Thursday, January 6, 2011

You Gotta Change a Lot of Dirty Diapers

Writing is a lot like parenthood for me. Both endeavors have changed me. Both have led to my personal growth in ways I never would have imagined. Both have their moments of heartbreak and worry but the joys far overshadows those things.

I became a parent in the Fall of 2000. I began writing with publication in mind during the spring of 2001. Writing and parenthood they are both huge parts of who I am. Who my friends are. And who I want to be ten years from now.

Did we, my wife and I make a few mistakes with our first born. You betcha. Hell we are no doubt still making mistakes, but we do the best we can given what we know and think.

Did I make a few mistakes writing my first novel. Damn right, Except back then I knew very few of the so-called rules. I was writing to write. I was writing to tell a story which filled me head. I was writing to introduce the world to these fabulous characters only I knew on an intimate level. But I felt certain readers the world over would fall in love them them also. All I had to do was release them onto the page.

I just knew my book would be a hit, a best seller, a great addition to the debate over, What is The Great American Novel.

I wrote Small Town, Big Lies with the mind of a reader rather that a writer. For at that point that is what I was. I wrote a story I would want to read.

It took me a year to write it. I entered it in a contest at a local writing conference. A month or so later I found a postcard in my mail box. Small Town, Big Lies had been selected as a finalist. I signed up to attend the conference. I'd also attended the year before, but I broke my leg a week before and had surgery only two days before the event. Hopped up on Hydracodone and limping along on crutches is now way to experience your first conference. So this, my second year was going to be first writing conference with a  clear head.

As part of the workshops you could submit the opening to your novel for possible critique by a real live New York Editor. I submitted. Was picked. and then the nerves kicked in when I learned I would read my worm out loud for the editor and the other workshop attendees. I'd never read my work aloud at that point, much less to an editor.

I was picked to go first. The editor was a pleasant woman but she shot my a strange look as I stood and cleared my throat. I no more than read a paragraph than she stopped me and said, "Sorry to interrupt but I can't believe you wrote this. I felt certain a woman had written this. Or maybe a gay man."

She laughed at what no doubt was a dumbfounded look on my part. "Trust me she said. I'm not saying you are gay. I'm just saying it is extremely rare for a straight man to write with your sense of observance and the kind of emotion you showed in this work. Please continue," she said.

I did, and when finished, she broke my piece down talking about the things I did well, the things that needed work and the potential my story had. Later that day I won first place in  the mainstream category and I was on top of the world. The editor had asked to read the rest of the manuscript and I thought, "This writing stuff is easy."

A year later and two edits later that same New York editor believed my manuscript was ready. She told me the time had come for her to submit it at their next acquisition meeting.

She did.

Marketing shot it down. they said it didn't have enough hook to separate it from all the stuff already on the shelf. They said I brought nothing to the table marketing wise. they said it would lose money . They wounded my dream.

But I wasn't ready to throw in the towel. I mailed it off to dozens of agents. Form letters came in droves. Then one day I opened one that looked a little different. Handwritten it said exactly this,

Dear Mr. Erwin,

Your meandering storytelling and excessive verbiage does not appeal to me now or never.


The Evil One

He may have been right but his tact left something to be desired and perhaps that is why the man in question is no longer an agent.

Anyway a few weeks later a few requests came in. Some for partials and a couple of fulls. I spent two more years making various edits while writing a second novel as well, but in the end Small Town, Big Lies whimpered away to a dark corner.

I have since wrote a third, fourth and fifth novel. Dozens of short stories and a memoir.

But lately I have began to think of my first born novel. And Amazon is again hosting their breakthrough novel contest. So I dug it out. I started reading. The dialogue seems a bit clunky and there is the occasional awkward sentence. Along with a bit of overwritten scenes and overly repeated dogmas.

But the story still captivates me. And the setting is spot on if I do say so myself. And the characters. I still love those guys and gals. And the plot ain't too shabby either.

And most remarkably the writing shows a confidence that only in the last few years have I gotten back. There was a period where I wrote by the rules. Where I wrote from the brain and not the heart. That first novel had heart of nothing else.

But do I love it for what it is? My first born. Or is there more to it. Am I objective or delusional?

Can I polish its flaws and have it ready for the Amazon deadline in 18 days, or should I stop looking forward and reach for the future?

Hell if I know, but these are the question filling my brain this fine afternoon. 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

What the hell -- go for it! As its author, you've already received the ultimate compliment of being thought to be a woman or a gay man! This book deserves to be read!

Corey Schwartz said...

I agree with Debra. Go for it!!!

Laurel said...

Go, Travis, GO! I think you can (should) do it!

Old Kitty said...

You are obviously still passionate about your first born and you know what needs to be done to make it sparkle even more - so I'm with everyone here - get to it!! Go change that diaper!!! Take care

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

I agree, Travis. GO FOR IT. And when Amazon has it available, I will definitely download it and read it. And enjoy it. I am really looking forward to that time!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Travis, go for it. You'll never know if you never try. You've already received a second witness (you being one and that lady editor being the other). Times changes. What wouldn't fit the market then might be the perfect fit now.

Anybody getting sick of vampire stories?

Janna Leadbetter said...

You are a true and shining (if hairy) example of perseverance! It will pay off, Travis. You gotta believe.

PS. Thanks for following my new blog. I knew I could count on you. ;)

Unknown said...

Go for it Travis! 18 days is a lifetime *snicker* But seriously. do it! You're going to make this happen one day, but if you don't even bother then you definately won't!

the walking man said...

When I am doing the "final" (is there ever a final) edit. I always go somewhere else. Somewhere where I do not do the bulk of my writing. A coffee shop, a library, anyplace that puts me in a different space than when I first wrote the piece in question.

Why? It takes away all of the subliminal references that surrounded me when I wrote the first draft. It gives me a different mindset and perspective.

Good fortunes to you, hope you reach that bar you set for yourself Travis. Then when you have another kid you can hire a nanny to change the diapers.

Charles Gramlich said...

I loved this. You've got the tude and can walk the walk. All luck in 2011. And I just got, for real, one of those nasty rejections last night. I'm feeling a bit wounded at the momemnt

Unknown said...

I've given up writing dozens of times. Especially after brutal rejections. For up to six hours at a stretch. It's an addiction, I tell you. ;-)

And I was there when you read for you-know-who, reading my own stuff. That was before we knew each other, remember? I was as surprised by you when she called you out. The thing is, she clearly meant it as a compliment. You handled it gracefully.

Eric said...

I've heard all the time that you shouldn't try to publish your first novel. That one is just for practice (or something along those lines). That's a load of crap if you ask me.

If you believe in the story and you write it well (emphasis on making sure the writing is good), I do think you can get it out there. And I think you should. Of course, I'm a believer in stories that come from our hearts. Those are the ones that have the most impact.

My advice is work it up and get it out there dude. Judging from past things I've read by you, I am sure you'll be able to succeed with it.

Unknown said...

This is a great post, I understand how hard writing is and how gut wrenching it can be to have rejections,but your attitude and your work is amazing.

I also am reminded of the statement: to thine own self be true, this is how it is for writers.

Go for it and that is what sets our dreams and also, will show your children how important it is for you to follow your dreams.