Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Manuscripts in the Closet--Or It's A Long Road to Here

The other night as I was interviewed on The Funky Werepig on Blog Talk Radio, I was rattling off the recent developments in my writing career and I had a "Wow!" moment of utter disbelief.

"Holy crap!" I thought. "All this good stuff is happening to me! Not to someone else! ME!"

Odd how events in your life can sink into the deeper levels of your consciousness and startle you at unexpected moments. It's not as if I wasn't aware that amazing things have been happening in my writing career, it just hadn't fully hit on all levels yet. Plus, I think I've been in a state of shock.

After the interview, Dr. Pus called me up for a chat and I confessed that though I'm ecstatically happy about all that is going on, I was also feeling guilt.

"I know all these other writers working so hard and all this good stuff is happening to me. Why me?"

"Because you worked hard for this," Doc answered. "And you deserve it."

As I sat at my desk, listening to him talk, I realized he was right. I have worked hard to reach this point in my writing career. It hasn't just been the last two years (since we decided to self publish) or the last five years (since I started writing As The World Dies), but the last THIRTY years of my life that I have been working toward this moment.

I have the manuscripts in the closet to prove it.

I started writing at ten years of age. I have countless sketches and short stories tucked into a box in my closet, slowly yellowing with age and becoming unreadable. I started typing my stories on my Mom's electric typewriter at twelve. I have several manuscripts typed out in red ink tucked into old notebooks. I also have quite a few spiral notebooks filled with stories I scribbled down when I should have been listening in school. I have printed manuscripts from my very old word processor.

As The World Dies: The First Days is not the first book I've written but the NINTH. I hadn't even thought about this fact before my conversation with Dr. Pus. The Tale of the Vampire Bride was the eighth book I wrote (and my personal fav).

Every writer has old manuscripts stashed in drawers or in their closet. These are the discarded first attempts in writing a book that would stun and amaze an editor in a posh office in New York City and land on the best seller lists. They are the first dreams. But at some point, the writer realizes they aren't quite right and they get tucked away.

When I was in my twenties, I was quite positive that I was ready to stun and amaze with my great writing powers. In school, I was always the best writer. Teachers always encouraged me to pursue my writing and pushed me toward a career in journalism. I preferred creative writing much to their chagrin. My mom, an English teacher, has always edited my work and those manuscripts in the closet are marked to hell and back in red ink. My teachers also helped hon my writing. I learned to keep a cohesive plot, develop characters, and create believable dialog. My imagination has always been very rich since I was a little girl, but learning how to wrestle those ideas onto paper was a long process. I finally felt ready in my early twenties, so I finished up a manuscript and started throwing it at editors.

And got rejected over and over again.

I went back to the drawing board, wrote another story, and still met with rejection. I was drifting at the time, unsure of which genre I even wanted to write. I was drawn to horror, but had not been into horror novels when growing up. I loved old horror films and loved Bram Stoker, but I came from a very religious background and had trouble reconciling my attraction to the horror genre. I finally gave up, gave in, and wrote a vampire novel. I really loved it and so did my friends. I felt very confident at this point and sent out a slew of query letters.

I was rejected over and over again.

No one ever read my manuscripts. Just my boring query letters.

I was stuck in the middle of nowhere Texas, cut off from any real writing resources, and those rejection notices made me feel like an utter failure.

What did I do?

I kept writing, but did not attempt to publish anything other than one short story. Surprisingly, it was published in a small zine, but I never could figure out how to expand on that success. After that short story appeared, I got my first taste of fandom with a few handwritten letters. It was inspiring, but I felt stuck.

I began work on The Tale of the Vampire Bride in my late twenties. I had a devastating break up with an ex-boyfriend that spurred me to change my whole life. I moved to Central Texas, got a new job, a new set of friends, and started over. I didn't want to feel like a failure anymore or face rejection, so I gave up on a writing career. My vampire novel sat incomplete on my hard drive.

But I didn't stop writing. I wrote reviews for a website for a movie rental store that specialized in horror movies. I wrote short stories that I didn't even attempt to submit (most of those are on Scribd now), and wrote down ideas for novels as they came to me.

Though I was trying hard to move on from writing and be "normal," deep inside of myself I was unhappy with my choice. That I had allowed rejection notices to send me scampering away from what I loved began to truly annoy me, especially as I gained more confidence in myself and my talents.

A friend recommended me to a magazine covering the music and entertainment scenes in Central Texas, forcing me to put up or shut up. I submitted a writing sample and was asked to start my own column. For more than a year, I had the great pleasure of writing about the music and goth scene I loved and regained all the confidence I had lost.

One day the editor of another magazine I wrote for called me up and said, "Don't you have a vampire novel you're working on? I'm working as an editor for a new small press and..."

The next thing I knew, I was dragging out my old story, reading it over, and rewriting it. Though that small press disbanded and The Tale of the Vampire Bride would not be released until four years later, again, I felt the push of Fate's hand on my back.

That same year, on a lark, I began writing As The World Dies.

It's been thirty years....thirty long years...Writing, reading, studying, writing, writing, learning...always learning...always honing...revising...submitting...failing...succeeding...all of it building to this one moment in time.

They say it takes five manuscripts and five years to finally break in the door. It took me around nine novels and twenty-eight years. But I've never gone down the regular trodden path and I have taken a few detours.

But I got here. And it's exciting. And it has been a very, very long road.

I got the manuscripts in the closet to prove it.

1 comment:

  1. Rhiannon,
    Thank you for this post. It is good to get the utter, awful truth about the publishing industry... but it can start to really beat you down. A person needs to hear the good with the bad, get the carrot sometimes and not the lash.
    I am working my way through my first real novel and reading voraciously other books in the genre along with books on writing and publishing (your series As The World Dies were the first zombie books I picked, and the best I've yet read).
    Sometimes I find myself simply brimming with optimism, and at others, struggling with the weight of the knowledge that the chances of becoming a successful, published author are slim.
    On this day where the sky is loaded, the thunder rumbling and the rain hitting my windows like pebbles, you gave me a carrot.
    Thank you,
    -- Joshua


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