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Urban fantasy/paranormal author Kelly Meding’s debut novel, Three Days to Dead, is coming out this November from Bantam Dell. When she’s not writing, Kelly can often be found on Absolute Write where she gives unpublished writers hope that new authors can, and do, get published. Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book and the road to publication.

Can you give us a brief overview of Three Days to Dead?

Three Days to Dead is the first in a new dark urban fantasy series from Dell.

Evangeline Stone was one of the best Dreg bounty hunters in the city, until she wakes up in a morgue, stuck in a strange new body, with no memory of how she died. As she struggles to piece together the missing, final week of her life, she learns she may possess information vital to stopping a devastating alliance between the city’s vampires and goblins…and she only has three days to remember what it is.

Urban fantasy is often populated by tough female protagonists with sharp senses of humor (I like to blame Joss Whedon – and, by “blame”, I mean give him big hugs and thanks). What would you say sets Evangeline Stone apart and did you worry about competing with heavy-weight genre characters like Anita Blake and Mercedes Thompson?

(I’d like to give Joss Whedon big hugs and thanks, too. He’s certainly been one of my inspirations for many, many years, and he’s created some of the most memorable hours of television ever.)

I love discovery stories (the heroine has no prior knowledge of the paranormal until she’s thrust into it head-first), but I’d sort of done that with other novels I’d trunked. When I set about creating this world and the character of Evy Stone, I knew I wanted a character who was already immersed in the paranormal world and was really good at killing the paranormal critters who hunted humans (the Dregs). So she started out as the typical tough female protag, but by beginning the novel with her resurrection into an untrained, unknown body, I was able to turn those skills on their collective heads. She knows how to throw a knife and kill something at a hundred paces, but dang it if this new body doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination to do it! She’s at a disadvantage from the start, she doesn’t have all the answers, and as her memories start to resurface, she discovers deep emotional scars that affect her in ways she just doesn’t like.

As for competing with Anita and Mercy….I wish. I haven’t read the AB series, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that I hadn’t read the Mercy books until this year (but I now bow to the feet of Patricia Briggs, because I freaking adore her books!). I really didn’t think much about competing with the current market as I was writing—doing so is crazy-making. The best think you can do when writing a first draft if to write for yourself only. Don’t think about the market or your potential audience. Write something you love and you’re proud of and it’ll show in your work.

My best hope is that Evy is able to make a mark of her own, however large or small.

Three Days to Dead is the first in a series. A lot of new authors are advised not to mention series potential in their query letters, but urban fantasy seems to be a genre which seems to love its series writers. How many Evy Stone books are planned and did you mention “series” when you queried agents?

I think mentioning or not mentioning something as part of a series definitely depends on what genre you’re writing in. Urban fantasy is perfect for series writing, because it gives the author and readers a chance to continuously explore these unique and exciting worlds. So yes, I did put the standard “this novel stands alone, but has series potential” in my queries. But I didn’t let myself entertain the series notion (ie, work on book two or expand the overall story arcs) until we actually sold to Dell. I’d written sequels to unsold books before, and I wasn’t about to jinx this one.

So far there are two contracted books for the series, and I’ve plotted in my head as far as four. The story I have in mind to tell can go on further, and there are so many supporting characters begging for attention, as well. However, if sales allow it (*fingers crossed*) I think Evy’s story would stop around six books.

A lot of new writers are so focused on finding an agent that they don’t think about next steps. Once you had an agent, how long was the road to publication? Did Three Days to Dead undergo any significant changes between the draft that you sent to your agent and the book we’ll see on shelves next month?

My road to publication with this book was super-fast. Everything happened last year, within eight months. I sent agent queries in February ’08. Was offered representation in May by a terrific agent. We went on submission in July and had an auction in August. It was the right book at the right time, and it got into the hands of the right people.

Another aspect a lot of folks don’t expect is the length of time between that first offer and actually seeing your book on store shelves. There are so many things that happen in between—contract negotiations, editorial letters, copy edits, cover art and copy, galleys, promotion. Every once in a while I hear folks who say “editors don’t edit” or “new authors will be dumped out there without any support,” and those things are just not true. But the few folks who have bad experiences are more likely to shout it to the rooftops than the majority of us who have good ones. That’s why learning everything you can about the industry BEFORE you seek publication is a good idea—know what to expect so you know how to spot a scammer.

/end tangent and back to question

The original draft has a few semi-significant changes character-wise, although no full scenes were ever cut and the plot itself never really changed. My agent and I did two rounds of edits, one of which altered the way a particular relationship plays out (to my eternal gratitude, because it’s just a million times better this way). When it got to my editor, a few more scenes were tweaked and mined (I was rather mortified when she pointed out a glaring logic flaw in the ending), and she had me add a scene to further clarifying things. So somehow the final draft is actually 2-3k longer than the original, but mostly the same story-wise. Everything that I changed made the book so much better.

Some people believe that previously unpublished authors without MFA’s have a better chance of finding Atlantis than getting published. Do you think you’re the exception to that rule or is there hope for new writers?

There is absolutely hope for new writers, and no, I don’t think I’m an exception. Maybe an MFA will help if you write literary, but it’s certainly not necessary for all genres. No education is wasted education, in my opinion, but “Author” doesn’t come with specific resume requirements. An MFA is no guarantee you’ll ever be commercially published. Your manuscript should be able to speak for itself, regardless of your credits and degrees.

New writers sign with agents every single month. Editors buy debut novels every single month. Every single author you see on bookstore shelves, whether they’re a NY Times bestseller of eighteen novels or a struggling mid-lister with four, was new at one time or another. No one is born a published author. You don’t have to know someone or have a contact within the industry—I didn’t. Most of my author friends didn’t.

Learn your craft. Find your voice. Write a story you love. Polish it until it shines.

Then hunker down and treat publication like the business that it is. Don’t take rejections personally. Be persistent. Be polite. And be prepared for criticism—if you think agents are tough, wait until that first editorial letter comes across your desk. *grin*

I’d like to thank Kelly for taking the time to talk to me. Three Days to Dead will be released on November 24, 2009. You can keep up with Kelly by reading her blog and you can read the first chapter of Three Days To Dead here (click the “Features” tab).

The Shifter web

Today is release day for fellow AW’er Janice Hardy. Her debut middle grade novel, The Shifter, is officially out and about as of this morning. Stupidly, I did not order a copy online, trusting that at least one of the local bookstores would have a copy (same thing happened with Break; I never learn).

Congratulations Janice!