I’ve been fascinated by stories ever since I heard my first one. When I learned how to write tales in about the 8th grade, I got hooked. That love affair with its yarnings led me to write short stories, songs, poetry, newspaper columns, and screenwriting. All of which eventually led to novel writing.
About 25 years ago I entered a contest in my local paper, The Fresno Bee. The Special Events editor, Bonnie Hearn, was looking for Christmas stories, so I wrote one that I made up, told from the point of view of a contemporary man who rediscovers his deceased soldier brother through a tinfoil Christmas star that shows up in the mail.
Bonnie called me and told me I won the contest, and that she wanted to know more about my brother and me.
“It’s a work of fiction,” I said.
There was a hesitation on the other end. “It was supposed to be a true story,” she said.
“It doesn’t say that anywhere,” I responded. Actually, I figured that.
“I’m not happy about this,” she said. “But I’ve already announced that you’re the winner.”
“Are you a fiction writer?”
“Sometimes, I suppose I am,” I said. “It’s whatever moves me at the time.”
“Well, I’m just starting to get into fiction myself,” she said. “Would you be interested in attending a class that will be taught by the only person in Fresno who teaches novel writing? It starts next Tuesday.”
“Sure,” I said. “Just tell me when and where.”
Thus began a 25 year relationship with Bonnie, who eventually quit The Bee and went on to become a best selling author, lecturer and teacher. It wasn’t the woman whose class we attended, it was Bonnie who taught me how to write novels.
So, in that class we shared, I wrote my San Joaquin Valley version of Gone With the Wind. It was centered specifically around Laton where that part of the valley was first sub-divided from the original Laguna de Tache Spanish Land grant. I had acquired old diaries and photographs and interviewed people who were related to those first pioneer families.
After about 20 rejections of my historical novel, I landed an agent who tied it up for about a year before he decided he couldn’t market it properly. So, I got discouraged with novel writing and quit writing novels until last year when Bonnie started another class. I was ready again.
So, I completed an international thriller, The Kismet Blade, in the year I took her class, writing a chapter a week for the group of writers who became my friends.
Only this time around, I didn’t want to go through the agent finding/rejection process again. Nothing for me is a greater buzz killer than form rejection notices. I know that a writer is supposed to have a hardened exterior that fends off these missiles, but I’m not one of those guys.
Against the advice of Bonnie, my friend who owns a local bookstore, and many of my writing friends online, and after much deliberation, I decided to self-publish.
I know the rap against self-published authors: “The editing sucks.” “You’ll never get a book deal with a real publishing house.” “You’ll forever brand yourself as a hack.” “It screams, ‘amateur’.” Whatever, etc.
I finally decided I didn’t care about those barriers. It was more important to me to finish the book, publish it and then move on to the next project. I would put it out and take the lumps. Rather than waste the time shopping for agents, I could spend the time writing, editing, building a platform and promoting.
So, I discovered Createspace.com, a place that writers can publish their own work. This isn’t an ad for them. It just worked for me, and freed me from another round of something like online dating rejections.
My advice to writers is this: Self-publish if it feels right. Trust your own intuition. It’s a different publishing world out there now than the one your mother supported. It’s a netherworld where the control of books is snaking away from the middleman to the writer and the reader, a place where the power has always belonged.
As writers, we all have valid, marketable stories to tell. The key is to keep writing and keep editing until we can’t stand our own tale any more, then do it one more time.
This revolutionary new world is a golden age for writers and artists, where we have control now over our own distribution and marketing plan. Yet, like bomb craters in a war zone, it’s dangerous terrain out there.
Every time we post our words, it’s an insight into our imaginations. We brand ourselves to the outside world. We open a pathway to our innermost thoughts, and in that process, we become who we imagine ourselves to be.
While the gap between the writer and the reader has narrowed, the bridge is more rickety.
So, I would ask you to think clearly, edit succinctly, and express like a mofo because, within that precious imagination of yours, you, like me, have a stake in the new Renaissance.
*Edited by Teresa Crumpton*