When, after having been a journalist and editor for most of my career, I decided to make a serious go at writing fiction, I set myself no other goal than to do it for my own enjoyment. No pressure. Exercising the muscle was all that mattered. And for a couple of years, that’s just what I did.
Like many writers, I was daunted by the blank page wondering if I’d be able to come up with any fresh ideas (or any ideas for that matter) and spin them into a well-structured and compelling narrative. My subconscious must have heard me, because lo and behold, during half-sleep (when my unconscious converses with my conscious mind), I thought “remember that outrageous-but-true story a friend told you many years back? What if…?” And thus the germ for my first short story was implanted. After many, many drafts, I completed it. The story would be the first piece of fiction accepted by the literary journal wildeoats.com – although that didn’t happen until much later and only when, after writing several additional stories, my partner and most valued critic prodded me to get them published. I argued, “but this is supposed to be for fun. Pitching and selling stories is what I do for a living. It’s work.” Alan shot back, “just try. The worst they can do is say no.”
Right. Because rejection was all I needed to dissuade me from continuing to write fiction. No one who’s ever earned a living as any kind of scribe is unfamiliar with rejection. But I don’t go out of my way to court it either. So far the ideas were flowing nicely and I actually enjoyed the rigorous rewriting process, which I quickly discovered, is the essence of writing fiction. So why gum up the works by submitting the work to editors who are inundated with thousands of wanna-be ‘fictionistas’ like myself?
Alan was right, however, the worst they could do was say no. But they didn’t. My first submission was accepted, and my second… The editors put me through my paces–more rewriting–but also provided the kind of positive reinforcement an insecure writer (how’s that for a redundancy?) needs in order to move forward and take greater risks.
Longer-form fiction proved to be a different challenge. Everyone’s got a novel or two in them. But too often, a promising beginning smacks up against the intricacies of construction and narrative flow, and the project is abandoned. With Junior Willis I maintained the thread by tracing the emotional life of one character in three short stories of varying length. Each of the stories deals with a different group of subsidiary characters.
I actually wrote Junior Willis after Café Eisenhower, which is a full-length novel, albeit one that contains a novella about two different protagonists within the main narrative. Café Eisenhower was a true passion project, which made it all the more gratifying when it was accepted by Bold Strokes. It’s coming out later in the year, and getting it accepted was like a giant shot of adrenalin. When they also said yes to Junior Willis, I was equally thrilled. (Validation never gets old). Because it’s shorter, and an e-book, BSB scheduled Junior Willis for publication first, which is appropriate as it’s a natural evolution from my short stories.
The approbation and feedback from editors and friends, has certainly not made me cocky (insecurity is still my go-to place as a writer), but it has spurred my productivity. I have a non-gay-themed novel coming out later this year called Doubloon–vampires in the Dust Bowl with spiritual overtones–that I never would have dreamed of attempting had it not been for their encouragement.
I write every day now (which is not to say I don’t sometimes dawdle and procrastinate) and I’m still getting a kick out of it. That my work is out there in the ether is wonderful, but I still consider it the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae. I’m still beholden to my toughest critic: Myself. And he cuts me very little slack.