One of the things I’m doing in this blog is talking about what it feels like to go from a person making an occasional sale to a semi pro or small press market to selling stories to bigger, national magazines. The August 2014 issue is the first time my name has appeared on the cover of Asimov’s; it’s my forth story published, and the longest piece of my career, a short novella.
I’ve been hugely gratified to have three or four people tell me how much they liked the story on this site. Strangers, from hundreds of miles away. I can’t really tell you what that means to me, other than to say, it’s good.
When you first start writing you imagine readers and accolades and awards, if not tomorrow then some day. As life has it’s way with you, and you settle in for the long haul, you get over that. Writing becomes some part of you, a ritual, meaningful, part of the way you deal with the world, but, often for years, the only people who read what you write are a handful of work shoppers, friends and beta-readers. You forget, almost, that you intended for your work to be read by many.
Then, in some way, it happens, and thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people read your words.
So I’m at tens of thousands now, optimistically.
But it hits you, that you’re out there. You’re putting yourself out there. Sure, it’s fiction. Sure, those characters aren’t you.
But really they’re all you.
The world is you, the characters are you the craft is you the plot is you. Your pessimism or optimism your quirks, your fetishes, your blindspots, your weirdnesses. You’ve cracked open your skull and invited tens of thousands of strangers to wriggle around through thick glistening folds of your cerebral cortex.
Sorry about the thick glistening folds there.
There’s a flash of horror, there. Sure you’ve been trying to do this for decades. Yes, you have succeeded, more so now than ever. But if, like me, you got there by diving deep, mining any and everything you can from a lifetime of peculiar struggle, from a closet packed deep with demons, there’s this ‘oh shit,’ moment, too.
Suddenly you get why people use pen names.
You know that dream, where you suddenly realize you’re not wearing any pants? But you’re out in public? And even though nobody has noticed up to that point in the dream, you know, now that you know, that other people are gonna start noticing. Any second. Are you even wearing underwear?
You’re too scared to check.
So some new muscle needs to get stronger. (This is new metaphor, honestly, stop thinking of me pantless. My eyes are up here.)
The same muscle you first flexed with the first story you shared that scared you spitless; you shared it with a work shopper or beta reader or your friend, and you could see their face and they could see yours and you talked about it.
Your heart hammered in your chest like it was going to burst.
There is nothing like looking someone in the face as they struggle to be honest and supportive about your work–at the same time. Watching them fail, by lying, or by reducing everything you’ve done to ashes, is I think where many of us learn how to write.
(Sending stuff to magazines and editors is different, very easy at first, because you can’t rally visualize them very well and the rejection slips are so terse you often don’t get the feeling anyone is paying attention. Online workshops, ditto. )
Anyway, you’re out there, and people are reading you and they have opinions. They write reviews. I’ll talk about that next, but to some degree it’s an entirely different thing, than the workshop, because, regardless of what anyone says about your work, it’s been published. It’s out there. You did it. You got paid. Someone believed in you enough to buy you.
Will you get used to walking around pantless?
Only time will tell.