I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing.
My current work-in-progress, Empire’s Heir, is probably the most planned book I’ve ever begun. I’m moved from complete pantser to at least acknowledging that an outline isn’t a bad idea. With Heir, I did a really detailed outline. I know my themes and my subplots, and where I was introducing a new twist to support the saggy middle – all before I began to write.
I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing. Bored because I’d already done ‘young woman coming of age under challenging circumstances’ story with my protagonist’s mother – it’s what my whole first trilogy is about. Frustrated, because some of the themes and subplots meant I was stretching credulity to have my MC present for some of the conversations and action, but without them, the book would be too simplistic.
My last book, Empire’s Reckoning, also challenged me in different ways, and I found having a playlist for it helped keep me focused. Maybe that would help, I thought, and went looking for (and soliciting) ideas for songs. And I gave my playlist for Reckoning one more listen.
One of the songs on that playlist is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children, one of the anthems of my youth. I listened to it, and sang (ok, that too is stretching credulity – let’s say I vocalized) along with it, and then I went to bed.
To wake up early the next morning hearing, very clearly, the voice of my protagonist’s father, a voice I’ve never heard, although he’s been a central character in all books but one – and the solution to both my problems with the story. Switching its focus just a little, creating a two point-of-view story that contrasts Gwenna’s youth and naivete with Cillian’s wisdom and experience, adding a ‘passing of the torch’ theme – all those made the story so much more interesting. Situations central to overarching themes in the series can unfold without Gwenna directly observing them.
I should know by now that linear planning doesn’t work for me. I’m a mind-mapper on paper, a doodler, working with free-flowing thought and image, creating lateral connections – and I think that’s what ‘pantsing’ is about: letting the subconscious make those connections and drive the story. “Feed them on your dreams…” Graham Nash wrote, fifty years and more ago…and it seems it’s still the best advice for my writing.
Courage comes in many forms: a hero’s weapon is not always a sword.
Yesterday I had a discussion with someone regarding what my new book, Empire’s Reckoning, is really about: not its plot, but its theme. Its deeper story, if you will. (There are no spoilers here; you can keep reading.) “Courage comes in many forms: a hero’s weapon is not always a sword,” I have written in the pre-publication advertising. But that could say: “Courage is seeing a life past betrayal,” because that is closer to the heart of the book.
By betrayal, I do not necessarily mean duplicity, or disloyalty (or not only), but also the tiny betrayals of expectation: expectations of others, of our governments, of our cultures and friends and loves, and, importantly, of ourselves. Of our own best intentions, of our belief in our own abilities and motives and actions. All my main characters but one– and there are five now, in one of the two timelines in the book – face this loss, this realization of imperfection in ourselves and those we love.
My characters react to those betrayals, large and small, external or internal, in different ways, and to say more would be spoiling the story. I began Empire’s Reckoning two summers ago, long before COVID, but I can’t help thinking about its theme now in the face of our collective confusion and sense of betrayal. I’ve written before about how the overall theme of the series is about the power and limits of love to provide shelter and sanctuary in a turbulent world. In Reckoning, I ask that question again, but this time the turbulence is mostly from within, from the breaking of implicit contracts and the shattering of beliefs.
We too have had beliefs shattered, implicit contracts broken as the world grapples with COVID. We too are facing loss, bewildered by the change in our lives. We are afraid, angry, confused, exhausted, but also compassionate, generous, altruistic. We focus on ourselves, and we worry for others. I’m not saying Reckoning is a guidebook to navigating the changed world we find ourselves in. But as I emerge from the cocoon of creating a book, and am thinking more about what the post-COVID world might be, I wonder. Can I be as brave as my characters, and find in this upheaval the guideposts to uncharted ways, to a different way of living in this world?
My goal throughout the series has been to create a world that feels familiar to a reader brought up on the history of Britain and northern Europe, but has enough dissonance to make readers think about the questions raised by the conflicts with which the characters must deal, both personal and political.
“Exactly so,” Gnaius agreed. “May I say more? I have lived in many of Casil’s provinces over the years. A physician travels with the army, if he wishes to become a skilled surgeon.”
– from Oraiáphon: A Novella of the Empire, 2020.
In my Empire’s Legacy series and its sequels (both completed and planned), the supporting character Gnaius plays, and will play, an important role. Gnaius is a physician, erudite and highly skilled, who has held many positions with both the army and to the Empress of Casil. He is a product of my imagination, of course, but he is based on the historical physician Claudius Galenus, best known to the modern West as Galen.
I want to talk about Galen not so much in terms of the historical person, but as an example of how, in my alternate-world historical fiction, I use history to inform my world without being bound by it. The city in my world, Casil, is physically based on 4th century Rome, but politically it’s a blend of Rome and Byzantium. However, many of the conflicts that occur are from later in Europe’s history, between about 600 and 1000.
Galen lived in the 2nd century of the common era, at the same time as the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who appears as a figure from the past in my series (under a different name, of course). But this doesn’t matter: I’m not writing history. What matters is that Galen did almost everything I wanted Gnaius to have done: travelled extensively, learned about surgery and wound treatment in the field, practiced medicine in the capital city and became the personal physician to Emperors. So I have, effectively, lifted Galen out of the 2nd century and inserted him into my world at a later date.
There are both pros and cons to doing this. Readers will fall roughly into three categories: those who know nothing about early-medieval medicine, and will assume I’ve made Gnaius up entirely; those who have some knowledge of Galen, may well recognize consciously or unconsciously that Gnaius seems familiar, or right for the times; and those who know a fair bit about the subject, and may object to him being dragged forward several centuries.
My goal throughout the series has been to create a world that feels familiar to a reader brought up on the history of Britain and northern Europe, but has enough dissonance to make readers think about the questions raised by the conflicts with which the characters must deal, both personal and political. The real-life Galen fits neatly into the world, he’s just in the wrong century. (Certain readers may throw the book across the room in disgust at recognizing Gnaius as more-or-less Galen, although if they are that wedded to historical accuracy, they’ve probably given up on the series long before Gnaius makes his appearance 2/3 of the way through the third book.)
By some combination of serendipity and synchronicity, I learned in my research trip to Rome last week that Galen had lectured extensively at The Temple of Peace in the Forum, and indeed had stored his writings there for safekeeping. This plays right into the plot outline for the book (#5) I was there to research…and then I learned a fire at the Temple destroyed a fair number of those works. I’d already considered a fire in that general location as a plot device; now I have a historical occurrence to build around. The fire is not just plausible, it happened, and the destruction of some of Galen/Gnaius’s writings may well feed part of the plot of book #6, which is now little more than a concept.
Gnaius is a minor character, although an important one. But by using Galen’s life as the basis for his, the verisimilitude of setting, character and plot is strengthened. Reviewers frequently comment on the depth and quality of world-building in my books: this is one way I do it. What are your methods for creating believable worlds?
I don’t regret the years I spent in my other careers, the years spent absorbing and practicing how to use words to convey a message precisely, concisely, and with impact. They helped make me the writer I am now.
Five years ago this month, Empire’s Daughter was published, the first book of my Empire’s Legacy trilogy. (Not that I knew, at that point, it was the first of a trilogy. I’d written it as a stand-alone.) I was 56.
I’d wanted to be a writer all my life, and I’d written all my life. And, to be fair, I was a writer, just not of fiction. In my first career, I wrote scientific papers for peer-reviewed journals, and procedural manuals, and monographs and chapters in highly technical books. Then I moved away from research and into education, and I wrote curriculum for the entire province, and a textbook, and many presentations and more technical manuals. Oh, and grant applications, in both careers: I was very good at grant applications.
All the writing I did in my previous two careers was very structured; there were protocols to follow. In scientific writing, precision of language was required: the exact scientific or technical term had to be used and the explanations needed to be accurate, unembellished, and follow a logical, clear, order. In writing grant applications, all those restrictions still applied, but I also needed to know what the ‘buzz’ words were, the terms that met the priorities of the granting agencies. Those terms had to be included in a natural way, not forced into the wording of the application.
In my career in education, I had to write for different audiences. A middle grade textbook uses different language than a guide to assistive technology for parents. A curriculum written for high school teachers, following the template provided by the province, is different again. I learned to match my word choice and sentence structure and the layout of the project to the audience.
Very importantly, none of this was done alone. I might be – and often was – responsible for the actual writing, but the final product had always gone through peer review, editing, rewriting, more review….and from that I learned the value of other eyes and minds, and how to take feedback (leave your ego at the door) and how to throw out something I loved.
So by the time I’d written Empire’s Daughter, and decided it was worth sending out to the world, I’d already learned a lot of the lessons a writer of fiction needs. (I’d written two previous novels during this time, too. They’ll never be published: they were practice in the craft.) I’d learned about structure and tailoring language to an audience. I’d learned ways to describe concisely and accurately. I’d learned about embedding concepts seamlessly into narrative. And most importantly, I’d learned about listening to those within my field charged with improving the work, and how even a competent and confident writer needs an editor.
The editors I worked with at the small, now-defunct press that first accepted Empire’s Daughter for publication taught me more about writing fiction, but much of what I learned was an extension of what I already knew about writing. I have four books behind me now, and I continue to learn: I hope I always will. But I don’t regret the years I spent in my other careers, the years spent absorbing and practicing how to use words to convey a message precisely, concisely, and with impact. They helped make me the writer I am now. Something else did, too, but I’ll leave that for another day.
I demand historical accuracy of my alternate-Europe: its geography, social constructs, and history may differ somewhat from the real world, but the background is as correct as my research allows. (And my interpretation of that research, of course.) But this conversation between two characters in the work-in-progress, Empire’s Reckoning, led me down a research path I hadn’t expected.
“Should I put the meadows along the water to the plough, if I can find seed? They’ve been grazed, but we’ll not have sheep in numbers for a few years yet.”
“If those meadows are like the Ti’ach’s, they’re wet,” I said. “Better leave them to the sheep, and plough better drained land, if you can.” He’d be late getting the barley in…
And then I stopped. This scene is taking place in early May, in a land that is an analogue of lowland Scotland, in more-or-less the 7th century. Was this TOO late to plant barley? Would it mature before winter came? (I have a graduate degree in crop science, and so I think about these sorts of things.)
I googled ‘medieval Scotland planting date barley’…and discovered something I didn’t know. (Not terribly surprising, that, except that due to the aforementioned graduate degree in crop science, I actually do know a fair bit about the origins of cereal grains. And the professor who taught that bit was not only a Scot, but a whisky aficionado…which will become relevant.)
What I discovered was ‘bere’ (pronounced bear): a barley race introduced to northern Scotland by the Vikings in the 8th century or earlier (earlier was good). Peter Martin, director of the Agronomy Institute at Orkney College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), says, ‘Bere is probably the oldest cultivated barley, definitely in Britain and probably one of the oldest still in cultivation in Europe.’ Adapted to the climate and soils of the far north, it matures in 90 days. Plenty of time for my character to plant it in lowland Scotland in mid-May (or even June by the time he gets those fields under plough) and harvest it in late summer.
It’s also taller than modern varieties, which means it has an unfortunate tendency to lodge, or fall flat on the ground near to harvest in heavy rain or wind. I knew this about older barley varieties, so I’d already written this later scene, a different landholder and a different year than the earlier one.
In the long summer twilight, the clouds and rain now blown eastward, we walked up to the barley fields. Much of the grain lay flat. Roghan clicked his tongue. “Harder work for the men,” he said. At the greener field, he shook his head. “It will mould before it ripens. We’ll try to rake it, but likely I’ll turn the cattle out on it in the end.”
At the start of this century, there may have been less than 10 hectares of bere left in Scotland, grown only in small fields in the far northern and western islands. What has saved it is its unique flavour when used to brew beer or whisky. Small breweries and small distilleries produce short-run, expensive beverages with it, aimed at the increasing market for local-provenance food and drink. Barony Mill, a watermill on Orkney, produces flour (beremeal) from it as well. It’s a tough grain, difficult for modern machinery to handle — and would likely have ground down the teeth of people who ate it regularly (that and the flakes of stone from the grinding).
I’m visiting Orkney in April, too early to see bere growing. I’ll look for the whisky, if it doesn’t break the bank. Well, maybe one glass, somewhere on that northern island, in honour of my constructed world and the real one it’s based on.
Sticky notes decorate the frame of my external screen like mustard fields in flower seen from a plane.
You’re a full-time writer?
I am – writer, editor, press coordinator – but it’s not what you think. A thousand words
per day, and time for leisurely lunches and long walks to get the creative
juices flowing? Ha!
Most days I
wake up at six, without an alarm or the cat encouraging me. I get up, yawn,
wander into my study, wake up the computer, and sit down to do social media for
an hour. The cat helps, or hinders; mostly she hinders, walking on the keyboard
and blocking the external screen. I persuade her to settle on my left shoulder
and type one-handed. I update and respond on Twitter and Facebook. I answer
emails. I find news stories related to writing or to my historical period and
add them to my feeds. I update Twitter again.
coffee and breakfast. My husband and I may have exchanged a few words by now. Then
I look at my very long to-do list, and my week’s priorities, and due dates and
deadlines, and decide what I’m actually doing today. The collective press I
coordinate has a book launch coming up in three weeks, and we’re attending a
book fair in two. I’ve dealt with most of the immediate issues for both of
those, and it’s too early to send out press releases about the book launch.
Posters can wait until next week – more than two weeks’ notice, and they get
lost in the huge number of events happening in our artsy town. But I still have
to design those posters, so I can’t wait too long. I star that on my to-do list
I have a
semi-annual report to write for the community newsletter I chair, but that too
can wait a few days. My priority today is to read the revised chapter one of
our authors has sent me: we are meeting tomorrow to discuss her book. In our
collective, she’s our face-to-face publicity person, our extrovert who MC’s
book launches and fronts the table at book fairs. Her book is our first foray
into non-fiction: it’s a look at using improv in the workplace to build teams. It
needs a very different internal layout than a novel, and I’m doing a lot of
research and consulting, both into appropriate layouts and programs with which
to do this.
take a couple of hours. The cat will attempt to help. My ADHD mind will
generate random thoughts and ideas and snippets of dialogue related to my own work-in-progress
at any moment, so I have sticky notes to hand; they decorate the frame of my
external screen like mustard fields in flower seen from a plane.
I try to get up every half-hour or so. Usually I stay in my pajamas till mid-morning, then shower and dress. I do laundry; I do bits of dinner prep, I water plants or pick tomatoes. Sitting for long periods is NOT good. The Pomodoro method more-or-less works for me, unless I’m so focused I just turn off or tune out the alarm.
Having written this blog entry, I’m off to start the focaccia I’m making for tonight’s dinner, and have my shower while the yeast is rising. Then I’ll jot down any thoughts that occurred while I was showering, put on some music, and make the bread. Then I’ll begin the chapter review. Once I’ve analyzed the chapter, written notes and the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, I’ll take a longer break, for coffee; maybe I’ll read an article in Medieval Warfare or another few pages in the research paper on land rights in early-medieval England I’m slowly getting through.
Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately.
Say ‘ancient Rome’ and you have my attention immediately. So I had to read Brook Allen’s debut novel, and I also invited her to contribute a guest post to this blog. So, here’s my review, and her piece, and some of her photos, too!
is a familiar historical figure. Whether it’s from Shakespeare, film, video
games or history class, his basic story as Julius Caesar’s right-hand man, Cleopatra’s
lover, and a key figure in the transformation of Rome from a republic to an imperial
state is known to many. But how did he become this man? What drove him?
Antonius, Son of Rome, the first book in a planned trilogy about Marc
Antony’s life. Beginning when Marcus is in early adolescence, the story intertwines
known information with imaginative situations. Impeccably researched and richly
described, Allen brings the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic to life.
Her characterization of the young Antonius gives insight into and motivation
for later actions.
in research for my own books, I took a course on the fall of the Roman republic.
I rather wish I hadn’t bothered: reading Allen’s series will be a far more
entertaining way of reminding myself of the history! But even though the personalities and actions
of this period are fresh in my mind, I wasn’t the least bit bored by Son of
Rome. Creating suspense when the outcome is known is a difficult task, and
one well-managed in this novel. When an author can vitalize known history and familiar
characters as well as Allen has in this book, I know I’m onto a writer I’m
going to want to follow.
Highly recommended for readers interested in the period, or who would like to know more about this tumultuous, influential time in the history of Rome and its empire. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!
I’ll never forget the first time I visited Pompeii.
I entered through the Marina Gate and as I walked slowly toward the Forum, it was as though I was going back into time with each and every step. And the place still possesses its very human story through its various buildings—some of which still stand complete—and it’s wall frescoes and plaster-cast molds of victims. The site is a world treasure. Though people and animals tragically died here, it’s a veritable time-capsule of information on just how ancient Romans lived and died. And perhaps the most surprising thing that a visitor takes with them upon leaving is the thought that, “They were just like us!”
In Rome itself, apartment buildings called insulae (islands) were often up
to seven or even eight stories high. Plutarch, an ancient biographer who liked to tell the stories of famous Greeks and Romans, told about Marcus Licinius Crassus, a contemporary of Julius Caesar. Crassus became rich through vast purchases of properties in Rome—specifically insulae. Since Rome had no fire brigade at the time, Crassus trained a band of his own slaves to be firemen. If there was a fire in an insula, which occurred regularly, due to people trying to cook in their apartments, Crassus would show up with his firemen. He’d offer to buy the insula for a ridiculously low price and the poor, panicked owner would either have to sell his enflamed property or watch it burn, as Crassus would only order his firemen into action if he sealed a deal.
And—hey! McDonald’s anyone? Common plebians typically ate their meals at fast food stalls, located on the streets and sometimes even built into insulae. Americans might think they invented fast-food, but these tiny eateries would serve up steaming veggies and meats onto husks of bread for a filling meal two-thousand years ago. It was only the upper middle classes and families of noble descent who could really afford to recline in their painted triclinia, served by slaves.
Lastly, I have to mention the Roman passion for games. Now their tastes were different than ours—bloody beast and gladiator shows were the norm. But this enormous public park easily lends to our imaginations what mighty structure once stood there. The Circus Maximus was the place to go for gladiator shows, public executions of criminals, and the favorite Roman pastime—chariot racing!
The Circus Maximus is HUGE and worth a visit. Visitors can still walk where the original track was laid out and see where the spina—the “spine” of the complex—once was. By Julius Caesar’s day, this enormous arena seated over one-hundred-fifty THOUSAND people! As the Republic morphed into Empire, several Emperors renovated and improved the mighty Circus Maximus, and other hippodromes similar to it were added in notable cities throughout the Roman Empire.
I am of the opinion that there’s NOTHING boring about history. People who poo-poo the study of other cultures from the past simply haven’t gotten INTO the spirits of the people who once lived so long ago. Tourists who visit Pompeii and experience the many similarities between ancient Roman culture and ours are right. In many regards, they were “just like us.”
Brook Allen (Click on Brook’s name to go to her blog, full of more information about Rome and its inhabitants.)
An ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and iwritten with a deft hand.
Evie’s thoughts on writing the story:
I’ve had the idea of writing a series of fairy tale re-imaginings with LGBTQ+ characters for longer than I can remember. However, because the concept felt so daunting, it wasn’t one I’d put a lot of focus or thought into. That is until I submitted another manuscript to a Romance Writers of America contest and received a full request from Sue Brown-Moore, the acquisitions editor for Dreamspinner Press’s category romance line, Dreamspun Desires. She enjoyed my voice, but the manuscript I’d given her didn’t fit with the angst-free guidelines of her line.
After chatting with her—and darn near falling in love, because she’s a wonderful human—I decided to take a crack at writing the first in my fairy tale re-imaginings series with the Dreamspun Desires guidelines in mind. Around this time, I was offered representation by Eva Scalzo from Speilburg Literary. I signed with her, and we were off and running almost immediately with a proposal to Sue for a Beauty and the Beast retelling starring Adam Littrell, a grumpy MMA fighter nicknamed “The Beast,” and his sweet personal assistant Beauregard Wilkins.
I had an absolute blast writing Adam and Bo’s story. Once I got the green light from Sue, I dove in and wrote all 55K of the manuscript in less than six weeks. A few rounds of editing with my agent later and Beauregard and the Beast found itself in Sue’s hands. Much to my delight, she offered a contract less than a week later.
Truly, my experience in writing these characters was a magical one. I had to fight some of my most basic creative instincts to avoid the angst that so typically becomes an integral part of my plots. Every time my characters tried to steer me toward a plot bunny that would undoubtedly gum up the fluffy romance works, I’d pop back to the outline I’d created during the proposal stage and crack the whip until they fell back into line. It wasn’t easy, but it was a labor of love and taught me a great deal about the art of writing and about myself as a writer.
I have several more stories already pinging around my brain to continue the series, including a Little Mermaid retelling with an Olympic swimmer I’m hoping to publish during the 2020 Olympics!
Adam is the
Beast, a mixed-martial-arts champion who has never let anyone close to him: his
career’s always come first. But he isn’t a youngster any more, and his ring
persona has very little to do with who he really is.
One thing Adam truly is, however, is disorganized, which is why he needs a personal assistant. Enter Beauregard, a bookish guy with a sister in college to support. He’s also almost irresistibly cute. The attraction between them is immediate, but inappropriate: Adam is Bo’s employer. How long will they be able to keep the relationship professional?
updated version of Beauty and the Beast, written as a male/male romance, Evie
Drae has given us a sweet, sexy story. It’s an ideal summer read, a few hours
of delightful escapism, and it’s written with a deft hand. I laughed out loud
several times (to the consternation of my cat). The sex scenes are detailed, so
if you prefer love-making in a book to be more veiled, be aware. There are
stumbling blocks in the road to love, as there must be any romance, but without
spoilers I’ll say the ending does not disappoint.
Words have the power to bring about healing if allowed to flow out of a painful or confusing situation
Time and circumstance have a way of
challenging a person beyond what they feel like they can endure or overcome. As
a seasoned writer, the greatest breakthrough I have ever experienced is when I
came to the realization that there is viable healing that can be gleaned from
addressing a situation with the power and permanence of words.
I have discovered time and again that using
words as an anchor grounds me, and helps me come to the place of peace –
knowing that somehow everything is going to be okay. I had been a leader for
several years in different capacities in my local church, but I had never been
so challenged. It was during this time of great trial that I first realized the
power of overcoming adversity with words. I was dealt a harsh life blow and I had
nothing to stabilize me – mentally and emotionally. I was caught in a perpetual
state of anguish and despair. I couldn’t change a thing. The whole situation
was out of my control, and just awful.
With great effort on my husband’s part, I
was coaxed to come out of my room. I had stowed away in despair and felt
powerless to battle the hopelessness that was enveloping me. My husband
convinced me to take a ride with him. As
my husband and I quietly headed down the highway, which was our norm, I began
to feel a song rise up in my spirit. I wasn’t trying to create anything. I was
just trying to survive. I grabbed a pen and a notebook and I began to write
down the song. As the words flowed onto the paper a healing washed over me.
When I returned home that day I was changed
by the power of the words in the song that I had penned. I had discovered that
as I released the hope and the words that were tucked down deep inside that I
was able to actualize them as I applied my stored faith from deep within. It
wasn’t a momentary breakthrough, but a monumental breakthrough. When I returned
home that day I was able to pick up the shattered pieces of my life and move on
– no longer broken beyond repair.
Through the years I have applied the same
principle when I am faced with other challenging situations. I sit down and I
start writing, and as I face my adversities by writing about them I find
answers that I hadn’t previously been able to see because of the circumstances.
As I write away my problems I find a great release. I am able to tap into an
inner strength and peace. Words indeed,
have the power to bring about healing if allowed to flow out of a painful or
confusing situation. As a writer, I am grateful for the opportunity that
writing allows and I am always amazed at the healing power of words.
Audrey Semprun lives with her husband in the high
desert terrain of Prescott, Arizona. Audrey enjoys the peacefulness that living
in a small mountain community allows. She gleans inspiration from not only the
small town atmosphere, but also from the beauty that surrounds her. She is
passionate about her faith, her large family, and about writing. Audrey uses
her creativity to relay life lessons in a down to earth and meaningful way –
always trying to bring light, love, and hope by means of the poetry and the
stories that she shares.
I published my first book at the age of 61. So what took me so long? Fear and self-doubt.
I want to write. I have always wanted to
write. I published my first book at the age of 61. So what took me so long?
Fear and self-doubt. I’ll explain later. I am a late bloomer. As such, I came
late to writing. My path to the place where I could don the title of writer
with full confidence was a long and frustrating one.
I won’t go into the myriad of personal
setbacks, though there were many, so I will just give an overview of my
journey. I was an immigrant child at the age of nine. I arrived in Houston,
along with my family of seven, in 1965. My life seemingly began that summer.
In reality I had been a dreamer of a child,
with notions of creativity since infancy in my family’s farm in Mexico. I
discovered this, along with a richness of other facts about myself and other
family members once I embarked in writing my first book in earnest. I wrote Of
Dreams & Thorns much later than 1965. It wasn’t till after my
retirement as a college professor and administrator of a federal college
program that I was able to clear my head and heart of all negativity regarding
my proclamation that I was indeed a writer.
Of course, in reality I had been writing Dreams
since my adolescence, at least. It came to me as vague notions of something
that ought to be written down and shared. Aspects of it, bits and pieces,
phrases, images, characters speaking their mind, shouting out for attention. I
kept telling them I wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t the one. I was afraid to let them
down if I lacked skill. After all, I had studied the best writers in the world.
How could I presume to join their ranks?
I studied writing even as I taught freshman
composition. I eventually learned about a pathetic disconnection between
academic and creative writing. I studied poetry (last year I published my book
of poems, states of unitedness) and I attended a couple of courses in
fiction, taught by members of our University of Houston’s award-winning
creative writing program. Alas, it seemed the more I studied, formally and
independently, the more I knew that the best way to write and finish a book is
to just do it, to borrow from Nike. So I began my book in 2017.
Before that, I wrote lots of poetry and
ideas that I never threw away. Forty years wasted, it seems like sometimes. But
more often than not, I believe that, for me with my history and circumstances,
those 40 years were necessary preparation. Of course, I could have cut that time
in half had I made a conscious assessment and decision to just get started. By
the time of my retirement, and finally embracing my total freedom of choice, it
It took a year to get reacquainted with
myself and sort out all types of elements that defined me. All that assessment
pointed indubitably to my being a writer. I finally had no more excuses not to
act on my truest impulses. I wrote the book in six months, but in reality I had
been writing it for forty years, at least at some basic level. The writing
experience unleashed a pent-up craving to master the novel form. I made myself
go beyond most basic writing book advice, and I assumed the mantle of writer in
my own right.
With that, it was as if I gave myself
permission to never again let self-doubt or fear of criticism slow me down.
When you are a Mexican immigrant child, when you see yourself as a poor country
peasant, when you doubt if you have mastered the English language enough to use
it creatively, it builds up self-doubt and insecurities. Well, I somehow
managed to shed all that garbage. I was well accomplished in many other areas,
after all; I certainly had the wherewithal to do it.
I wrote, and I studied, and I wrote. I
edited, and edited, and edited. I hired professional cover and book interior
designers, and I hired two professional editors. I was investing in my book as
if I were a minor “traditional” publisher. I learned the business, and it
taught me that my route was to be an independent publisher. The aspects of
publishing a book and getting it to market, or “in shelves,” end up falling
into a category of business that we creative types seem to hate. I certainly
I will not expound much on the trials and
tribulations of the modern status of publishing as regards novice writers, but
I do recommend a thorough study of it if you are planning to embark in a
writing career or adventure of your own.
So there it is — My short version of how I became a writer late in life as opposed to the more ideal time of my twenties through forties. I do regret that I started late, but only because with age come health issues and other things that slow me down. I have so many projects I want to complete. I have grown considerably as a writer since first publishing my two books, but that is part of the process.