they would, because dialogue is so hard for me. I suppose I do see them movie-style in my head. Thank you for that picture! I daydream for hours and hours and hours before I commit to a character. I do this without any sense of plot – so I guess I’m really lying when I say I’m a plotter. I’ve daydreamed and discarded so many scenes in my head, and the ones that stick with me start becoming my characters.
•November 23, 2008 was a big day for you. The Gateway to the Best coordinator called to tell you The Dragon and the Pearl had taken first place. How did you react to the news, and what did this win mean to you?
I was thrilled to final, of course, but the truth is it made me question everything. The editor requested a full. She placed Dragon & Pearl first above the overall Gateway winner who scored absolutely perfect marks in the first round. I dare say, it was the first time anyone had requested to see more off of reading my pages even though I’d been querying for six months.
At that moment, D & P had only 25 fast draft pages written. My baby Butterfly Swords was complete and lovingly polished and didn’t final. The new manuscript was riddled with issues, which the judges did notice — but something else drew them to it. I had to do some soul searching and figure out what it was that D&P had that Butterfly didn’t. I wasn’t ready to give up on Butterfly yet.
(Just because I’m so fascinated by things coming full circle, Hilary Sares sat in front of me at the Romance Writers of America® Awards Ceremony at Nationals and I finally got to thank her for requesting that manuscript. There she was, the first industry professional who saw some potential in my writing.)
•More good news came your way. On March 25, you received a phone call many romance writers long to get. A Romance Writers of America® board member was on the line telling you Butterfly Swords was a finalist in the Golden Heart®. How long and loud did you shout for joy?
I literally fell to my knees in my living room. Then I wanted to run around in circles all day. The buzz still hasn’t gone away. Reminiscing for a moment now…
•The next big event took place May 1st of this year. You signed with your agent. What led to the offer of representation? How did the two of you go about establishing a game plan?
I can honestly say the Golden Heart nomination started everything in motion. I nudged with the news, and agents finally read the partials I had out and requested fulls. I sent out a fresh round of queries to dream agents who hadn’t rejected me yet.
Gail Fortune told me it was my first five pages that did it for her. She requested my full and hadn’t gotten to it when another agent offered. At that point, Gail read it immediately. When I spoke to her, it was her publishing experience and her faith in Butterfly Swords that hooked me. On Friday, I accepted representation. By the next Tuesday, she had me in the TBR pile of a dream list of editors. She was like a lioness. It was amazing.
•Your strategy paid off big time. You headed to RWA Nationals as a Golden Heart finalist, but before the first full day of the conference was over, you’d sold your first book. Did you get The Call, or was the news delivered in person? There’s got to be quite the story here. Tell us, please.
Yeah, about the strategy… Okay, now this is the behind the scenes information. Do I dare say? *Looks left, looks right*
Harlequin Mills & Boon wasn’t one of the publishers my agent submitted to. Neither of us thought of them, but I knew that a mystery judge had requested the full off of the Golden Heart contest. HMB called the Thursday before conference, but I was busy with the day job. So, I saw an odd number, which I looked up on Google to find the area code. “441” came up as eastern California, so I called back expecting a technical support issue — but it rang to the offices of Harlequin Mills & Boon. They were closed because of the time difference. My reaction? I want my mommy!
I spent all night fretting. The next morning I e-mailed my agent because it was like, 5 am when I was up and bouncing around.
HMB called again and I missed it AGAIN. Gail contacted them and within 20 minutes, we had an offer. But the manuscript was still out with other publishers and because of the time differences between the US and the UK, I spent a sleepless weekend waiting for responses and flew to conference on Tuesday still wondering what would happen.
There was some scariness in the midst of this. I haven’t said this before, but I knew from the agent hunt that it was going to be a hard sell. Twelve agents read my full — only two thought Butterfly Swords had a chance in this market. It was the same with publishers. No one in the U.S. wanted to take a chance. It’s easy to imagine me on a wave of euphoria through all this, but in truth I was getting hit hard with the reality that having a good manuscript was sometimes not enough. Then what was I to do?
On Wednesday morning, Linda Fildew from HMB called my cell phone after we accepted. It was too soon for details, but they were excited and felt that Butterfly Swords had international potential. I was in the hotel room with my Romance Diva buddies. We were in the middle of a Pilates session and after a round of hugs, they insisted that I go down in my workout clothes to get my First Sale ribbon. I broke into tears in the elevator.
•Good news sometimes comes in waves. The ones heading your way were so frequent and so intense they must have threatened to bowl you over. Still on a high from your First Sale taking place at Nationals, you headed to the Awards Ceremony. You rode the crest that night, winning the Golden Heart for Historical Romance. What was it like hearing your name called and going on the stage to accept your award? How did you celebrate?
I heard my name and, for once, the fantasy in my head matched what actually happened!
My husband flew in that Saturday to hold my hand. I knew I was a contender because HMB had been one of the judges. And I wanted it so bad! I don’t know, I just felt that Butterfly Swords still had such a long way to go. I still feel like I’ll have to fight for it, tooth and nail.
You’ve probably figured out that I’m a crier. 🙂 On the GH ’09 loop (Ruby Slippers forever!) they told us to practice the speech. Every morning at conference, I’d go into the bathroom and try to practice, and I cried every time thinking of all that had happened. I’m so glad I did that, because I think I held it together pretty well on stage.
When I returned to my seat, my husband kissed me and my phone was going crazy with text messages. People were refreshing the RWA website online to get the news. At the first break in announcements, I stepped outside to call Gail and she already knew. That was a big moment because she had told me she couldn’t imagine Butterfly Swords not winning the Golden Heart. And her dream was for me to be able to announce my first sale on stage. Of course, she told me she couldn’t make any promises — but everything that she said came true. She was one of the few that believed it could happen.
That was the celebration for me – to be there among friends like my Romance Divas and my chapter mates. To have Jade Lee, one of my favorite authors, come up to congratulate me for “carrying on the torch”. Calling Gail and my Little Sis. The moment in itself was the celebration. I suppose I should also buy something lavish or go out to dinner or something. 🙂
•Your journey may strike others as swift, but there were years of work and worry before the pace picked up. You faced fear and doubt, along with rejections. How did you deal with the harsh reality that your setting was a hard sell?
I kept on writing. I told myself that in the end, it was the writing and not the setting that was getting rejected. My philosophy is that every rejection means one thing: Your writing isn’t good enough yet. It’s just as hard to break in if you’re writing Regency or vampires.
You know when people say, “Write a phenomenal book and someone will buy it?” I took that to heart. And I have a day job that keeps me fed in the meantime.
•In order to hone your skills, you put your writing “out there” for others to see. How did you deal with the plethora of comments from critique partners and contest judges?
If there’s one thing teaching has given me, it’s a thick skin. I never dismiss any feedback. Sometimes I’ve had to search hard and figure out what wasn’t working. Sometimes the “fix” was not immediately evident to me from the comment, but there’s no such thing as “that person just didn’t get it”. At the core of all this, you have to hold on to your writing instincts. There are so many angles and facets to writing, there’s no such thing as conflicting comments. One person says “loved your description”. One person says “the descriptions fell flat”. Those two are not incompatible. It means you did it right in some spots – now do it right all the time.
I wholeheartedly thank all my readers and my contest judges. I can track my progress to minute detail through contest feedback. I can pinpoint the turning points in my writing. I don’t believe I have talent. I believe that hard work and obsession brought me here.
(By the way, if you’ve ever judged an entry of mine – I forwarded a thank you note if I was told it was possible. I don’t know if they all got out, but I really mean it when I say I wouldn’t have been able to do this without contest feedback)
Partners on Jeannie’s Journey
•As I read your blog posts, I was impressed by the many references to your “Little Sis.” From all you’ve said, I gather she’s been your staunchest supporter and fiercest critic. What makes her such a valued partner?
Stephen King said something about finding your ideal reader and hanging onto her. I’m blessed that this person is my sister. There’s a joke among Asians to the effect that “tough love” is redundant – when your family is harsh, that’s a sign of true love. To take a crappy manuscript and mine it for gold is an act of love. To be able to tell me that the entire last half of my manuscript is falling flat and exactly why – that’s love baby. Not a lot of people are strong enough to do that.
(Hmm….I wonder if this Spartan attitude towards criticism didn’t help in general…it feels a little bit like love to me when I get criticism. LOL.)
My Little Sis writes YA and has earned her MFA in creative writing, but that’s just details. She has killer instincts. She doesn’t read romance, but she reads all over the map. Most people critique a manuscript for what’s wrong and don’t touch the stuff that’s passable. My sister knows how to cut deep and tell me how to elevate it. But it’s not her trying to rewrite my story – she’s looking into it and finding what it could become and I don’t even see it yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to find her working as an editor one day.
Jeannie’s Journey Continues
•What are you working on now? A sequel to Butterfly Swords, perhaps?
Done! The Dragon and the Pearl is the sequel to Butterfly Swords and it’s ready for one last shine before I send it to my agent.
What I’m actually working on right now (hope to be finished when this blog “airs”) is a novella targeted for the Harlequin Undone line.
Jeannie’s Debut Novel
•Please tell us about Butterfly Swords.
A swordsman from the West becomes stranded in imperial China and happens to save a princess in disguise. That one act of honor ties them together in a journey across the empire as they escape from a powerful warlord and fight against both the cultural and political barriers that keep them apart. There are a lot of classic romantic adventure elements in the story, but hopefully with some new twists to keep it fresh.
Five Facts About Jeannie the Writer
~ I write everyday. Even if it’s a crappy two sentences.
~ My first “book” was a picture book in 2nd grade for the Author’s Fair at school. It was a mystery and received rave reviews from my teacher.
~ I defiantly LOVE purple prose. I’m working on restraint.
~ Stephen King’s On Writing changed my life as a writer.
~ When I get stuck, I drop into writing long hand. Putting pen to paper physically activates a different part of my brain — I really do believe that.
Five Fun Facts About Jeannie the Person
~ I’m a breakfast for dinner sort of girl. Eggs Benedict is my biggest weakness.
~ I really am a perpetual optimist.
~ My favorite movie is the Princess Bride.
~ Throughout my life, I was always the math and science girl. When my college roommate learned that I sold a book that was her first response.
~ My mum wanted to be a writer and a teacher, yet she wanted me to be a doctor. Go figure.
Jeannie’s Question for You
•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Jeannie. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. And now it’s your turn to ask your visitors a question. Have fun!
This has been fun! Keli does an amazing job, doesn’t she?
I couldn’t think of any good questions except for the very first one I asked on my blog. I cheated by cutting and pasting it here:
Here it is in a nutshell: I write swordfighting historicals set in ancient China because it’s what I love. I do it not because it is easy, but because it is hard. I’m stubborn.
What’s your stubborn muse?
Learn More About Jeannie
Visit her Web site – http://www.jeannielin.com
Visit her blog – http://jeannielin.com/blog
Friend her on Facebook – Jeannie Lin
Follow her on Twitter – JeannieLin
Leave a Comment for Two Chances to Win
Keli’s Regular Drawing
My next drawing will take place September 10th.
The winner will receive a visit from Gerard Butler.
OK. Not exactly, but she will get to see him in one of his famous roles.
I’m offering a DVD of The Phantom of the Opera in which he stars along with Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by September 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On September 11th, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and September 30th. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On October 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your debut novel in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)