There comes a time in every wannabe writer’s life where he has to, in the most vulgar of words, shit or get off the pot. I’m not so old or so entrenched in my life where I have to get off that pot, but I started to feel that way.
In reading Stephen King’s On Writing, he mentions that you sometimes get to a point where you read books that make you sort of grimace and say, “Hell! I can write better than this.” I have run into this before (I have listened to the audiobook for Flowers in the Attic, after all), but during a frenzied period of reading I ran into at least three books that made me seriously say, “Look. These assholes are actually published—people are paying them to write—and I could wipe my ass and churn out something more palatable than this.”
Yes, my thoughts are as charming as my writing. Little filtering here.
During this time, I happened to run into a book about gay werewolves which intrigued me. Before this, nothing about werewolves interested me unless they were attacking, maiming, and killing. This book made me look at them in a different way. So, I read another gay werewolf book. And another. And another. And so on.
Some had plot holes which were so ghastly and gaping that they made me groan and want to spit up. Another was entirely charming, had endearing characters, and was funny. I read that one again and loved it again, and it started me thinking of werewolves in a different light.
Another was well written in that the prose was poetic and flowing and in some cases beautiful. The dialogue, however, was eye-roll inducing. It was so antiquated and the setting so vague that it wasn’t until she mentioned a car that I knew it wasn’t written in the year 1740. It wasn’t until later, where certain other details about the car were mentioned, that I was able to confirm that it was supposed to be a contemporary novel. Then the sex scenes, sparing at first, started flooding in. They were bad, they were pervasive, and they were obviously put in as filler. There was a second novel I did not bother with.Some of the others I read during that time don’t bear talking about. Not all concerned werewolves, and most were good, but there were two that really astonished me. Someone accepted and paid for this stuff (I count myself among their number).
Now, I love bad novels. I love bad SyFy movies. Novels with this cheese factor are personal favorites.
But some of the gay books I read in that time made me think I could do better, however egomaniacal that may sound (and I know it does—you’ll have to forgive me). I have respect for anyone who can conceive, plan, structure, sit, and write a novel. It’s a huge dedication, an enormous act of creation to make up lives which have never been, and anyone who has finished a novel has my admiration and respect.
So, I decided to write my own. I have been writing all my life, but with all the gay and werewolf in my head, I decided to try my hand at that. Within three months I was done and, though I had never meant for it to be published, I decided to try to get it out there anyway. I knew it wasn’t great, I knew I could do better, but I had been reading such crap that I thought this would be acceptable. I tried my hand out at being a hack, basically. It’s not something I’m proud of.
I submitted the novel to a publisher and was rightfully, justly rejected.
The editor who rejected me was wonderful, kind, and explanatory. She said my characters were charming, but that I introduced too many in too short of a time. (I counted later. 10 in as many pages. Ugh. It’s embarrassing, frankly.) She gave me more good advice and recommended other publishers I might try. She was so helpful, going way above and beyond what an editor rejecting work needed to or should do. She gave me some other advice and every last bit of it was true. Every part. (I found out later this was the best kind of rejection—feedback, advice, and help combined with an admonition to keep writing and a welcome to submit to that publishing company again. I had a brief correspondence with Piers Anthony, a childhood idol, who put my experience on his site, mentioning that my experience was very rare).
I did not try to submit this story elsewhere. I abandoned it, but not the characters. I loved the characters, but I had phoned in that novel and I wasn’t proud of it. I decided that the story I had hacked into was really the third story in that group of characters, so I should start at the beginning.
So, I wrote again and this time I put no limits on myself, not for length, character, thoughts, language, or subject matter. Three months later (it seems to be a standard length of time for me) I was done. I was very proud and I thought that it was pretty close to what I was capable of doing. I thought it was good, so I put it away and worked on something else. I came back, edited, put it away. I read it again and sent it to five trusted friends (some writers, some readers, some brutal jerk-faces whose opinions I valued).
The response was very positive. One friend actually wrote her reactions down as she was reading, and sent them to me in a document. This became a beacon of honesty and a source of strength for me in the upcoming months. Another friend was basically a line editor. He was tough (he would be in the jerk-face category), but he was usually right. They both commented about the language usage and both liked several passages I was particularly proud of, which still gratifies me to no end. One was a reader and didn’t notice particular passages but gave me story critique. And so on. I took all the criticism and praise and edited again.
I felt I was ready to submit again. This project had gone from something to get myself out there and get my foot in that proverbial door, to something I believed in. Without those constraints, without those limitations I put on myself I had done better. However, the original place I submitted to had a word limit at the time. They would not accept anything over 120k words. My novel was close to 150k. I managed to get it down to about 145k, but I felt that setting up the world and the characters needed that room. Editing out an additional 25,000 words would have been difficult.
So, I decided to change tactics. The characters felt real and it was getting emotional responses from the wonderful, cold bitches I lovingly call my friends. The plot concerned bullying, acceptance, change, someone rising up from the mire of his own self-loathing and allowing himself to fight and be loved. He just happened to be a gay werewolf with the stigma of having a third, more violent Hybrid form. One of the characters in the rejected hack novel was very young in this one and still one of my favorite characters. I really liked and believed in the novel as a whole (and unlike almost all other gay novels, there was no expressly described sex scenes. I can't with that. It gives me angina).
I decided to go for an agent. I browsed Writer’s Market online and made a list of about 11 agents who took gay novels and listed them in descending order. I wrote a query and a synopsis. (The most ghastly, awful torture possible for any writer ever. There are thousands of websites dedicated to mastering the arts of writing these. All good advice, and it is still very difficult to do.)
I was rejected 6 times in rapid succession. All form letters, and all within days of submitting. This usually means that they read the blurb (similar to what you would read on the back of a novel) and realized it wasn’t for them. I got no personal feedback.
My ego was crushed. Humility set in. Doubt came with it. And then a brutally hot summer settled in (I hate the heat) and the anniversary of my grandmother’s death happened at the same time. My insides were an Unholy Trinity of horror.
After about two months of watching Disney movies, laying around dazed, and listening to music to always distract myself, I slowly came out of it. I rewrote the query letter and synopsis. The will and strength it took to do this and start sending my novel out again cannot be understated. Was I as good as I thought I was? Was I still a hack? Was this dream I had for so long really a dilapidated shack in the sewers of seventeenth century France and not the castle in the clouds I had hoped for? Were my friends being kind? I didn’t know.
So, I sent it out again. I was rejected four more times. One jerk didn’t even bother with a form letter. He said, “Not for me—thanks anyway.” That was it. My personality kicked in then and kicked the last vestiges of depression out. That rejection made me sit up and say, “Fuuuuuuuuuck YOU!” It was unnecessarily rude, short, and audacious considering this man’s web site was literally the last on my list and looked like it was designed by a blind, special-needs fourth grader.
One agent has yet to give me the courtesy of a response. Another I had given up on during my depression got back to me months later with a jerky response I disregarded immediately. If you can’t get to your stuff within six months when there are other agents who represent bestselling authors who were able to get back to me within days, and then you have the unmitigated gall to be rude, I can’t take you seriously. (I aimed high at first, I admit, but why not start at the top and work your way down? Who knows what could happen, right?)
Then one of the agents rejected me with a personal message which seemed to confirm what I was thinking all along—that with the travesty of Twilight, agents were simply over all things werewolf, and with the gay added in, the audience was that much more limited. This agent told me, “You are a good writer, but this project doesn’t call to me. Good luck.” If I’m a good writer, then it probably really is the project and/or subject matter. Most agents didn’t have time to read the sample chapters sent. They read the blurb, weren’t interested, and passed it on.
So, I changed things up a bit. I started researching publishers, retooled the synopsis and query, and made a list of top ten publishers specializing in or having gay book lines I could get into without an agent. As with the agents, I put the publishers in descending order of most- to least-desirable.
I got an acceptance from the first publisher I sent my novel to.
I checked my e-mail at work, saw that I had an e-mail in the writing e-mail address I was using, and thought, “Well, on to the next on my list.” I checked the e-mail and I think I actually let off an electric current through my body—anyone who touched me would have been electrocuted. “We reviewed your story and would like to take it for publication as a novel, if it’s still available.”
Are you kidding me? It’s so available, I’m practically a hooker! Take me!
I signed the contract, reviewed the materials sent to me, and waited. And waited. And waited. I knew publishing took a long time, but it was taking forever! I contacted them just to get an idea of what I should expect and the very patient, very kind author liaison informed me that my editor-to-be (such a thought! Still gives me chills!) is assigned to my novel in August. For a new author who is new with a publishing company, I think this is pretty standard.
So, I wrote a short story for them (for an anthology) in about a week (honestly, about two or three days of sporadic writing). The cutoff date was March 1st and I submitted it the night before. It was a retelling of The Little Mermaid with the mermaid being a merman. I thought it was pretty good, but I don’t think 8,000 words was enough to cram all I wanted to in there. I was told a few days later that the anthology was already full, but that if I wanted to run it through a beta reader (How did she know I hadn’t?! Was she watching me? *paranoid*) and resubmit it for their general short story line, “please do so.” It was a rejection and it wasn't, precisely.
The lesson—don’t skip the steps, asshole. *cackle*
I have not resubmitted it yet. I plan to. I was (and remain) rather fond of it. From the time I submitted that hurried abortion of a novel the first time and had the good fortune to run across an astute and kind editor (whose instructional and generous words also sustained me through that awful summer), I have found my lost voice, I have come to a place I want to be, and I am apparently churning out stuff with decent quality.
Think of the contrast in my summers—one spent mired in self-pity and sadness, the next working with an editor on my first novel.
The change and the happiness is mind boggling. I'm ready!