• Ryan Kurr

13 Pages : An Origin Story


Stack of notes for Sage, Smoke & Fire.


It all began in 2013 in a creaky, third-floor apartment in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago. My partner at the time and I had been watching a lot of witchy television and the song Mirror Friends by Lucky Dragons came on Pandora. I listened for a few moments and then turned to him to ask, "What kind of ritual do you picture when you hear this song?" The answer involved cauldrons of blood and milk and a woman being carried away by a swarming cloud of dragonflies (out of control). It was shortly after when I started compiling notes for a book about witches that I had no idea I was actually going to write. I made regular trips to my favorite occult and metaphysical supply store, Alchemy Arts, in my spare time and I would browse the books, looking for research. I had a lot of ideas. I took a ton of notes, most of which didn't make any cohesive sense. When I reached 13 pages of notes, I flipped to a new page in my legal pad and I began to sketch out the types of witches, what their powers were and why they had them. Sure, I had a lot of cool ideas, but I really had no idea how to weave them together into a story. I wanted to include the decline in the population of bees, pyromancy, earth tides, skeptics, recipes, spells, fanaticism, love, death, fear, Vodou and alternate planes of consciousness. I took one look at my notes as a whole and just shook my head. Where do I even start?


Somewhere between my personal life falling apart and me being unable to handle the stresses of working in a professional pastry kitchen, the saga and all of its notes were shoved into a corner for another time. I began working on a new book that helped me process both my life falling apart and my crippling anxiety and fear of failure. That's when I wrote, "Sugar Burn: The Not so Hot Side of the Sweet Kitchen." Which really is a whole different story for another time. Things changed, as they always do. My partner and I broke up, I had a little mental break, impulsively moved to New Orleans and started working for two restaurants as their Pastry Chef. That is also another story for another time (but honestly, I'm so over talking about how it was a shitty job where the dishwasher got paid more than I did and the chef came in two hours late and took naps on my sacks of flour, so let's just move on.)


Flash-forward to June of 2019 and I have left the restaurant world (bye!) and my mornings no longer started at 5:30 am. Instead, morning began at 8, or 8:30, sometimes 9:45. I would have coffee, leisurely stroll around the house saying "I'm going to write today...I'm going to write today." But I would always take one long look at the haphazardly collected pile of notes and instantly have a case of the I don't wannas. I could feel how much work there was to do before I could even get started, if I wanted it to be any good that is. I'm not always the most motivated when starting things I'm not immediately amazing at. But on June 12th, I sat down and I began working on an an outline for the story. It was obvious that I had too much material for a single book, or even two books, so I decided I was going to break up the saga into a trilogy. According to one literary agent who read my manuscript, publishers are currently backing away from series and duologies are the new trilogies. Being the Aries that I am, and quite stubborn (control freak) I scoffed, rolled my eyes and said to myself, "I'm still doing a trilogy." To be frank, I am of the opinion that literary agents are great, and traditional publishing houses are great, but they aren't the only option. I don't think they always get it right when they act as gatekeepers and get to carefully select who they let into the kingdom based on how well something will sell. I get that things have to sell. Yet, I also think there are a lot of great and talented writers out there who get overlooked because an agent or publisher wants a very specific thing, or a specific thing told a certain way, or to look a certain way. It instantly reminded me of an Instagram rant by Mark Eckert, a music producer I follow (mostly because I like hearing his business and production advice that is applicable to any sort of production based industry) in which he talked about how large, commercial labels are great if you can get signed, but it is by no means the only way things are getting produced and distributed. Some of the best and most interesting music is being produced by people doing it themselves out of their basement. It takes hard work to do it yourself, and both the music industry and the publishing world are very subjective and they are not built for the faint-hearted because there is so much rejection. But you truly can't quit. For Sage, Smoke & Fire, I sent out 152 queries to literary agents and publishers. 63 of those rejected me, the 89 others never got back to me. It took me three months to complete my manuscript and revise it twice. After a while, I stopped waiting around for an agent to fall in love with my story, one that (I still feel) was very much not for the mainstream. So, I took Mark's advice, and I plotted to do it all on my own. I had done it before back in 2015, but with very limited means and the results were meh. This time around I would go harder. What was the worst that could happen? I found an editor, who made two run-throughs and gave me a polished copy to work with. Then it was all up to me. And like the control freak that I am, I got to do it how I wanted it to be done.


I wouldn't have had it any other way to be honest. I'm very proud of what I've done, including tackling the learning curve of going through what it takes to produce a book for sale on your own. Yes, it took a lot of time, more than I would have liked. Yes, it was incredibly frustrating. But, when I was very young, I told myself that I wanted to move around the world and write a book that took place in the area where I was living (which I have done, although not all of those stories are published.) So I couldn't have moved to New Orleans and not start writing the series I had written 13 pages of notes for. If you have something you want to do...try it. You never know what kind of magic you'll end up with.


The farmhouse floorplan for the coven's home in Sage, Smoke and Fire.


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