Fresh from finishing my first book and sending it out to the publishing houses more to prove I wasn't a coward than out of any real belief it was publishable I set out to write my second book. I'd learned how to write conversations and scenes so I thought I'd tackle something with a bit more complex plot. A murder mystery, I thought, wouldn't be that hard. I'd enjoyed Aralorn's spying job and decided to try that again. Murder and politics go hand in glove. So I plotted out a murder mystery because I'd learned in school that you were supposed to start with an outline. Mind you, I usually wrote my outlines after I had the paper done, but I knew that was how you were supposed to do it.
In Masques, I'd found the perfect spy in Aralorn who could take the shape of a few useful animals. In Steal the Dragon, I decided I'd try to find a heroine who could also become a good spy. A servant, I decided. I do remember that I was quite firm about that in the outline. Five pages into the story I had a Really Good Idea. If a servant was invisible in a noble household, how much more invisible would a slave be? No, wait, an Ex-slave who is blackmailed into going back into ... Ouch. The first thing I realized, after twenty pages or so of whining, was that there really was no such thing as an ex-slave. It's something that sticks to you, like a rape or an abusive marriage. I threw out my outline and tackled the real story.
My writing skills were really not up to the job. But the story burned in my fingers, if I could just get it out. Writing Steal the Dragon was like rolling boulders up a hill. I threw away three pages for every page I wrote. I finally sent it off to Ace, where Laura Anne Gilman had already bought Masques. She very gently refused it but agreed to discuss her reasons and look at it again if I rewrote it. The problem, it seemed, was not with Rialla, but with her romance lead, Tris. He was always coming to the rescue. So I took a good look at him and realized something. This was Rialla's book, but Tris, like Aralorn (from Masques), was infinitely better suited for the job, shapeshifters being the perfect spies. So he would sit around until Rialla got in a tight spot and then rescue her, just like Superman.
I'd have to rewrite the whole thing. What helped the most in this project was that between the time I'd sent Ace the first, terrible, draft of Steal the Dragon and when Laura Anne rejected it, I'd written most of When Demons Walk and sometime during the process I'd finally learned to write.
So I made Tris something different a healer with a touch of the dryad -- and the rewrite came together better than I'd hoped. I dropped terrible scenes that still make me wince especially since I know my editor had to slog through them. . . giant spiders crawling down the buildings, Tris taking the shape of a park bench. . . really, really terrible scenes. And I was left with a book that in many ways is still my favorite.
I learned a lot from Steal the Dragon, not the least of which was that good editors make good books. Oh, and a bit of trivia if you'd like. Not having extensive experience with fighting, I draw upon my husband and his misspent youth for my fight scenes. I had particular trouble with the physical blocking of one scene in Steal the Dragon and finally made my husband write it for me. I polished it a bit and put it in. Obviously Mike did a good job of it, because that's the scene Ace used for the inside cover sample.