Fan first, writer second

I am getting the feeling that things are picking up for me as a writer.  I don’t have any outright evidence for this outside of my recent sale to Analog, and the fact that I am now a full active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  But many small things are beginning to add up to a feeling that I just may be able to continue to sell stories (and maybe someday, novels) and that I am getting better with each attempt.  Some of the credit goes to persistence. Despite an onslaught of rejections, I continue to write, and continue to try and learn and improve my craft. Clearly this paid off with the story I sold to Analog, which incidentally, was the first time that a story of mine was accepted to the first market to which it was submitted. Some of the credit goes to some amount of native ability. Not much, mind you. I’ve always spoken of myself as a brute force writer, one who has to learn by repeatedly making mistakes and learning from them, one who keeps writing and writing until out of sheer dogged force and persistence, starts to sell stories.  But a lot of the credit goes to other people who stand in the wings, so-to-speak.

The professional science fiction world has embraced me in a way that I could never have dreamed possible. People who I’ve viewed as demigods have treated me as a professional and colleague. Some of these people have become good friends of mine. Michael A. Burstein was perhaps the first to do this. For those who don’t know, Michael is a Campbell Award-winning science fiction writer whose work has appeared most frequently in Analog. Nearly everything he’s written has been nominated for a Hugo or Nebula award, two of the more significant awards in our field, so much so that they fill his book, I Remember the Future.  (A book that you should buy and read if you want examples of how science fiction is done right.) I was a fan of Michael’s work when we first met, and he encouraged me and gave me advice even before I made my first story sale. Since then, he’s introduced me to more people in the science fiction world than anyone else, and I go to him frequently for advice in the field. Michael edited the special themed issue of Apex Magazine in which my story, “Hindsight, In Neon” appeared, and it was a very special thing for me to have a story in an issue that Michael edited.

Other’s have embraced me as well. Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author (and the author of the novel Flash Forward on which the ABC series was based) treated me like a pro when I met him for the first time at RavenCon in 2007, inviting me to dinner with him and many other writers. It was an experience I will never forget. By example, he’s taught me how to be a “professional” in this business and whether or not he knows it, I am grateful to him for that.

There are people like Edmund Schubert, editor of Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, who worked patiently with me on the first story that I sold, and who since, has continued to work with me on stories I’ve submitted to him, providing me with excellent lessons on what make stories work.  There’s fantasy writer David B. Coe, whose public posts and private words on the subject of writing a novel have encouraged me to give it a serious try.

Even further in the wings are people that I almost never mention by name.  I refer to my “first readers” from time-to-time, but they tend to be anonymous. They read and comment on my stories before anyone else sees them and do so out of the goodness of their heart and I trust and value their opinion on my fiction immensely. Their comments make my stories better. Michael has played this role for me, from time to time, but more often than not, the job falls to Sophy and Will, both of whom I met in James Gunn’s science fiction workshop in the summer of 2008. Both are accomplished fellow writers (and Sophy is also an editor) who generously take time out of their schedules to read my stuff. Sophy is Z.S. Adani, whose first collection of short stories, The Last Outpost and Other Tales is coming out in early 2011.  Will is Willis Couvillier, fiction writer and poet and the man who brought me into the Young Gunn’s in the first place.  That their feedback is helpful is indisputable. The both read “Take One for the Road,” the story I recently sold to Analog, and it was probably their feedback that helped ensure a sale the first time out.

Barry N. Malzberg has been one of my favorite writers since I first read Beyond Apollo nearly 20 years ago. I first met him at Readercon in 2008, and it was once again Michael Burstein who made that introduction. We met again this past July at Readercon, and since then not a week has gone by when we have not discussed some aspect of the field in our email correspondence. Barry’s influence has been tremendous on me. He, too, has graciously been giving me advice, reading stories, providing feedback, and encouraging me in my career as a writer. He seems to have high hopes for me and if my career were to end today, I will have called it a success because of that. I am fortunate beyond measure to know him.

Kelly has been patience incarnate through this writing mania of mine. She puts up with my creeping out of bed at 4:55am each morning to write. She reads my stories and provides critical feedback that always makes the story better. She keeps Zachary busy while I revise a manuscript or attend my weekly writers group. And she patiently listens to my blabbering about this and that in the writing world.

These ruminations come at a time when I am deeply ensconced in my third attempt at writing a novel. Earlier in the week, I completed a new short story which I sent off to my first readers.  The feedback on the story was very positive. I might be misleading myself here, but it was positive enough to lead me to think that with the suggestions they offer, I’ll have no problem placing that story. And possibly the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. I think I am on the verge of beginning to sell more regularly, taking yet another step closer to that Platonic ideal of Real Writer.  In two weeks I’ll be heading up to New York to attend the annual SFWA reception (where I’ll have the chance to meet another demigod of mine, Joe Haldeman). While there, I’ll also get a chance to meet some of my fellow Codexians in person, as well as have lunch with an editor.  All of these things combine to make me feel, just dimly, that at last I am on my way.

When I started out as a writer, long before I ever sold a story, I decided that despite my desire to be Science Fiction Writer, I would always be a fan first. I have this legend taped to the top my laptop screen, reminding me of this every time I sit in front of the computer: “Fan first, writer second.” (Click the image below for a larger image.)

Fan first, writer second

It serves as a reminder that the genre is bigger than me and always will be. It is a genre that I love and I feel extremely fortunate to be slowly accepted into the group of writers who’ve I’ve admired since I was a boy–and into the newer group of writers who are making waves today. No matter how far I go in this genre, I can’t ever imagine myself going to a convention where I do not stand in lines, waiting for books to be autographed by writers whom I admire; or standing in awe next to luminaries of the genre, talking about who might win the Hugo or where things are going with eBook rights. These people tell good stories, they tell stories that fans like me love to read. I hope it will always be that way.

And maybe one day my stories will do that for someone else.