Following the sun
For most of my life, I have been a writer. I have been making stories since I was old enough to put sentences together in my head. I have written them down since I was twelve. I wouldn’t know how to live a life without making story out of it, or around it, or in spite of it. But having said this, I have to confess that for most of that time I have written entirely for myself.
When I was young, it didn’t bother me that no one read what I wrote, and in fact, I rather liked it that way. I always knew that someday I would publish something, but I always saw it as a side thing, something I would do when I was "older" and "smarter." I had several stories I tried to write in my teens but abandoned because I could tell I hadn’t really experienced enough life to tell them well. But I shunned all writing classes, and I only gave my stories to those nearest and dearest to me. I have been published, to this date, exactly once: in seventh grade I submitted a novel–yes, a novel–to the school anthology: grades 7-12. They accepted it. It was fully half the anthology. Beyond this, however, I really didn’t try. I had intent to, but sometime around ninth grade I became frustrated with my work, never feeling it was "quite right." In college I briefly abandoned it altogether, save a few forays during the summers. I didn’t pick it up again with seriousness until grad school when I was assigned in a young adult lit class to read two romance novels. I read them, and then I wrote one. And I decided, then, that I was ready to "get published," and for the next ten years, I had that focus in my mind.
This was both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made. It was a good one because it pushed me, taking me out of my personal world and thrusting me into the real world. I met people I would never have met otherwise: many, many people, many of them very good friends. I traveled places I never would have traveled. I attempted things I never would have attempted. And for the first time, I studied craft, and my writing and production improved. I finished, in those ten years, four novels. (Six if you count the ones I wrote twice.) I have submitted work to agents and editors. I have entered contests. I have learned a great deal about the publishing industry. I have joined many writing organizations, and I have worked within them. Because of those ten years, I understand writing and what it means to share writing with the world, much more so than before I began.
But those ten years have also brought with them a cost. I never realized what a personal place writing was for me, or how much I value it as a sense of self and of a refuge for that self, and it has taken me ten years to fully grasp how much a danger publishing is to that vision of writing. I have improved my craft and my abilities during this decade, but I’ve also increased my neuroticism tenfold, and every attempt to "put myself out there" has increased my sense of vulnerability and raised my anxiety level sometimes to almost unbearable levels. (The exception to this is my experience with , to which I credit his general awesomeness.) It turns out that while thirty years of writing has made me very good at story, twenty years of doing so for my own solace has made me very, very bad at publishing. I can’t pick an agent to save my life. I don’t know what publishing house I might belong to. Every time I think I have a glimmer of one or the other, I hear horrible things about them, or they send me a form rejection letter. Ten years ago when I was green and stupid, I got personalized rejections. Today I get forms or no response at all. Some of this, I know, is the market–but this is little solace to me, and in fact it tends to drive me further away. I am not full of energy and optimism like I was ten years ago. I am very tired, and my health, while generally improving, takes a great deal of maintenance, and still isn’t very good at that. My stories are not the light and frothy quickies I slapped out when I pretended I could write to a Harlequin line; they are very personal, and I am attached to them in a way that I wasn’t to those. Those frothy ones weren’t very good, either, which was why they were rejected, but the real problem here is that when I put even more of my heart into a story, I’m less inclined to take just anything in a contract.
I don’t like submitting to publishers, I’ve decided. This isn’t really a revelation, but I’m going to make peace with it now. I know you aren’t supposed to say such things on one’s blog, but I’m not being mean or snarky, and I’m not bitching. I just don’t like it, and I am not good at it. The more I’ve tried, the worse I’ve done, and the fact that every day brings another story of how much harder the market is to break into doesn’t help. Likely I am letting my weariness and bitterness cloud my vision, but the view from here is that my options are worse and worse every day, and if there’s anything ten years has taught me, it’s that settling is a bad idea. All I want is a publisher whom I respect and who believes in me; small would be better, actually, because those big houses are starting to look like the banking industry as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want princess treatment, but I do want someone who loves my story as much as I do: not markets, but story. I want someone who will help me make my book better. I want to reach people, yes, but quality is far over quantity for me. I know these people are out there, too. I know this. But I can’t seem to find them, and I will confess, I’m to tired to keep trying. No, I haven’t tried as hard as I could. Yes, I could do more. But my heart isn’t there.
Where my heart is, in fact, right now, is in putting story out there however I can, and that is what I’m doing. I will try smaller markets, and I have a few in mind. I’m going to keep writing shorter works and trying to submit them to online houses and smaller press. I’m going to keep pushing myself to try things, and experiment. I’m going to write works specifically for markets, or try to, and I’m going to take steps to overcome my unease about the publishing thing. I really am.
But in the meantime, I am going to try either Print-On-Demand or out-and-out self-publishing with THE SEVENTH VEIL, as soon as I figure out how to do it. God knows I already have the perfect cover. I also, possibly, have an editor. I am going to do this my way, with complete control, including the control to fuck up royally and push the novel into total obscurity. The idea of "screwing up" on this novel–which, because of what it is, is also a series–used to scare me a lot. It still does, sometimes. But I have come to realize that what I need with this novel, for some reason, is to feel "safe." I need to push it out to sea my own way, and on my own terms. I’ve strengthened my resolve on this as I have taken gentle forays into doing so and, in stark contrast to my attempts to submit it traditionally, have met with nothing but encouragement and success. I feel a peace and security about putting this novel "out there" like I have never known. I know there will be many who feel I have failed, or not tried hard enough, or caved. I know there will be sneers. I care about this, though, much less than I ever have. I would rather, finally, satisfy myself than anyone else, at least on this point.
Don’t get me wrong. If a publisher approached me about this book, or I found one that felt right, I would be open to talking about doing this "traditionally." But right now, I can’t stand against the wall and hope someone notices me, and neither can I stomach another round of asking people to dance. So this is the way it is going to happen.
And so, to celebrate, may I present you with a link. This is the complete story of THE SEVENTH VEIL. (Once again, if it says "forbidden," refresh your browser until it doesn’t say that anymore.) If you read it already and just want to see the altered end, choose the pull-down menu and start at chapter 15. Or read it all again. It’s not the formatting I would chose, and you lose all the little drawings I had above each chapter heading, but this is the story. It makes me feel good to have it up there. Yeah, it’s free. But people are reading it! It blows my mind. An average of fifteen different people a day have read it since I put it up, and there have even been reviews. One guy from Norway thinks Charles is the "best character ever." I completely agree.
So this is me, following my sun. I’m not sure where it’s going exactly, though it’s clear it’s taking me off the beaten path. But you know, that’s totally fine. I like this path. It’s quiet, and it’s pleasant, and it’s working. Both Charles and I are happy here. Which, honestly, is all I’ve ever really wanted.