Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything isn’t the first novel I’ve written. Nor the second. I suppose you could say it was my third full and finished novel, but that doesn’t feel like anywhere near the whole of it. It feels like it erases all those words I’d written before and between—the two novellas, the hundreds, maybe thousands of poems, the short stories and flash pieces, journal and diary entries, letters and notes, fanfiction, prayers. Millions of words, I’d reckon.
When I think of all those words, I think of stars shimmering in the night sky. Not necessarily for their beauty, but for their numerousness. So many, you could spend a thousand years counting them all. I suspect this is similar for most writers—you could stack all our words on one another and end up with a staircase to Neptune and back.
I wrote my first full and finished novel when I was twenty-five. I put five years of work into it total, and then I went into the query trenches.
I stopped crying after the fiftieth rejection, and after the hundredth, I moved on. It took me three months to write my next novel, which I put aside to work on my MFA in poetry. When I queried it, it was mainly to distract myself from brutal postpartum PTSD. I recently found that old query letter and discovered several typos—really a reflection of my state of mind that year.
The idea for Sia Martinez came in the middle of a walk. At the time, I was writing my MFA thesis. Things weren’t quite like when I wrote my first two manuscripts—I had a baby and school, and overall felt much too overwhelmed to start a whole new book. But the idea persisted, and a few weeks after I graduated, I went to work on it.
It took me nine months to write and revise Sia. I wrote while my son took his bath in the kitchen sink of the various basement apartments we rented in Jersey. I wrote as he nursed and then as he napped. I wrote as he played at the park, sometimes managing just one or two words at a time between pushes at the swing set, my notebook balanced in the crook of my arm.
After revising the manuscript, I read every entry of the Query Shark blog, and then wrote rough drafts of ten different queries. I cut and pasted them back and forth, back and forth, until I had something I thought looked alright:
All Sia wants is to no longer be known as the Angsty Girl Whose Mom Died. Unfortunately, this is way harder than it sounds.
For one, she lives in the same town as Sheriff McGhee, the jerk who got her mom deported in the first place. And, of course, his son Jeremy’s only goal in life is to constantly remind Sia her mom deserved to die.
Literally, though, the biggest thing preventing Sia from getting past the worst event of her life?
The blue-lit spacecraft that crashes in front of her car.
The one her dead mom crawls out of.
Sia and her mom have to run now, before they arrive.
Kinda hard to do when they turn out to be armed soldiers alongside an honest-to-God alien. Apparently her mom’s newfangled genetic makeup is their most illegal secret. And they plan to keep it that way.
Sia will do anything to keep from losing her mom again, even if it means risking her own DNA.
As long as this lady’s still her mom in the first place.
This query was more than alright. It got me around twenty partial and full requests, leading to three offers of representation. I signed with my amazing agent Elizabeth Bewley within the month, and shortly thereafter, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything sold to Simon Pulse at auction.
I’m beyond grateful to everyone who made my debut possible, but especially I am grateful to myself for never giving up on my dreams.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist and painter. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains. Raquel has published two books of poetry. Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is her first novel.