Thursday, 29 August 2013

Being Yourself

Just over ten years ago, my life underwent a huge and unexpected transformation.
I changed career paths (a decision that went brilliantly for many years, before going somewhat off the  rails and leaving me in a bit of a career limbo).
I left a romantic relationship with a someone who shared many of my obsessions and priorities and shortly after that entered into a new relationship with someone who had a significantly different view on life than what I was used to.
One thing I decided to do at the time was abandon my dreams of becoming a successful writer. I felt that I  had lost whatever magic touch I once had that made my writing worth reading and had become disillusioned with the notion of success.
None of my friends who had become successful full-time writers seemed much happier for it - and I was stunned by the amount of pressure they encountered as their work became more popular - to hew to a schedule. Prolificacy became the single most important thing in their lives - which might have been okay if there were commensurate financial rewards - but in fact even my most successful writer friends were unable to make a reasonably good living from their art. They were forced to take on additional careers - even while maintaining or increasing their literary output.
So I went on my merry way, getting into a new relationship, discovering a new artform into which I could pour my creative energy - and otherwise just trying to mend my ways. To be a successful and happy wage earner/entrepreneur. I got to continue writing (non-fiction rather than fiction) so I didn't lose my touch. And ultimately, I started to pine for the act of weaving words and creating stories. Many of my friends who had found writing success elusive were finding audiences and starting to get the recognition they deserved. So a few years ago, I unearthed all my half finished projects, rejoined my old writing workshop, started working on a bunch of new stories and went back for a good hard look at the material that I had abandoned. I liked what I saw. For the most part, I was very happy with my work - even if it had failed to set off incoming star awards in literary circles.
The most important aspect of my re-immersion in writing was going to be my new philosophy of writing for myself. This doesn't mean that I don't care if no-one else likes it. But it does mean that I need to be true to myself. If I can love what I write and write what I love...that was half the battle won! 

What did catch me by surprise as this process went on was my ambition, my determination to share my creations with a world that really didn't much care about the output of any particular writer - especially me (or so it seemed). Priority one was to finish the projects I have devoted my life to creating: over 300,000 words of polished prose in the form of published stories that had long since turned to ephemera, novel chunks and fragments and drafts that were uncompleted. I had to put this stuff together, finish it off and put it out in the world. My writing is professional. I have the talent and skill to express myself and tell compelling stories.
Rather than allow the reactions of a handful of opinionated and self-serving people to discourage me I had to recognize that now, more than any other time in history, there exists the opportunity to set your own course, create your own trends, define your own oeuvre. 
I looked at may own work and defined what makes it special: it is both psychedelic and gothic...a unique and potentially appealling combination. I am my own genre. And by recognizing that, I am much better able to see the route forward.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Don't Obsess About a Single Story

So far my observation is that a writer should not allow any given story to become too important to them. I think it's a form of obsession.
But it has happened to me anyway. And that story continues to exercise its thrall on me.
Over 20 years ago, I wrote I novelette called "Masks of Flesh and Sanity." Even while I was writing it I felt that this was the story that defines me. In 20 years, it's gone through probably 20 versions, five different titles and a dozen endings. Every time I reread it, I think, "this is a major story."
I felt that way about "Labour Relations" - which became my first story sale and first appearance in a well-known magazine. I felt that way about "The Onion Test" and it was sort of an underground breakout story for me. I felt that way about "Fourth Person Singular" and received validation from the award nominations and great reviews and resales of  that story.
Of course, I also felt that way about "Lifestreams" - which turned out to be a bit of a dud in the marketplace, but finally got published in a cool little cult magazine.

No such luck for "Masks of Flesh." In 20 years, I have not been able to sell it in any form, with any title or any ending. Not as "Penetration Dance", not as "A Valence for Violence", not as "The Blue Butterfly".
And yet, I have continued to believe that it is the work that defines me. I will concede that I may not have found the right way way to tell the story yet, but I still believe it is the story I was born to tell.
Yet On Spec and Tesseracts have rejected it; David Morrell and Karl Johanson have rejected it; Gardner Dozois and Gordon Van Gelder rejected it. How can I continue to have faith?
Dean Wesley Smith almost bought it once - way back in the beginning. But then didn't.  That was when It was still over 12K - back when I still believed in it. Then it shrank, to 8K, to 5K....

I couldn't understand why people weren't willing to mortgage their houses to publish it! But clearly, they weren't.

Just last year, I read it again, revised and retitled it again although I didn't send it out anywhere.

When I started putting the story collection together, I realized one thing above all others: whatever I call it - "Masks of Flesh" has to be in there.

And now...I finally think I got it. When I started to serialize it on Wattpad, I got feedback about the first 2/3 of  the story. And people went on and on about it's overwhelming creepiness, And I realized that I had allowed that creepiness to disappear as the story went on. So now, it's there all the way to the end. It's been up on Wattpad for awhile as "Masks of Flesh" and it's getting really good feedback. It grabs people and drags them kicking and screaming to the ending – despite its overwhelming darkness. If "Masks of Flesh " hasn't achieved the transcendence I feel it was meant to achieve, it's darned close.

But more importantly, I'm pleased, because it will finally be "published" – whatever the fuck that means – and maybe it will finally get out from underneath my skin where it has been living for so long.
If you want to read the current version at Wattpad, you're more than welcome.