It’s been a really long time coming. A long time writing, then a long time not writing because I wasn’t ready to hack the up and down of rejection. A lot of words poured onto the page, a lot of “thanks but no thanks,” a lot of doubting why I was getting up so early and writing every day. I came to view each small success as another rung in a ladder as a way of coping. First rung was finishing things. Second rung was improving my writing and story telling skills. Then came the learning to edit rung, and the attending a conference rung, and the surviving critiques rung. There was the rung for first personal and positive rejection, and the rung for being accepted into a limited space writing forum with some of the best writers in my field (Viable Paradise rung we’ll call that one).
This week I reached the next rung. At first I wanted to say the final rung, but no… it’s just the next one. There’s far more to come.
This week, a story of mine was accepted for publication and I signed a contract of sale.
It’s been a long time getting to this point. Buckle up, kiddos, cause we’re going to do some mathing later.
I wrote my first real story in about second or third grade. I know I was eight, so probably second. It was about an avalanche at a ski resort and the people who rescued them, and I immediately fell in love with telling stories. My favorite school assignments were the ones where I could be creative with words and make something up. Write a new chapter for the Deer Slayer? Damn right I will, and Natty’s gonna do some seriously wild stuff.
In my early twenties, I decided writing was for me. I took a creative writing class and loved it, and got into Stonecoast Writer’s conference after that semester, a conference in Maine with some fabulous instructors. I spent a week with Walter Mosley, and wasn’t that just the most amazing fucking thing. The guy is laid back and smart, and fun to listen to, and I tried to absorb all I could in that week. But when I wrote and submitted, I learned pretty quickly I wasn’t cut out for the business side of things. Rejections stung, too much for me to handle. So I stopped and went on to a life of family, work, kids, and working on a degree.
I never stopped writing, though. Never entirely gave up that dream. Put it in a pocket like most folks do, and assured myself I’d return to it one day. And that’s all most folks do, leave it there as a “one day” sort of Thing that can be pulled out, all shiny and perfect in its promise without the dirty work needed to make it happen, all the chips and cracks in its facade from attempts that failed, and then slid away again unmarred and unpursued.
And then I did NaNoWriMo in 2011. I don’t know what possessed me other than I had a novel idea I’d been kicking the tires on for the better part of fifteen years and I needed to get it out there. It was literally filling my head and wouldn’t shut up. I needed to put it down. What came out was a terrible 51,000 word piece of shit that probably would have ended anyone else’s pursuit of that “one day” Thing. They would have wrapped it in cloth, tied it to a weight, and tossed it into the ocean to sink to the bottom.
But I kept returning to it. Kept taking it out and thinking about it. Started coming up with thoughts on how to improve it. Then I met a woman who dug some of the other stuff I wrote and encouraged me to put more effort into it. Out came crappy novel, and a few months later I shat out a new, improved, better version. Far better, like light years better.
I haven’t stopped writing since. For the past four and a half years I’ve written often, and almost every day for long stretches. I’ve finished the re-writes of that first novel, wrote a second, am nearing the end of a third, and in between started a lot of short stories, some of which I managed to finish. Stories about people who base jump from orbit into planetary wells, or abused boys who can fly, or a world war where wyverns battle biplanes above the trench lines in Francia.
And there was one about an android couple and the start of what would become the myths and fantasies of their world. Stories that weren’t derived from the power of logical thought that their society pursued, but from… what? Maybe a malfunction, or maybe the evolution of an imagination. Maybe because one person read a story and thought “what if that were true?” and ran with it.
The story started as a thought experiment on how to combine science fiction and fantasy. To be honest, there’s very little fantasy in it, other than the every day fantasy of story telling and inventing beings who have never existed and imbuing them with lives. It become a love story between a man who can’t express his emotions and a woman who can’t stop daydreaming of worlds that lie not quite beyond their own, but next to their own, a part of and yet separate from their own world. I thought it a good story when I finished it. It’s not been edited much, the largest coming after it was critiqued at Viable Paradise, and those relatively minor in the greater scheme of story revisions. Just tweaks to help bring out the power of their story, his confusion over her visions and the stories she’s telling him.
The story went through many rejections. 17 all told. But along the way it received a few personal and very positive rejections. Then it was shortlisted by a magazine and they held it for a while as they planned their issue. Ultimately they had to cut a few stories, and mine was one of them, but they were effusive in their praise and regret that they didn’t have enough room for it.
Andromeda Spaceways was next. Imagine how worried I was when they, too, shortlisted it for possible publication after it passed their readers’ muster. I’d already been through that rodeo once and didn’t want to get bucked off again. Thankfully, this time it was accepted, and in a few short weeks the issue will be out and I can point to it and say “there you go, I’ve done it. That’s the START of what I intend to be. I’ve left the basement of writing work and I’ve reached the ground floor of my ambitions; I’m heading for the elevator up.”
The issue comes out next month. It’s not much pay, but it’s pay. It’s professional. I did it. And I’ll probably spend most of that money buying up a few more issues to have and hold and remember where my career started. Here’s the cover:
So, the math I mentioned. I’m 51 now. That’s 43 years of writing since I first started. 29 years since I first submitted a story. 7 years since I sat down and tried to write a novel. 4 years since I fully dedicated my mornings to writing and improving and telling the types of stories I’d want to read in such a way that others would want to read them, too. Perhaps even pay to read them. 51 isn’t too old, my friends. Your life can start at 51, it’s not the down slope. And you can submit a good story many times before it finds the right place to land, the right people who get what you’re doing and love it enough to want to print it.
Never give up. Don’t quit until they brush that dirt over your coffin, or light the funeral pyre beneath you. Life does not begin until you take that “one day” Thing out of your pocket and push yourself to make it a “This Day” Thing.
Make today your This Day Thing.
Man, I feel like …