I set off on the journey that was my first novel when I was too young to know any better about much of anything. I was coming back from a Shakespeare Festival in Canada, which I had attended with my mother, my best friend, and her mother. At the Duty Free Shop on the border, I bought a stuffed animal black cat (this will tell you how young I was - "stuffies" were still a part of my life) which I named Saundra. (The U being very important for accurate pronounciation - it was definitely "sawn-dra" in my head.) I had a nearly identical white cat at home, who was named Snowball. My mother insisted on calling them Snowball and Dirtball.
This is the same trip, I should note, where the supposed adults, upon hearing that I had an aversion to the cotton balls being pulled apart - to me, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard; still is - decided to chase me with cotton balls. When my friend and I retreated to our room, they blew the cotton balls under the door.
Back to the writerly side of this adventure, my naming of the new faux feline was accompanied by the decision that both could communicate with telepathy, and that they were companions of an old sorceress named Mordue. (I am fairly sure that the name was heavily influenced by the Prydain Chronicles. It does feel very Welsh.) This was about the time of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill - augh, I'm dating myself! - and with my typical oddball sideways squint at the world, I thought that Valdez would be a great name for a princess. I had never heard it pronounced, so I considered that the "e" was short - VAL-dehz rather than the actual Val-DEEZ, which I think is terrible sounding. Pfft, reality.
And ... I decided to write a novel. I had written stories before, but I had never tackled a novel. Of course, it was riddled with cliches: the rebellious princess; the shadowy evil figure; an enemy soldier who falls for the princess. I do like to think that I started with some shadow of a less-typical premise: the inciting incident of the book is when the sorceress, who has been mentoring the princess, is kidnapped. Valdez sets off to rescue her.
The mistakes in this first foray are wince-worthy to me now, I'll admit. Besides the above-mentioned, I tried to excuse modern slang like the word "guy" with in-world explanations for how the terms had originated. There were places where I dented the fourth wall. Luckily, I had an adult mentor named Martina, who I had met through the Dinosaur Forums on CompuServe (augh, I'm dating myself again). She helped me with craft issues, which I listened to, and gently suggested that publication was always a very long road, which I more or less ignored.
At the time, the main flaw to my perspective was the length: when I finished the tale, it was by far the longest thing I'd ever written, but not anywhere close to novel length. So I turned around and started writing a "Book Two" / Part Two that occurred years later. Book Three was Mordue's story, and since she was telling it to my other main characters, it seemed only natural to write it in first person. This would be the first contained narrative I created that was novel length; Book Three really WAS a book.
So much for The Cats of Mordue, my first novel. Sometime after or during the later parts of Cats (there would eventually be five parts completed; part six was never finished), I started working on my next novel in a different world. This new book was a project I would come back to a few years later and rewrite, and it became the first novel manuscript I ever submitted.
Of course, at the time, I was yet to understand why anyone would want - if given the option - to send three chapters and a synopsis when it was so much simpler to mail the whole thing ...
Growing pains, I tell you.