My first novel, Mahalia, was about a young woman betrothed against her will, who – when her world fell apart around her – gathered up the pieces of her life and fought for the safety of her family. It had romance (not planned, just springing up organically). It had economics (a favorite part of my books, whether or not it’s visible to others). It had a complex magic system and humor and friendship.
It was, objectively speaking, not a great book. The magic system wasn’t explained well. The world, so clear in my head, wasn’t fleshed out in the manuscript. There were three separate antagonists. Mahalia herself didn’t undergo substantial character growth over the course of the novel.
But I loved it, and I still love it. Even though I have now rewritten it, there will always be a place in my heart for that first version. That novel taught me that I was capable of writing novels. It showed me, in the way nothing else could, some of the pitfalls encountered while trying to put a story on paper. I brought a character and a world to life, and that was no small thing. I loved the accidental magic explosions and the snark and the prickly romantic leads, and I loved (and still love) Mahalia’s courage.
The novel was full of fire and humor and irreverence – because while storytelling is the most human thing we can do, the most natural, it is also one of the most audacious. Stories have toppled empires at the same time that they bared the soul of the writer. Writing stories, and sharing them, is terrifyingly audacious. You wonder just why you’re allowed to stand up and say something. You wonder if people will hate you for it, or – sometimes worse – simply not care.
It’s been a little over five years since I published Mahalia, and I would never have guessed the journey I would go on after that. Because one story led to another and another, and each brought a set of new skills, hard-won, and I came, a little bruised and battered in the absolute best way, directly up the cliff face to here: a freelance author and part-time writer, spinning worlds out of the ether.
So before you listen too much to the popular wisdom that first novels aren’t that good, take a moment to remember what first novels are: a terrifying, audacious, miraculous leap. An act of courage. They are stories full of rough edges, and glorious not in spite of that, but because of it.
Here’s to first novels.