As far back as I can remember, I wanted to play guitar, sing, write songs, and have a career performing music. Unfortunately, the career part of that plan never came to fruition, but I have learned that when one dream doesn’t come true, it’s never too late to go after a new one.
My fiction writing aspirations began as a dream. Literally. I awoke after having a very vivid dream one morning in November of 2007. I immediately grabbed a notebook and wrote down everything I could remember about the story that had played out in my sleep. I was compelled to do something with it. I followed that instinct and was inspired to write a book.
I had written about fifty pages when the computer crashed. It was the best thing that could have happened. I could have continued working on it long hand, but instead, I dove into learning everything I could about writing fiction. Writing skills alone do not make you a good storyteller, and I had much to learn. Other than songwriting, I had never done any serious writing for pleasure. While a senior in high school, I wrote several humorous short stories for fun and enjoyed every minute of it. My friends loved them, too, which was immensely gratifying.
Expressing myself through the written word had always been an effective way for me to communicate—especially when it came to my feelings. Getting to know myself, understanding myself, being in touch with my emotions, and striving to understand others are the driving forces behind my writing.
Every book I read about the craft of writing fiction stressed that the most important first lesson was to READ! I hadn’t read for pleasure in years. I got a library card, an eReader, made regular visits to the bookstore, and began reading like crazy. My appetite for reading became insatiable. I couldn’t believe I had deprived myself for so long! In addition to lesbian fiction, I read such authors as Stephen King, Dan Brown, Ernest Hemingway, and Jodi Picoult. I reread old favorites by Mark Twain and I devoured every one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
The more I read, the more I realized that those fifty pages were better off lost. If I was going to devote time and energy to writing a book, I wanted to do it well.
I started over. The story poured out of me, and it took a completely different direction than the original. I had a blast. My wife and friends gave me positive reviews, and encouraged me to try to have it published. After researching publishers, I took a chance and submitted my manuscript to Bold Strokes Books.
They turned it down, but with encouraging words to keep at it and try again. Imagine how thrilled I was to receive an email from Radclyffe telling me that my second effort showed enough promise to consider it for publication. BSB teamed me up with editors Victoria Oldham and Ruth Sternglantz. They worked tirelessly with me to turn Songs Unfinished into my debut novel.
Developing the character of Jaymi Del Harmon began as a therapeutic endeavor. Though I may have the talent to have had a successful music career, I gave Jaymi the drive, courage, and confidence that I lacked. But I also gave her some of the pain I experienced in my own life, the most critical of which was losing my mother to cancer.
I also had to keep Jaymi real and give her some faults. I have to credit Victoria with helping me flesh her out more. Because I related to Jaymi on so many levels, I took for granted that readers would do the same. It’s amazing how a few added scenes, or in some cases, a few added sentences, can provide much deeper insight into a character.
The character of Shawn Davies was drawn more from my imagination than my own experiences. Shawn is the misunderstood screw-up with a heart of gold. As you get to know her, you learn that she is much more complex than she first appears. She just needs someone to believe in her so that she can learn to believe in herself—something we all need. I share her frustration of having to suffer through a day job when all you want to do is devote time to your passion. Otherwise, you feel as if you’ll shrivel up and die if you don’t quench that thirst.
I know my own fears and choices cost me a career in music. I tortured myself for years with painful regret. Not anymore. Writing fiction has been my saving grace. It’s the creative outlet I needed and now I can’t imagine my life without it. I hope people enjoy reading Songs Unfinished as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that this new dream lasts forever.