A New Story
This blog post was originally published to the old Word Foreword on March 23rd, 2017.
When I started High School my writing really ramped up; by the end of 2003 I had a computer that was on a white plastic fold out table. This was a weird piece of time in the world of technology because I had a computer in my bedroom, but not my own cell phone - and cell phones were still just “cell phones” and not mini-computers for your pocket.
In August of 2003 my life changed. A fantasy book that took the world by storm came in and crashed into my lap. Eragon was written by someone who was 15. Just like me, but this kid had been lucky enough to have a family who had made their own publishing company to support his ideas and stories. On top of that he had been lucky enough to have his book picked up by someone in the industry. Paolini became my hero.
This invigorated me.
Secretly, I was most impressed with the fact that Eragon is just a manuscript for A New Hope with some words changed. “The Force” was magic, and “Jedi” were Dragon Riders. But other than those few colloquialisms, it was identical.
I don’t remember how it happened, or what exactly the plan was, but during my freshman year in high school I started writing notes here and there about a story that was similar but different enough from Pendragon, which I had fallen hard for. It was slightly more mature than MacHale’s piece and explored one of the aspects of Pendragon that I wasn’t super thrilled with: the cap of design.
Pendragon explores a cool concept of multiple dimensions that aren’t all “dimensions” in the traditional sense. Instead, some of them are just different times of the same (for example, the modern world is “Second Earth” while “First Earth” is the 1930’s), and the other dimensions are really quite simplified caricatures of worlds (one of them is a world where there is only one city and the rest of the planet is covered in water and people live on large barges or various other floatable structures).
My problem with that, at first, was that there are only 10 of these dimensions. As a freshman in high school, I was mad at this design - I thought it was too narrow and was writing yourself into a corner by limiting the number of places you could explore, the number of different things you could see or experience and the number of people you could meet.
So what I wrote was about multiple dimensions, a little bit more sci-fi than MacHale, and explored more of the “infinite possibilities” idea. I read books on String Theory, and a few different things about infinite dimensions based on choices. I made sure that the actual writing was very different from my beloved story so that I didn’t run into the same problem that my mother had pointed out previously.
I had no idea about marketing, target audience, etc. at the time but looking back it would’ve been aimed more towards adults. It took me about 7 months to finish the manuscript, and then I was stuck. I had no idea what to do so I went online to look at what others were doing and learned a little about beta readers. What I didn’t know about was the editing. So I sent it to beta readers who looked at it and either immediately quit, or sent back so many fixes that I got demoralized.
Maybe demoralized isn’t the right word, perhaps confused. I thought I had covered a lot of bases but didn’t realize how much work editing actually is part of writing. I tried many times to polish that piece of work, but eventually I put it on the shelf and moved on (I don’t remember quite how long that took me to do, because every time I tried I would fix a little bit more and a little bit more).
So, I tried again.
The second time I aimed a bit smaller and started writing a novella. I had no ambition for this one, it was going to be pure practice for me. In school we were getting deep into the Revolutionary War, so it was a fantasy-set reinterpretation of that. A Kingdom began exploring and found a colony, sent people to live there, claimed the land, etc. and eventually they rose up and claimed the colony away from the Kingdom.
I don’t think I ever finished that one because I realized I hadn’t read enough fantasy to figure out many of the nooks and crannies that genre has (and it has a lot of them). I had read Lord of the Rings and some of Chronicles of Narnia (The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe I’d finished, I’d started reading The Horse and his Boy and, damn, that story is flat and boring) but that was the extent of it.
By the time I had finished my third manuscript, I was a junior in high school. My parents had started to notice this was more than just a passing fad for me, and so started talking to me about it. But I didn’t know how to talk about it. I didn’t know what it meant to be an author, or about what that entailed..
Around that time, my father took me to St. Louis for a day (a two and a half hour drive from my hometown) for a seminar. I’m pretty sure it was called the Writer’s Guild Conference, but I don’t have any paperwork or memorabilia from the event. I attended, took notes, talked to some people. I was the youngest person there (by a surprising margin) and that was a big deal. At the beginning of the conference I was brought up to the front of the podium and was introduced to every attendee, it felt like being a prize dog on display.
Don’t get me wrong, at the time it was super exciting that they were making those kinds of waves for me (it still feels nice) but I don’t think it was necessary or benefited me in any way other than slightly boosting my ego (this was countered with the embarrassment I was left with).
I’m going to breakdown the advice I received at the conference about getting published:
Be honest about your writing.
Have thick skin and learn to write alternatives on your feet when receiving feedback.
Learn whether you're a planner or a write-by-your-pants writer. Either works but be honest about where you fit in the spectrum.
Develop relationships with industry people.
Some of this might seem obvious, and number 4 might seem unfair but that’s the way the world is. People in the industry like people in the industry. This is true, though, for any industry. Breaking into an industry can be somewhat difficult, and so knowing people and having a relationship with them can be super helpful.