When I was fourteen, I took my first stab at getting published.
I’m not one of these people that started compulsively writing when I was a kid. I made up stories all the time, but I was fairly content to let them play out in my head, a much more flexible space than the grammar cage of print on page. But I played with writing sometimes, and the idea of being an author (pronounced auteur) did wander through my career options tree at times. Along with president, astronaut, and ninja.
But in my early teens I came across a book that tempted me to try to actually take an idea, write it down, and send it in to a market. That book was the first volume of the Writers of the Future contest. A contest for beginning writers, and here they were, people who had written in and had their stories printed. And they got money, too. So I wrote something out, and sent it in.
My first rejection came a few months later. Very pretty, a certificate with the name of my story on it in calligraphy. Yeah, calligraphy. It was like one of those ribbons you got for losing the three legged race in play day at school. Sweet. So I sent in another, and got another certificate. Not to surprising really– even at that age, I had a pretty good idea that my stories were not, let us say, good. At all.
I didn’t write for a while after that. No crushing disappointment about my inadequacies, just busy with other things. My storytelling jones got fixed with gaming, and life went on. Then I became a stay at home dad.
Being trapped in a house with a two year old, alone, out in the country, and you start thinking. Thoughts about how you better find something to do with your brain, or it’s going to melt out of your head and all over the kitchen floor. Where you’ll have to clean it up, along with the spilled apple sauce and cat puke. So I started writing again.
After I knocked out a few short stories, I looked to see if the contest still existed. I checked online, didn’t find it and wasn’t surprised. It had been twenty years, after all. Then at a bookstore, I saw it, Writers of the Future Anthology 23, in the new book section. How the hell I had missed it on google I still don’t know, but when I checked online again, there it was. So I started sending things in.
Story one, a fantasy, bounced with an honorable mention. Which means they actually bothered to read it all the way through, and I got my name on their blog. Not calligraphy, but encouraging. Story two, sci-fi, made it to the critique round. Which means it almost got passed along to the final judges, but just missed. So as a consolation prize, I got a critique of the story. So I changed it around, posted it on Baen’s and changed it some more, and that one got bought. Meanwhile, story three was sent in. I was feeling good about this one. It was a good story, and I had progressed up a level with each earlier submission. Surely this one would make it in. And then I got the call.
I was a finalist. Fantastic. I remember talking on the phone, trying to figure out where I had placed. Then I realized I wasn’t done yet. Finalist just means that my story, and seven others, were going to the judges. Three stories from my group would be picked. I’d find out in a month. I gave my thanks, and that was the call. Then, the waiting began. Oh, the waiting.
When the month deadline hit, we were on vacation in a cabin in north Georgia (the state). I had actually bothered learning how to get messages off our answering machine remotely, just in case. I called the machine the day one month had passed. Hoping, hoping, hoping… first place, second, third, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be done with this, to have placed. And crap, there was a message, and I had won second. I called the number back, figuring no one would be there (late evening on a Sunday night) but there was, and I confirmed the details. I’d won! I was in! Second? Oh screw that, yeah!
So anyway, my first sale, and a check in the mail, and something to put on my cover letters. And a trip to California for a fancy ceremony, a chance to meet some great authors, and a workshop with the other winners from the year. Very excited. But… See, I had one the first quarter. Of the year. Which meant the workshop was, roughly a year and a half away. So, waiting, again.
Well, now it’s just about done. I’m getting ready to go to Hollywood– really, that’s where it is. So now I finally have some blogging material. I’ll talk more about the contest over the next few days. Then, after I’m done, I’ll talk about the workshop. If I survive…
(That’s just a dramatic hook. Yeah, I’m flying American, but I have that covered– I’ll bring my own lunch.)