Writing into the void
My first forays into creative writing consisted of handwritten poems, poured from my adolescent heart into top-ringed Steno notebooks. Lots of them were about true love, and walking on beaches, and looking for true love while walking on a beach. I would have melted (in a bad way) if anyone had read those puberty-fueled verses. Happily, they existed in a void. During college, I began writing short fiction, each story perfectly formed, above critique and to my great surprise, mostly rejected by anyone who received one in the mail. I couldn’t even imagine a way to improve them and didn’t try much.
Novel-writing is a comprehensive, mind-draining process, as you all know. You plan and plot for months (years!), fighting for the time and inclination to set it all down. Then you finish and re-read your work, delighted with the sheer brilliance facing you on the page, quite overcome by the obvious genius you have unleashed unto the world. But it’s all been, again, in a void: you, typing away day after day with no one to receive it. So you give the manuscript to a few friends or family members and are immediately crushed by their ho-hum reaction, or you’re suspicious of their accolades. Because unless your aunt is a professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the opinion of your family and friends only means so much.
Every writer is different, but for me, after years of scribbling and only a few stories in small journals to show for it, I was tired of writing into a void. I wanted someone to read my work; I wanted to see what I could accomplish with it.
When I posted The Qualities of Wood on authonomy and started receiving comments, it was an alternately sobering and exhilarating experience. Sobering when someone wrote (and I paraphrase) “Sorry, but this was just boring.” Exhilarating when a reader understood my aims or was affected by the themes, or merely loved my writing style and my story. Many, many readers gave excellent and thorough advice. Whenever I underwent an edit of the book (and there have been many), I would always do so with the most helpful comments from authonomy nearby.
Also, I found that reading and commenting on other members’ books made me a much more critical and objective judge of my own work. My participation here has really informed the entire editing process, both taking the sting out and giving me ways to think about things like structure, pace, dialogue. And I no longer felt I was writing into a void. I was conversing with other writers, sharing ideas and influences, talking about the craft. And people were actually reading my work and it was very rewarding.
I was nervous to receive the first round of edits from the authonomy team, once the book had been chosen for publication. It seemed as though they liked the book for what it was, but what if they wanted to reconfigure it to better suit some particular genre, some market? What if they wanted to change the essence of the thing? Luckily, they didn’t. I think the most gratifying part of this whole experience has been finding a home for the book with an editor who liked it for what it was. I’m sure others have it worse, but to tell the truth, my editing process was relatively painless. Mostly small stuff, and none of the bigger changes came as a complete surprise, in part because of the advice received here and from other trusted readers. And so, I was actually anxious to dive in and improve the novel. Apologies to Mr. Pack if he’d rather the authonomy crowd think of him as a cruel, exacting boss, but I didn’t find that to be the case!
I’m very excited The Qualities of Wood has been published with HarperCollins. When I look at the various places I can find it now, online, in some ways it’s like another type of void. The virtual world. People read it and sometimes type something about it; the input reaches me through my computer screen, as it did on authonomy. But I know it’s a wider audience, another portal, hopefully, to the next phase.
What is the next phase, you ask? I have many projects queued up, all waiting for me to do something with them. I’ve just finished a novel, Fortress for One, a small excerpt of which is here (and I’d love critiques!). I’m also working on a collection of interrelated short fiction called “Human Stories,” dealing with archetypal stories and how they can be upended in modern times. And I have another idea pecking in a corner of my mind, something set in the American southwest, something with a Grunge soundtrack and a teenager saddled with an incomprehensible set-back. I hope to coax all of these projects into the light eventually.
The Qualities of Wood is available now from all major ebook retailers, and for one month only at the discounted price of 99p. It is the first novel to be published by HarperCollins under the new authonomy imprint. Thank you to all of the authonomy writers and readers who supported the book on its way to the Editor's Desk.