In my heart, I’ve always been a science fiction and fantasy writer. I wrote my first story when I was in 4th grade; the nihilistic eulogy of a star pilot seeking consciousness after death by flying through a black hole. It was inspired by Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”. When I was eighteen and attending art school in New York City I wrote a short story about space pirates. I still have the submission guidelines from Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine tucked safely in my filing cabinet – I was dead set on publishing that story. But I didn’t ever publish either of those pieces.
I feel that I can be forgiven not getting either of those into print because, well because I didn’t get around to it. It wasn’t as important as writing the stories. Problem is, I’ve done that a lot. Even through a successful graphic design and multimedia career I’ve kept up my writing…and not publishing. I’ve written short stories that I never submitted. I’ve written adventures for Dungeons & Dragons, Feng Shui, Cyberpunk and Star Wars role-playing games that I never submitted. I’ve written the better part of a graphic novel that never even got drawn.
After leaving the marketing and communications world where I was called upon to translate engineer’s PowerPoint slide decks filled with technobabble into usable tools for the sales forces of Fortune 500 companies, I made a commitment to my creative writing. In the process I went from packing as much information into every sentence to becoming downright Dickensian; in my first year and a half of writing I drafted three novels comprising 750 pages.
And then I wrote another short story. It’s the tale of a soldier who doesn’t realize he’s not alive anymore and the artificially intelligent power armor that protects him doesn’t have the ability to tell him that his body at least is long dead. Perhaps that’s the nihilism of writing without a goal showing up again after all these years. Perhaps I’ve just become addicted to the process of drafting, to watching the Muse spin tales on the page. Perhaps I’m just not sure whether I want to make the next leap of faith, to go from writer to author. Maybe the idea of having to show all those family and friends what I’ve been writing scared me. It’s possible I only think there is story on the page, where in reality it’s just line after line reading “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
So I did what any hardworking, earnest writer would do…I wrote three more stories, novellas this time. A novella lies somewhere between short story and novel, or between Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s a great series with engaging characters, interesting backstory, surprising complications and even more surprising solutions.
And I edited. Did I mention editing? Or rewriting? Or updating my Story Bible? You know, it’s important to know the relationships between the protagonist, the antagonist and the fake-opponent ally. It delivers important flavor and detail to the story to know whether people have phones on their wrists or implanted in their ears. Right? That’s more important than publishing, isn’t it?
But wait, all this writing has unhinged my Muse, she’s a storytelling maniac! I don’t have time to publish I HAVE TO DRAFT! I’ve outlined a three-part graphic novel (with space pirates!), I’m rewriting the backstory of my main characters. I HAVE TO WRITE THE STORY OF PINK FLOYD KILLING A BLACK HOLE…ASTRONAUT…/wheeze.
Publishing might be my black hole, but I’m not really going to perish if I publish. So I set my resolve and downloaded the instructions for self-publishing for the Kindle. Whatever feelings I might have about getting published in a magazine versus going digital is swept aside by the overriding desire to just publish, damn it. I gave the story a last polishing edit, contracted an artist for a pretty cover and uploaded my story to the monolithic Amazon in the cloud.
It was embarrassingly easy.
And just like that, I can say, “I’m an author.” It has a nice ring to it. So much so that I’m going to do it again. Soon!
Next time I’ll speak about how publishing has changed my outlook on my writing practice, how I structure my writing process, and how it helps to have a clear goal in mind.