Today’s the release date of The Stars May Rise & Fall, a queer retelling of The Phantom of the Opera set in Tokyo, written by the lovely Estella Mirai. But this is a book that almost didn’t happen, and after years of publishing hardship, it’s a day of bittersweet triumph that it did, so check out the story behind the story, and of course, the story itself!
Teru came to Tokyo with dreams of making it big in the glam-metal visual kei scene, but three years later, all he has to show for it is a head of hot pink hair and some skill with an eyeliner pencil. He may look the part, but he doesn’t sound it, and constant bickering among his bandmates has him worried about his future. When he finds a mysterious business card in his bag, he’s willing to take any help he can get.
Help comes in the form of Rei, a crippled, disfigured composer whose own career was ended by an accident before it had really begun. With Teru’s voice and looks, and Rei’s money and songwriting skills, both of their dreams seem about to come true – but a forbidden kiss and a late-night confession threaten to tear it all apart. Now Teru, who has spent most of his life denying his attraction to men, and Rei, who vowed long ago never to love again, must reconcile their feelings with their careers – and with their carefully constructed ideas of themselves.
THE STARS MAY RISE AND FALL is an M/M retelling of Phantom of the Opera, set in Tokyo at the turn of the millennium. It comes with a healthy dose of angst and a dollop of nostalgia, as well as an age-difference romance, a physically disabled love interest, and memorable characters who will stay with you long after the pages are closed.
Buy It: Amazon
Today is the day I become a published author. Today is the day the book of my heart is officially out in the world.
That is 100% a cause for celebration, and I’m definitely going to pop open the champagne tonight. But a part of me will probably always feel a little sad for this book, for not coming into the world the way it almost did.
I’m not ashamed to admit that self-publishing wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t really my second choice either. It is, however a choice that ultimately feels right, and maybe somewhat fated. So I’d like to talk a little bit about the story behind the story… how my book fought its way through a string of bad luck and the author’s anxiety to find a place (I hope!) on your Kindle.
I actually started writing The Stars May Rise and Fall with the intent to publish it as fanfiction in 2005. I’d been a fan of Phantom of the Opera in its various incarnations for over a decade, but when the movie version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came out, my fandom, along with many other people’s, was rekindled, and I found a little group of fans, many of whom wrote and read fanfiction. The idea, and early versions of the first few chapters, were born.
I ended up putting the story aside, unfinished. There were a couple of reasons for this—pregnancy brain (it’s a thing!), for one, and the fact that I’d started writing with no idea what the ending would be, or even if it would be a happy one or not. Every once in awhile I’d remember the characters and wish I’d been able to give them the story they deserved. But I was busy with family and work and paying bills, and didn’t really come back to it until 2013. At that point, I was pretty sure that what I had wasn’t really a fanfic anymore. The people who had been the most enthusiastic about those early chapters had been a very specific section of our little fandom group (namely, the queer one), and I didn’t really think that the target audience was necessarily limited only to people who already liked other, very different, versions of the Phantom story. So I came back to it with a more general audience in mind, came up with an ending that finally felt right, and found a beta reader.
She loved it.
That remains one of the biggest validations I have EVER had as a writer. This total stranger, whose own book was so awesome it had me as nervous over her feedback as I was excited about doing my half of the swap, loved it and GOT it and… suggested that I query literary agents, as she was about to do. She also became one of my very best friends, but that’s a different story. 😉
I really hadn’t considered getting this book PUBLISHED published until that point. I thought I’d put it on Amazon or Wattpad, send the link to my little group of Phantom fans from eight years earlier, and hope other people stumbled upon it, too. But this total stranger had LOVED it. And while I knew it was a hard sell, I thought it might have a chance. So I sent out my first ten queries to agents, and got my very first request less than 24 hours later.
I got lots of requests. I also got lots of rejections. Eventually I cut the unwieldy 102,000 word draft I started querying with down to about 78,000 (it stands at around 88,000 now), and completely rewrote the beginning. But it was still a gay love story that wasn’t YA, but also wasn’t erotic. It was still a book with a 21-year-old main character back when New Adult was still big-ish… but it wasn’t set at college. I queried it as several different genres and categories. A lot of agents said nice things, but it took awhile to find someone who thought she could sell it.
Long story short, I DID eventually find an agent for this book, and we revised it together and were about to send it out to publishers… when my agent announced that she was leaving agenting. I was devastated. She had been one of my biggest allies, and no one else at her agency wanted to take on my book… so I was back in the trenches.
Another long story short, I found ANOTHER agent, and maybe half a year later, we had an offer of publication from a small but reputable press, which had nice covers, returnable paperbacks, and did have at least some bookstore and library distribution. It wasn’t going to make me the next Rowling, but again, I knew my book was a hard sell, and they were offering the most important things I wanted and couldn’t do on my own. All that was left was to alert the other publishers and see if we got any other offers. My agent let the others know that an offer was on the table.
About a week later, I got a text: SUPER HUGE PUBLISHER WHOSE NAME EVEN NON-BOOK PEOPLE KNOW is calling me RIGHT NOW!”
I’m not going to name the publisher, but to analogize another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, it felt very much like poor Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard getting her call from Paramount.
Unlike Norma’s call, this one was actually an offer. Unfortunately, it was not the offer that Googling the editor’s past huge deals (bad choice, past me) had me trying very hard (and failing) not to hope for. Other than name value, they were offering less than the small press was, so we turned them down, and my agent began negotiating the contract with the small press. I was happy, of course, to be selling my book… but in a sense, getting that particular offer from an editor who I knew had gotten life-changing deals for other debut authors hurt more than any form rejection (even though I know the decision was likely not hers, or not hers alone).
Still, I liked the small press, and while my 12-hour-long conviction that I’d Made It Big™ was over, at least I was finally going to be published!
That small press was Samhain. And as you might already know, Samhain shut down, without much notice, with tons of pending titles in the works. My agent texted me “Saw the news about Samhain…” at 6 a.m. I got the details from Twitter. I’m still not sure if I’m glad or devastated that it was before the contract was signed… on the one hand, there were no legal complications, but I never even got to announce my deal.
It’s hard to explain how I felt at that point except to say I was… broken. This book had come so close, so many times, and this was how it was going to end? My agent offered to send it out again, or to see if the other publisher was still interested… but I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I was broken. I asked my agent to officially pull it from any publishers who hadn’t responded, and left the agency (for reasons not addressed here… my agent and I had different ideas about my overall career direction that came out during the submission process, but did not arise because of it), vowing to come back big with book 2.
Book 2 had LOTS of interest from agents… and none from publishers. And I was still broken. I would get feedback from my new agent, and where I had been so excited about revisions with the first book, every semi-major suggestion for the second felt like hitting a wall. I agreed with the feedback, but couldn’t see how to apply it. In the end, the thought of completely rewriting Book 2 (because it really did need a complete rewrite) made me feel sick. Never say never, but at least at the time, I didn’t love that book enough to write it from scratch a second time.
I was also just trapped in a negative spiral. I wanted to be happy for my friends’ successes, to be excited to read new books and to start writing something new, too. But it was getting harder and harder, and I didn’t like the bitter, angry person I was in danger of becoming.
So I stepped back. I cut back on reading. I quit Twitter, kept in touch with only the very closest of my writer friends. It was hard, but I think it was necessary. And it helped. I kept writing, but I stopped trying to get published, and after about a year, I started to enjoy it again.
And a couple of things happened that made me realize I still needed to publish this book.
The first was that I got back into fanfiction, in a different fandom, under a different name. The response I got, even as a total unknown, was positive, and helped me to feel confident about my writing in a way that I hadn’t in years.
A part of it also had to do with general anxiety over the global political climate, climate change, and everything else that’s going on these days. If the world were to end, in whatever sense, tomorrow, and I never got this book into the hands of readers, I’d regret it. I knew that by self-publishing, I’d be immediately pushing some readers and reviewers away. But if I put it out there at a reasonable price, there’s at least a CHANCE that someone will read it and love it. If it sits on my hard drive forever, that number is guaranteed to be zero. I started to think that it was better to take a chance, to reach even one reader, rather than lamenting that it would never reach millions. My gay glam rock Phantom retelling is hardly a masterful political treatise. But it might bring a few hours of enjoyment and escape to even one person who needs it in this messed-up world, and that would make it all worth it.
Then, I came up with a pen name. This probably sounds silly, but one of the biggest reasons I didn’t self-publish ages ago is because I didn’t have a pen name I loved. I’m basically Chidi from The Good Place, and not being able to choose was literally freaking me out. When the perfect name came to me, it felt like a sign.
And then I went back and read the book, and two things struck me. First, I still loved it. Yes, there will always be things I’m not completely happy with… but after thirteen years, I still love these characters. I am immensely proud of certain scenes and lines. I wanted this book to be my debut, and I am glad that it is.
And second… there’s a lot in this book, which I wrote before I ever considered publishing, that has to do with the idea of getting your art out into the world. My characters deal with losing members of their creative team, the way I lost my first agent and then my would-be publisher. They deal with the pride and jealousy and anger and joy that all come crashing in together when someone you love succeeds where you’ve f—not quite succeeded yet. And they debate (or, well, fight over) the pros and cons of a traditional record deal vs. going it alone.
I wrote a good three drafts of this book before I even started to learn about publishing. I had those ideas in me all along.
And one of the biggest themes of this story is that there’s always a way to get your work out there—that things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect, and that you might end up playing a different instrument, on a different stage, with different people to support you. But you can still do it. Your work can still touch people. My book itself was telling me to publish it. So I followed my heart, and I did.
I’d be lying if I said it’s all been easy. Self-publishing is hard work. And I probably should have saved up a little more money to do things like NetGalley, and done a little more research before I dived in. I guess those will just be lessons I’ll have to take on to whatever I publish next.
But the good has been amazingly good. I can’t begin to describe the chills I got when I saw my cover art, or when I saw my book on Amazon and Goodreads. So many people have been encouraging and welcoming—people I knew from my first foray into publishing, and people I’m meeting for the first time. And most importantly, the world is finally getting to meet Teru and Rei.
And that’s really all I ever wanted to do. The story of my heart is in your hands, world. I hope you love it half as much as I do.
Estella Mirai lives just outside of Tokyo with her human family and a very spoiled lap cat. When she isn’t reading or writing, she works in editing and translation—which means that 99% percent of her day is usually words. In her minimal free time, she enjoys watching musicals, cooking (badly), and slaughtering power ballads at karaoke.
The Stars May Rise and Fall is her first novel.