it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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sallytuppence wants to know how people got to be writers.

And says, furthermore: I don't want to hear that you were a writer ever since you could hold a crayon in your chubby little hand, no.

Unfortunately, that is my story. I was writing chapbooks of bad poetry in first grade, and stories about dinosaurs and race horses, and then scribbled fanfic in fourth or fifth grade--I didn't actually know what fanfiction was, but I had gotten it into my head that there were such persons as scenarists and scriptwriters, and it occurred to me that I could maybe get to be one--and I started my first novel in grade school. I finished it, too; it was a terrible plot coupon fantasy of the sort where the narrative arc consists of introducing a new cool weird character every ten pages or so. I was also writing poetry, and some of it was published in national youth lit magazines by the time I was twelve.

Even then, I was obsessed with words. I actually did read dictionaries for fun. I had very few friends, and the ones I did have thought I was kind of weird.

I can't say I never wanted to be anything but a writer, though. Because while my mom was very supportive of my writing, I also internalized early that "you can't make a living as a writer." Especially since, by the time I was in high school, I was writing chiefly poetry, because I had discovered a fatal flaw: I couldn't plot. It's the only thing I've ever been any good at, though, though at various times I wanted to be a geologist, a neurologist, an interpreter--

Also, I had a really terrible creative writing treacher (I have, in fact, failed creative writing classes. Two of them. One in high school and one in college.) who was not at ease with surrealism (which was my then-stopgap solution to the No Plot issue. *waves cheerily to hal_duncan* and who was really not at ease with genre fiction. But she did introduce me to Susan Glaspell's "A Jury Of Her Peers", for which I would forgive a lot.

I had a couple of gifted-and-talented program teachers who *were* encouraging, though (Ms. Katz and Ms. Gengras, I remember you still) and a fantastic 5th grade teacher who encouraged her students in ways that stay with me still. She was awesome. I probably owe her not just my career, but my sanity.

I was also working on a graphic novel script, this thing called Daoine that I'd had the first inklings of back in 1988 or so. That eventually grew up to be Blood & Iron, about five titles and fifteen years later.

Anyway, at that point, I would write, oh, three pages, two pages, and get stuck and have no idea what happened next. And I wrote a bucketload of crappy lyric poetry. This state of affairs persisted until about 1993, 1994, at which point I was out of college, working in a series of dead-end jobs in a recession economy, and playing in an AMBER DRPG campaign that ate up a good deal of my available mental energy. For those of you who aren't familiar with the tabletop role-playing-game scene, one of the features of AMBER is that you can curry favor with the game master through artistic contributions. So I started writing stories.

It didn't matter if they were good, just that they were finished. They could be vignettes; they didn't have to have a plot. All that mattered was the best effort.
I wrote a bunch of these. If you've read The Chains That You Refuse, you've read two of them--"Ice," and "The Devil You Don't," although the published versions are very, very different than what I wrote then. So if those seem like screaming Zelazny fanfic? They are.

About the same time, I started working on a novel, "No More Than A Star," a vampire police procedural that will never see the light of day, although some of the better characters--Don, Geoff, Jewels, Lily--made it into Whiskey & Water. (Daniel Tescher--yeah, I see you cringing, panzerschreck, ladegard, and netcurmudgeon--is expected to show up in Patience & Fortitude and Dog & Raven). I also ran a bunch of role playing games back in those days, and I have never been shy about recycling a good NPC when I needed a supporting character.

Anyway, that novel petered out after the traditional 30K, and I decided about 1995, 1996 that I was by god going to make a run at being a real writer, submitting and selling some stuff. During that time is when I really started work on Hammered--the first draft of "Gone To Flowers" was written in 1995, IIRC--and I sold a few rather bad short stories to a few small press outlets. And one or two okay stories, too: "The Company of Four" dates from this period. As does the world's scariest sprawling obsessive Amber campaign, remembered in song and trembling still by many of my friends. Some of whom are mysteriously still speaking with me, and each other.

(The game was taking place coincidentally with the traditional post-college self-destruction of my college friends' relationships; imagine, if you will, Mazes and Monsters meets St. Elmo's Fire. Ten years later, I'm still allergic to drama. :-P)

I worked my butt off at it for about two years before getting discouraged, or busy at work, or not feeling inspired. And then I started running an intensive play-by-email game, moved cross-country, got married, got the job from hell, and went into a three-year writing coma.

Which was broken by 9-11. Almost literally. In October of 2001, I was laid off from my 70-hour-a-week high-stress low-paying job, I could not find other work to save my life, I was stranded 2700 miles from everybody I knew, I had just turned 30, and my life was shit.

There's only so much Montel you can watch.

I started writing again. glyneth mentioned the Online Writing Workshops to me. Via arcaedia, I found out about a Lovecraft/Sherlock Holmes anthology I could submit to. (That story was "Tiger! Tiger!") penhardy suggested that the Muire stories were really the start of a novel.

...I wrote it. Obsessively. Working twelve or sixteen hours a day.

I wrote it, and I finished it, and when it was done I had a book I had written.

A book.

I had written.

It was All the Windwracked Stars. It was lousy, and only 80K with two spaces after the periods, but it was mine. It was proof and validation, and people had read it and liked it. (And being read is the biggest thrill in the world, let me tell you.)

It was sort of as if a dam had burst, and for the next three years I essentially did nothing but write and try to sell things. I ate like crap. I stopped exercising. I drank more than was good for me. I ruined my health. I gained nearly a hundred pounds. I wrote through a depression bad enough that there were days when the only reason I got out of my writing chair was because the dog was whining to go out. I found like-minded people and formed friendships with them. They helped me struggle back to something like sanity, but through all of that, I kept writing, because when I was writing I had control. I wrote two and a half million words in four years.

It was not a healthy thing to do. I am taking better care of myself these days, I promise.

In summer of 2002, I sold a short story and a poem to professional markets. In the spring of 2003, after a courtship of a little over a year, arcaedia agreed to represent me.

In fall of 2003, she sold my Jenny trilogy to Spectra.

The rest is in this blog.
Tags: navel gazing, writing craft wank
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