Finishing a Trilogy
When I finally sat down to tackle the copious amount of notes that I had for a fantasy series, I will admit...it felt like it was going to be stuck in a permanent state of development. My concept, a story about witches for witches, did feel like a concept that would remain, well—conceptual. I had taken so many notes and had so many different ideas that it proved to be overwhelming above all else. I'm the first to say it, I'm not the most organized person, so when I decided that I was going to try and complete the task of writing a book with two sequels, I don't know if I truly thought I was going to actually finish. Yet, here we are, a few days before the release of the third and final book. A task that began in 2015, started to take shape in 2019-2020, and will now finish on the 6th of September in 2022.
The very first working title I had for the first book was Attunement, a title that I didn't love, but it was a theme that I wanted to explore throughout the series. Of course, a story about witches has plenty of witchcraft, much of it taken from my own experiences, practices and knowledge of ritual magic, but at the crux, it was really a story about trauma, self-discovery and strength. If I am to be totally honest, I don't believe I really knew that until I finished the second book, Powdered Oak & Seven Metals. I imagine it's very similar to a musician or songwriter who writes lyrics and produces a song and then only in retrospect years later, they have a listen, are struck with an epiphany, and they say to themselves, "Oh...so that's what that was about!"
It wasn't the easiest road either, nor did I actually think I would self-publish it myself. I, like many authors I'm sure, have the hopes of making it through the thick-ass gates of the literary world and nailing an agent and having a lot of the heavy lifting done for you, because they believe in you (and also think they will make money off you). Back in 2015 when I wrote Sugar Burn: The Not So Hot Side of the Sweet Kitchen (ironically about my trauma of working for one of the most toxic bosses I have ever encountered in my life) I had a lot of interest from literary agents, but only one made the decision to sign with me. I was over the moon; I couldn't believe that after having written, not one, not two, not three, but four books, I had finally managed to take a step forward. I was with her for about a year, before we canceled the contract. She had burned through her entire contact list, and nearly all of the publishers said they really enjoyed it, but they didn't know how to market it. Which, still to this day, doesn't make a bit of sense to me. But I was determined to share my story, not just because the kitchen environment was one of the most fucked up places I had ever worked, but I also wanted to achieve my dream of being a writer, a job that I felt was unattainable, unrealistic and stupid...the kind of job where you make sacrifices to try and make it work, while constantly feeling like an imposter because you aren't Stephen King, and you worry that everyone is thinking, "Oh...that poor guy...he's still trying to make it as a writer." I once had a friend refer to my work as "another shitty book," and I have to say, those things stick with you. And apart from all of that, I went ahead and self-published it anyway. It wasn't the cleanest or the prettiest, I hated the cover, but I didn't have the means to do much else. So I released it because I was tired of waiting, and I wanted it out there (impatient Aries).
It was around that time when I started to develop the idea for Esoteric Alchemy while listening to "Mirror Friends" by Lucky Dragons, and watching my boyfriend at the time act out the ritualistic images he had in his head. Shortly afterward, my life fell apart, I wrote another memoir about heartbreak, and moved to New Orleans to work on my witchy story, or so I told myself. In truth, it was a large reason why I moved here, but one I very much regret, haha. Yet, I don't think I would've written the story I have without being here. When I finished the first book, I decided that I would do the tedious, soul-crushing work of querying literary agents, yet again. rejection after rejection after rejection. Finally, one showed serious interest. They read through the manuscript with their assistant, and they sent a long email back with questions, suggestions, and requests for changes. I did try to appease them, but they still wanted more.
That's when I said screw it, I would just do it myself. I will be the first to complain about gatekeeping in the industry, I think it's exclusive, ridiculous, subjective, and formulaic, and is not a solid method of showcasing interesting work. Agents are looking to make money, and they knew what they like and what they can work with. I knew my story was for a very specific audience, and I wasn't going to compromise on it, even if it meant getting a deal. What would be next? Removing pieces I felt were necessary, not having a say in the cover design? They just didn't understand the story that I wanted to tell, and that's ok, I would just have to hustle and do it myself. Which is what I did.
I banged out book trailers, researched all the marketing techniques I could find, I hired a publicist and a designer. Some things were helpful, some were not. Next, came a little success. I reached the bestseller list on Amazon a few times, under their LGBT Fantasy category, painfully read the 1-star reviews, enjoyed the 5-star reviews and always wondered if any of it was actually worth celebrating. It never felt good enough, and it was very challenging to get past the criticism of people who didn't enjoy it, didn't understand it, people who hated the fact it had material and content that they didn't like, found triggering or gratuitous. Which will happen, it will happen for any writer. No one is going to like everything. I sure as hell don't love everything I read, watch or listen to. Most of the time I don't leave a review for something if I hate it, I just leave it alone. Unfortunately, ratings and reviews are an ugly reality because it affects the success of something, especially for indie authors, artists, and musicians.
I knew there were going to be people who thought it was darker than they expected, more violent, but I left those things in the book for a reason. I am a firm believer that things don't change if they are ignored. It's like people who continue to buy chicken, thinking their food comes from the supermarket and not from a farm, or worse, a slaughterhouse. Many of the incidents of violence in the first book, come from real-life incidents that happen throughout the world, hate crimes that happen and don't get the outrage and attention they should so they can be addressed and changed. I wanted to tell the story in my own way, unapologetically so, truthfully and not gratuitously. I wrote a reflection of our society in the world today. Some scenes were constructed from real-life events that have actually happened. Those scenes were hard to write, probably harder than it was to read, but it's also important, because my mission as a writer is to allow people to see, feel and understand what is happening on the page, without censoring, because life doesn't work that way. Things are beautiful and horrible, and I have the perspective that a lot of wrongs aren't addressed in this world, because so often we turn away, and choose not to acknowledge something is really going on because it makes us uncomfortable. It's communication with authenticity. So I powered through it, kept going, and started to work on book two.
My goal was to finish a book a year, which meant I had to be finished by the end of 2022. I had a general outline for the story, but things changed, the story began to write itself, apart from my guidelines and outlines. Characters changed, their arcs shifted, and in some cases, scenes and storylines disappeared completely. The two things I am most proud of are the covers and the Esoteric Compendium in the back of the book, with spells and recipes. My friend Max said that it only made sense to combine my two talents and add the recipes into the book since food does play a role throughout the entire series. My editor actually reached out and said that she's made one recipe in particular several times already! And the covers, much like the story itself, the third one is my favorite. Allison Layman was my terrific designer and she worked with me to create the vision that I had in the back of my mind, and I couldn't be happier. It is one of the very first things that I hear whenever someone sees the book for the first time, everyone loves the covers.
My next goal, albeit an ambitious and slightly unrealistic one, is for my story to be adapted into a film. I never thought I would finish Esoteric Alchemy and hold it in my hands, but...here it is. So maybe things can happen if you work hard and never quit.