Writing about writing

The first story I ever attempted to write on my own was in third grade. I don’t remember why it was that I started to write and can only assume it was part of an assignment. I wrote a story about a kid who visited Moscow. We were studying Russia in Social Studies and something about a foreign city like Moscow fascinated me. I remember at the time we were still using that wise writing paper, with the dotted line in the center of each line of text to help you form your letters. I filled several pages. Not only that, I wrote more of the story at home. Unfortunately, I remember nothing about the story.

Strangely, however, I do remember that about this time (deep within the early 1980s portion of the Cold War) learning from somewhere what a nuclear war was, and brooding about it. I remember sitting in one of these maroon swivel chairs we had in our living room and asking my mom about nuclear war. I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember her saying that if a nuclear war happened, we’d all be dead instantly. I also remember coming away from that conversation with the impression that mom felt that nuclear war was just around the corner.

I can’t recall trying to write again until the 6th grade. In that case, it was poetry and my autobiography, which everyone in the class had to write. I can’t recall the poems that I wrote very clearly, but one them was about my parents, and it was put up on the wall for display at an open house (without my knowledge). My parents saw it while they were at the open house and seemed pleased by it. The autobiography was fun. I felt I had lived a long time and had a lot to say. I still have it somewhere, although reading it now is more embarrassing than anything else.

In junior high school, I wrote a very long story that was in slavish imitation to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I had read around that time. (I can’t remember what made me decide to read the book, but I loved it.) I remember spending days and days writing the story, making it all up as I went along. It was the first story I ever wrote on word processor, specifically in AppleWorks on the Apple ][e that we had. The title of the story escapes me at the moment, but I still have it in a box somewhere around here.

In high school, I wrote a series of stories in collaboration with strausmouse which were also very much in imitation of Hitchhikers Guide but which had reached a higher level of maturity and were actually rather funny. We wrote the first of these stories in small print on a brown paper bag book cover, filling every square inch of the book cover in tiny print. Eventually, we wrote 4 or 5 sequels. These are the first stories to which I ever had an audience. We passed them around to people at school and some people even found our stories amusing.

Rereading them now, I realize that we could never get away with those stories today. We would have been expelled had we ever been caught. The stories were complete farces, but we had joking references to blowing up classrooms and disembodied cars that mowed down innocent students. After Columbine and the various other school tragedies, these sorts of stories lost their glamor, I suppose.

It wasn’t until December 1992 (the end of fall quarter of my junior year in college) that I began to write stories which I submitted to magazines. These first stories were terrible, but I sent them everywhere I could think of. I wrote a lot of science fiction stories, but I also tried other types of fiction writing, mainstream, horror, even soft-sore porn. (Not knowing at the time that Playboy published legitimate fiction of excellent quality, I submitted the latter to Playboy knowing they paid huge sums for fiction. It is only with extreme embarrassment and humiliation that I can even believe I did this.) More and more I wrote science fiction and began to collect a set of rejection slips that have continued right down to this day.

Some stories were better than others and in those cases, I’d get better rejection slips. I worked at it on and off, and when I got busy on the fast track at work, well after graduating, I didn’t write for a long time. When I returned to writing, I gradually improved. I have never written as frequently as I’ve wanted to. My time has always been divided between many things. But I kept getting better. In April 2005, I got a rejection slip from Sheila Williams at ASIMOV’S that was remarkable to me. I felt I had fouled one off. And then, in December 2006, I finally sold a story.

Since then, I have started writing five more stories, all of which are in various stages of progress, none of which are complete. And I have written very little in the last two months. But these things come in stages and I have learned to accept that. All I ask is that I continue to improve. It would be nice, for instance, if it didn’t take another 14 years to sell my next story.