Sunday, December 27, 2015

An Unlikely Road to a Dream

I read the viability report three times before I showed it to my wife. I’d worked with Erin Healy, my editor and now best-selling author, in the past. But that had been more than a decade ago. Back when becoming an accomplished writer had seemed so much more attainable. The years had passed, and I was no closer to accomplishing my dream. I’d written three books and spent five years working on a failed fantasy novel, believing I needed to spend years working on a single project for it to be worthwhile.
The three books I’d sent to Erin to review, however, had been written over the course of a single year. I’d accepted a writing challenge, and the result was a new fantasy series, one I was very excited about. I’d hired Erin to look at the prospects for the series, a birthday gift from my wife. Erin had gone miles beyond in her review of my books, and I struggled with her final suggestion.
“I don’t think she likes my stuff,” I said, involuntarily wincing as I grabbed my stomach.
“Is it bad today?” My wife asked.
I smiled and sighed. “Like every day. I’m okay.”
I’d experienced chronic stomach pain the past year. Most days I ate only once. I’d finally gone to see the doctor a month earlier. She was convinced my ailments were a product of anxiety. As were most of the other symptoms, all of which had worsened after I’d lost my job back in May. My stomach hurt constantly, but there were also days when my hands refused to stop shaking. And for nearly three months after I was fired, I’d been battered by hives.  
            Bethany took her time reading Erin’s notes. When she was finished, she shook her head. “She likes them. You just have to make some adjustments.”
            “It feels like a lot of work.”
            My wife laughed. “It’s not. You can do it.”
            As she moved to walk away, I cleared my throat. “Erin also thinks I should self-publish. She says that the publishing world has changed.”
            Bethany smiled. “Yes. And she also says that you produce a high volume of quality work. That you’re ideal for it.”
            “It’s not the dream.”
            She leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. “Times change. Dreams change, too.”
            I grunted as she walked away. I’d dreamed my entire life of “the call.” Of the agent phoning me to tell me that they’d sold my book to a publisher. A great part of this, obviously, was about acceptance. About becoming part of an exclusive club. If I published the books myself, was I not simply saying that I wasn’t good enough to be part of the club? Or was that simply my pride talking? I understood that the publishing industry was at a crossroads. Self-publishing was smashing old barriers. Technology had splintered everything from TV shows to movies to music. Nothing was at it once was.
            With some reluctance, I decided to take my editor’s advice. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing. I was suddenly being asked to start my own publishing company and figure out not only how to publish my novel, but do everything else that came with it.
            It was, in a word, overwhelming. So I started in the place I knew best; my manuscripts. I attacked the holes and questions that Erin had addressed. And before I could change my mind, asked some friends if they’d be willing to critique my work. To my surprise, people jumped in, willing to help. Within a short time, my manuscript changed. It became more polished. The holes filled. And still, I was nervous.
            Even those published traditionally were required to do their own promotions, but what did I know about that? And what about the cover? I was artistic, but visually, I had the skills of a first grader. It wasn’t going to work.

Old Ways Made New

            THE LAST ANGEL had arisen from a challenge. I’d been writing for twenty years, but when I’d discovered the NaNoWriMo (National Novelist Writing Month) challenge to write fifty thousand words in thirty days, I decided to give it a try. For the first time in years, I didn’t worry about censors or what people would think. I didn’t have time for that. All I had time for was to complete the challenge. And so I did. THE LAST ANGEL was unlike anything I’d ever written, but even though I recognized its need for serious editing, I felt the beat of something special in it, something different.
            I’d written two sequels by the time I sent it to Erin, and when she told me what I needed to do, I was ready. Even now, I find it staggering how many people volunteered to help. Emily Thiessen volunteered to design the cover, something that was beyond me, and created a work that captured the world perfectly. Others read advanced copies of the book, and their response and suggestions made it even better. At some point, THE LAST ANGEL ceased being a solo effort and began to feel collaborative.
            That was the moment I realized that Erin was right.

A Very Merry Christmas 

            “How’s your stomach?” Bethany said.
            It was a week before Christmas. Two months had passed, and I was waiting for the first physical copies of my novel. I’d managed to sort through the maze with the help of friends like best-selling author Steena Holmes, who had forged an ultra-successful career in self-publishing. She was, in every way, a star, and yet she took time to walk me through the path, again and again, even when my questions must have surely become irritating.
            “Good. Well, better,” I said. “Just anxious about the book. What if it looks amateurish? What if people don’t like it?”
            My wife kissed me. She’d read the first two books in the series. “They’re good. Erin likes them. So do your other readers. Trust the process.”
            I nodded, grateful for the reassurance, but still unsure. The person you love is supposed to support you. It was true that my beta-readers had nothing but high praise for it, but even that felt slippery. I’d been writing for more than two decades, and this was the first time I’d exposed my work to the public. It was difficult to accept that perhaps I’d accomplished something. That people might enjoy my work.
            On Christmas Eve, shortly before my wife and I left to do some last minute shopping, a UPS truck stopped outside our house. The man handed me two small boxes. I hustled inside and tore them open.
            As much as I’d always waited for that phone call from an agent, I choked up as I flipped through the pages. It was everything I’d ever imagined and more. By the time we left to do our shopping, I could hardly speak.
            Things hadn’t happened the way I’d imagined them so many years ago. And yet, the force of what I‘d gone through, and what was happening now, was still overwhelming. The dream had become a reality.
            “Are you okay?” Bethany said.
            “I’m good.” I paused, trying to find the right words. “I just… I just never imagined it would be like this. I know there’s a lot to do, but…”
            My wife smiled and kissed me when we pulled into the mall. “You did it, love. You did it.”
            I shook my head, felt tears crowd my eyes. Felt the weight of twenty years of writing in solitude. Felt the weight of my depression and anxiety and pain and everything else I’d fought through to write the story I’d always wanted to write. I thought about all of my friends who’d supported me, encouraged me. And I thought about all those who had volunteered to help me do the things that needed to be done. The people who had not only helped me with my writing, but helped me continue when the dream seemed so far.
            “Yeah,” I said, smiling, thinking about my friends and the people who had invested, without hesitation, in changing my life. It wasn’t a solo effort, and I guessed it never would be, “Yeah,” I said again. “We did it.”