Saturday, May 14, 2011

The State of My Writing Career

Once upon a time I wrote a book. I've actually written close to fifteen manuscripts at this point in my life of varying quality and stages of completion, but only one of them ever truly saw the light of day. It was fun for a while, I could go around saying I was a published author, pretend I was famous. People even seem to have enjoyed it. I had originally intended to sell it as a series called The Academy, and it had some robots in it and some James Bond-esque characters running around assassinating bad guys and spying on people. It was fun. I had spent the better part of three years working on my book and its two sequels, and it had come to define me.

Truth be told, my only aspiration as an author was to write good, solid beach novel thrillers with a major sci-fi bent. I grew up on the adventure novels of Clive Cussler and the techno-thrillers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They satisfied my need both for violence and savagery as well as my desire for the exotic. There's a certain lightness to the writing of a good thriller that keeps you from truly getting emotionally invested in it, thus allowing you to relax and have fun. That was what I really wanted to write about: things people thought were fun. That's a funny thing about well-laid plans: they rarely work out like you intend them to.

As it turns out, I don't write very good adventure stories. I write very emotive and psychological parables that happen to have some science fiction in them. I can point the finger of blame in many directions. There was my former professor at UNH, Alexander Parsons, who spent the second half of my college years teaching me how to be an artist. He invested a considerable amount of time and energy into helping me develop my craft, at times even at his own personal expense. Certainly he helped me to correct a lot of the flaws in my writing. I used to write incredibly shitty characters. I was very embarrassingly and publicly called out on it, and I spent the next two years in the single-minded pursuit of good characterization. There was the chip on my shoulder that I came out of college with about my writing, that led to another round of crafting, a competitive streak I've had to work hard to bleed out of me. There is a certain base level of arrogance to it, too, which I've at times struggled to contain. But all these things just will ultimately get me what I want, which is to publish a successful book, no matter how good my writing is.  More likely they'll just feed back on themselves and magnify the flaws in my writing all the more.

This is really the problem with the The Academy, and where I'm at in my writing career. I have no doubt that my writing is up to snuff. Feedback – professional and otherwise – confirms my confidence. My writing was probably good enough three years ago. I'm not only a quick worker, I'm an efficient one as well. This is not to boast or brag about it: I put a considerable amount of effort into effectively managing my writing time. In the process, I have neglected virtually everything else that a writer needs to do in order to be successful, and in effect, it's killed The Academy.

Yes, The Academy is dead. I've pulled the plug. I had finished a sequel to my published book, which has not yet been edited, and I will look at avenues of getting it out to people who are keen to find out what happens to Rebecca and company after the end of the first book. However, due to a combination of tangled copyrights, mechanical difficulties with the story itself, and the nature of the business, I am unable to pursue this story any further in the market short of self-publishing, something I'm not keen to do. For what it was worth, it was fun, and I am very close to the character of Rebecca. Rebecca helped me through the past two years as much as anyone else. I am very close to my writing, and particularly this story. Too close, as it turns out. As Jim, a friend and mentor who is himself a major award-winning published author said to me “You've gotta break up.” That's just how it goes, unfortunately.

This is not to say that the story is gone. I've got two new universes, in which I am writing novels, short stories, and novellas, one of which was directly inspired by The Academy. I would not be surprised if my audience found some material that made it my Academy books in some of my new stories, though perhaps (or even probably) in some other form. This was not an easy decision to make, but I feel that it's for the best. In keeping with the original concept behind The Academy, I am attempting to tell its successor story entirely in the short form, though hopefully in a much less serialized way than how it originally turned out.

I also do have a new series, and I think it's one with a lot of potential. I'm about two-thirds finished with the first draft of the opening novel, and I have the outlines of several short stories to follow it. These stories may or may not ultimately predate the novel in publication, but that's dependent on a lot of things beyond my control. I won't say too much about it just yet, only that it's written in the first person, the narrator is a teenager, and there are aliens and my usual dark, brooding emotive passages. I can get all excited about it, and I am, and the people that read and like my fiction should as well. But already I can see the problem staring me in the face right back again.

Herein is one of the central conundrums of my writing career: I can't not care. My writing only works when I'm very close to my characters, feeling what they feel and letting them take the lead in the story. It's a fine place to be when you're writing fiction, but a very difficult and awkward place to be when you're publishing. I didn't want to put myself through the emotional wringer in the state I was in when I finished The Academy. I played it too safe, and accepted something I probably shouldn't have. Which is not to say that I'm totally to blame here, either. My publisher completely botched the PR for my book, and at the time I was in no state to do the legwork required to get the word out. Quite frankly, I'm amazed as many people found it as they did.

That's really all right, though. I learned a lot from the experience, and I can take that and put it into my next experience. So yes, The Academy is dead. Long live The Academy. It was a good story, but it was ultimately doomed. In addition to my own errors in marketing it, there were substantial mechanical flaws.  I've learned from my mistakes. It will be reborn in some other form in the near future, the flaws corrected, though not necessarily with the same cast of characters, and given a proper chance to be marketed. In the meantime, I can't wait to tell you more about my other story, but perhaps I've said too much already. I'm in that classic fluid first draft period where details are up in the air, and I don't want to state something for the record that gets changed. But rest assured, my writing career is not dead. I needed some perspective, and I needed a break from what I'd been working on. I've gotten both now, and now I want to get back to doing what I love: writing really good fiction.

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