Monday, January 28, 2013

Dreaming On The Borderlands: On Losing Heart, And Not, And Pushing Forward

Sometimes, I'm amazed at how the learning curve twists and bends. I started out writing not knowing a thing. No actual ideas about craft, or the market. Because of this, I wrote in a black hole for nearly six years, submitting nowhere, writing, spinning my wheels, and that's it. Compelled to write (because, at the bottom of it all, I'm a WRITER), but having no idea where to send my work, or how to get published.

Then, lightning struck, and I sold my first story for a hundred bucks. After that, drunk on the concept of having my work "in print," I sent my stories everywhere, regardless of the publication's background, street cred, regardless of their market standing. I had a "book signing" at our local Barnes & Noble for the first anthology I was in, I bought dozens of contributor copies, and actually paid close to $300 (which I earned maybe half back), for an "author's table" at my first Horrorfind. Because I'd MADE it. I was ON MY WAY.

And, commence the HARD learning, when I learned that basically, no one wanted to buy collections full of short stories written by newbies like myself, just to read a short story by a newbie like me (In other words, I still have boxes of contributor copies I'll never sell).  Of course, I signed with Shroud Publishing to write a Hiram Grange novella, so THAT would be the big thing, right? That would be ALL ME, and maybe more people would be likely to pick it up.

And they have, definitely. I don't end up with lots of leftover copies of Hiram Grange after conventions, which is a good thing. And hey: It got several Stoker Recommendations, though it wasn't nominated, whatever that's worth.  But still - it's a niche, pulp story that's fourth in a series. Not of wide appeal, really.

And then, after that....

Nothing.

For a really long time.

A novel that I tried to write three times, that failed all three times. Three short stories  that lingered in submission limbo. Thank GOD I broke the ice last summer with "And I Watered It, In Tears...."

But then I was invited to write a novella for a prestigious small press, and botched it. Wrote myself into a corner, and couldn't finish it.  And, even though writing Billy the Kid has been awesome, and I know exactly how to finish it, things keep popping up, getting in the way.

Author and colleague Mike Duran recently posted a guest blog at Novel Rocket entitled: Are Unrealistic Expectations Killing Your Writing Career? And, I have to wonder...

Do I have unrealistic expectations? 

Have they gotten in the way?

I'm no longer sure.  


Four years ago, I attended Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp for the first time. I also attended the following year, and while I probably learned MORE the second time (not as many stars in my eyes), the first time (as always) is incomparable to any experience since then, darn near MAGICAL. I mean - being taught, hands-on, by F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, Douglas Winter, Gary Braubneck, Mort Castle, and Elizabeth Massie. Having Mort Castle ask to speak with me, privately, after the workshops. Hanging out at the local bar for dinner with the rest of the recruits....

Magical.

The sky was the limit. My writing career, golden and promising before me. And my expectations?

High.

Maybe too high.

I'm not sure WHAT my expectations were. Maybe I'd suddenly start selling short stories, left and right. That Hiram Grange WOULD get nominated for a Stoker (and yes, I know, there's all that "Stroker" nonsense, and whether or not it really matters, but screw that. I'm honest enough to admit that it woulda felt pretty darn good.) 

Of course, I was fresh off reading all of Brian Keene's memoirs (collections of his blogs, published in the small press -awesome reading), and sitting there at the bar with those other writers, I was thinking: "This is it. We're the next batch. The next group of horror writers to take the scene." On the outside, I was portraying a level-headed, even-keeled, balanced demeanor. On the inside, though?

I figured this was IT.  Or IT was right around the corner.

Before I continue - I'm very happy, in some ways, with the things I've done, with what I'm involved with right now. Horror 101 for Tales to Terrify is getting me new exposure, offering me a chance to study the horror genre in a venue I wouldn't have, otherwise. I have a short story coming out in a collection with BENTLEY LITTLE, for goodness sakes. There's the serial novella for Lamplight, a sneak peak of Billy pretty soon, and a short story collection that I HOPE won't get too ripped apart by beta readers (though, I hope it gets ripped apart just enough).

But I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'd hoped things would be a little different. Instead of selling lots of short stories, I've discovered that the short story is hard for me to write, and the novella is probably better for me to write. I've also discovered that I've only got a certain amount of time every day to write, and that's it.

I'm not saying I'm disappointed, or that I'm losing heart. And most of the time, I lose myself in the writing. But sometimes...sometimes, when I see announcement after announcement of peers just ahead of me on the journey doing things,  BIG things, and seeing folks who were next to me - or, heck, BEHIND ME - suddenly moving ahead...

Well, the motivation takes a hit.

Like today. 

I'd planned on writing all day, taking advantage of the snow day. Instead, I sat on my butt and watched "Supernatural" all morning. Why? Simple. I thought about writing, and, unfortunately, a little voice in my head said:

Screw it. Who cares?

It's not like anyone wants to publish you, anyway.

A bad attitude, I know. And one I hope to shake off with a nap. But, on the heels of the latest Borderlands Bootcamp (this past weekend), I can't help but wish I could go back and recapture the magic of that first weekend. Bottle it, store it up, and uncap it when I need it, on days like this, like Douglas Spaulding sipping dandelion wine in the winter, tasting the magic of summer to get through those harsh, cold days.

I'm just a little frustrated, today.

I'll get over it, of course. How?

By writing, of course. Always by writing.