How I raised a nixie for fun & profit

Cover art for Waters of Versailles by Kathleen Jennings

Cover art for Waters of Versailles by Kathleen Jennings

An essay about the genesis of my sexy Historical Fantasy novella Waters of Versailles, edited by the legendary Ellen Datlow for Tor.com. It’s also available as an ebook at Amazon, OmniLit, Chapters Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple iBooks.

When something bad happens, people who are otherwise reasonable and kind humans will say terrible things like, “In the end it’ll all be for the best,” “This will turn out to be a great opportunity,” or “When one door closes another door opens.”

It’s really quite unforgivable, isn’t it?

Too bad it’s often quite true.

It was April 1, 2013. I had been working for an architectural firm, doing great work, putting my heart and soul into my dream job. I had no idea that the axe was overhead until they called me into the boardroom. I was laid off along with about a half dozen of my co-workers. (Architects shed staff like fleas, by the way. Don’t work for architects unless you know this.)

I was devastated. Of course I was. And on April Fools Day, too.

I was also scared. You see, I’m the major breadwinner in our family. My darling Alyx has a couple part time gigs in addition to writing but I’m the bacon-bringer, the meat in the sandwich, the mortgage-payer. Without my paycheck, we’re utterly screwed.

So, yes, scared. Shitless.

What did I do? I cried a lot, then picked it all up and started looking for work. And I also started redrafting, from scratch, a story that had been emphatically not working. I pulled out a great piece of advice from the brilliant Steven Barnes (which I’ve blogged about here), put it down on the table, and started again.

Six weeks later, Alyx and I had sold our Vancouver condo and moved to Toronto. I got a new job, new city, new horizons to explore. And I was drafting a story that was, bit-by-bit and slowly-so-slowly, teaching me how to write. Finally, after years of desperately trying to learn to write while everything was comfortable and stable, at a time of great personal stress and upheaval I was able to figure out some of the skills I knew I’d been missing.

So this is how getting laid off — which probably ranks as #5  on the list of worst things that have happened to me in my adult life — gave me Sylvain, and the little fish, Annette,  Gérard, a parrot, and a monkey, and a colorful Versailles that still leaps off the page into my mind. It gave me my first big-time professional sale, to the best-paying, most prestigious market in the SF field, to an editor I’ve admired since the 1980s, Ellen Datlow.

I’m not the kind to forgive and forget. I’m not that easy-going. But the memory of getting laid off doesn’t hurt anymore. In fact, I might actually be grateful for it.

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