I Could Plaster My Walls With Rejection Letters—and a Million Lessons Learned, a guest post by Alexandria Rogers
One bright Christmas morning, The Witch, the Sword, and the Cursed Knights plopped into my head in the form of a dream.
My window was laced in frost, ivy wended down the staircase, and the entire house smelled of my mom’s homemade French toast. Yet all I could think of, all I could see, were the remnants of a vivid dream where Camelot fell to ruin. Golden towers cracked and dragons spirited from the sky to the curious tune of the Nutcracker Suite.
As fate (or a well-curated Christmas list) would have it, I received pocket-sized green notebooks covered in dragonflies that year. Surrounded by unfurled ribbons and torn wrapping paper, I curled up in the corner of our couch, and penned the first details of this story that was already carving out eternal space in my heart.
It is centuries after the mysterious fall of Camelot, I wrote. And in a swish of star-speckled robes and a crooked pointy hat, under moonlit cover of midnight, Merlin climbs out of a hole in an old willow tree, and strides down the quiet streets of Boulder Falls, Wisconsin.
I knew this was the book I was meant to write.
And I knew it would be published within the year.
That was over a decade ago.
I quickly discovered that dreams are not, in fact, stories, and vivid though it had been, I couldn’t quite find—well—a plot. I further ascertained that in order to be published within the year, I would have to write it.
It was easier to plan.
Not the plot.
No, that still eluded me. But character outfits and cities and obscure rules of magic I knew even then would never make it to the page—they filled my soul, and reminded me, whenever I grew too daunted to continue, why I fell in love with writing in the first place.
It took four years just to write my way out of the first act, so to say I’ve written this story in starts and stops would be a vast understatement. I wrote it in the library of my college campus in a leafy Ohio town. I scribbled away in London bars and Parisian cafes, a boiling apartment on the edge of Los Angeles, an Edinburgh bookshop overlooking a castle. And home, in Wisconsin, behind frosted glass of my childhood bedroom as the scent of my mom’s cooking wended through the house.
When the book failed to receive any agent interest in 2016, I could nearly hear the whirl of a thousand unfulfilled dreams, spiraling into oblivion as my heart cracked. But I had a good support system. The best. And a voice that whispered, “Keep going. Not yet.” So, I wrote something new, and something new after that, again and again until I found my feet, and in 2019, nearly a decade after that one dream, I dusted off my shelved manuscript, and rewrote the entire story from scratch.
At the time, I railed against this long and winding journey of mine. I could likely plaster the walls of my house with rejection letters. But I could also plaster those walls with a million lessons learned.
And now, I’m glad it took so long.
For during all that time in-between, I lived. The book is the culmination of decade of growing and learning and becoming an adult, finding comfort in my own skin I could hardly imagine as a teenager.
My two main characters, Ellie and Caedmon, struggle with self-esteem. As an illegal witch, Ellie will never, under any circumstances, fit in. And Caedmon, coping with the death of his best friend, is simply not himself. He’s quiet. He’s failing school. And he’s absolutely certain that he doesn’t deserve to be drafted as a Knight of the esteemed Round Table.
Not him, not ever.
Without the many years of this strange and meandering journey to publication, I would not have been able to give the same level of depth to Caedmon and Ellie’s emotional arcs. They’re the heart of the book, and a reflection of my lived experience, quietly wondering if I would ever be enough. Quietly learning I had always been enough. The waiting made me patient, it helped me listen. It made me realize my writing voice had to come first, for how was I ever to determine which edits resonated if I couldn’t hear the rhythm of the story? And how was I ever going to manage that without developing confidence in the story I was telling, and myself as its author? Myself as a person?
The book has become so much more than a half-told dream. Dreams, as I learned, are not stories, though they make for beautiful inspiration. Stories have to be told. They need work. Good work, beautiful work, but real, gritty work, and the ability to continue no matter how many times someone tells you that you can’t.
People often ask me about one piece of advice I’d give to aspiring writers. It varies, because I wouldn’t want my subjective advice to make anyone believe they don’t qualify as ‘real’ writers.
But if I had to pick, I would say be bold enough to believe in your own extraordinary perseverance. And do the most miraculous, bravest act of all that would make even the Knights of the Round Table gleam with pride: create, and persist. If you’re bold enough to try, what you wish for in your heart of hearts will not pass you by.
Meet the author
Alexandria is the author of middle grade fantasy adventure, The Witch, the Sword, and the Cursed Knights.
After receiving her master’s degree at City, University of London for her non-fiction book on the romantic mythology of Paris, she acted and wrote in Los Angeles. Eventually, she discovered she preferred drizzly days to eternal sunshine, and that she didn’t want anything to divert her time from writing.
Now the Wisconsin native lives in Edinburgh with her husband and dog, in eternal search of excuses to visit Paris.
About The Witch, The Sword, and the Cursed Knights
A charming middle-grade fantasy debut that puts a new spin on the legend of Camelot, perfect for fans of The School for Good and Evil and A Tale of Magic…
Twelve-year-old Ellie can’t help that she’s a witch, the most hated member of society. Determined to prove her worth and eschew her heritage, Ellie applies to the Fairy Godmother Academy—her golden ticket to societal acceptance. But Ellie’s dreams are squashed when she receives the dreaded draft letter to serve as a knight of King Arthur’s legendary Round Table. She can get out of the draft—but only if she saves a lost cause.
Enter Caedmon, a boy from Wisconsin struggling with the death of his best friend. He first dismisses the draft as ridiculous; magic can’t possibly exist. But when Merlin’s ancient magic foretells his family’s death if he doesn’t follow through, he travels to the knights’ castle, where he learns of a wicked curse leeching the knights of their power.
To break the curse, Ellie and Caedmon must pass a series of deathly trials and reforge the lost, shattered sword of Excalibur. And unless Ellie accepts her witch magic and Caedmon rises to become the knight he’s meant to be, they will both fail—and the world will fall to the same darkness that brought King Arthur and Camelot to ruin.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 02/08/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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