Monday, March 18, 2013
The Path to Heaven Runs through Miles of Clouded Hell
I just finished my second novel, Timeless Night: Book One of the New Camelot series on February 16th (also my 43rd birthday). It took 20 years to write. Before you start handing out awards for World's Top Procrastinator, I should explain that I technically wrote my first book when I was a 23 year old, fresh faced, newly married college graduate with the yellow brick road right in front of her. I kicked it out...THAT book, in about a month. I was in love with it, my husband was super supportive and in my lil corner of the world, I was this great bonhemie artiste. I was shooting straight for the top, not looking back. I was going places! I was going to singlehandedly take the romance fiction genre by storm. World domination, baby! I mean, come on! I was a stellar English student! Grammar? Pfft. Made it my personal bitch. Spelling? I got this!
It was with this mindset that I submitted my manuscript to Silhouette Shadows, a sister group of the almighty Silhouette (still a pretty popular brand!). They'd just opened up this new sub genre...paranormal romance, a pretty racy gamble at the time (it paid off!) and I just knew with my girlish heart and hopes that MY book would be something they would want to have.
I was wrong. Not the first time. Won't be the last.
Oh, the beginning was stellar. I sent a query letter, with a brief blurb. The editor responded immediately, she was interested. Well, of course she was! Duh, right? She wanted the first three chapters, along with a synopsis (most authors worst nightmare but strangely something I'm good at). I sent them off post haste. I was on my way! I seriously was already planning it all out. Ah, the misguided arrogance of youth.
3 months later, after a long hard day at work, I got home and checked the mail on my way up to the apartment I shared with the hubs. There it was. A manilla envelope with the Silhouette stamp! My acceptance! My contract! My gateway to the world! I was so excited, this was THE reason to celebrate! I called up my husband, my best friend and her husband, giddy and with stars in my eyes. I called my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousins. Mind you, all the while, I hadn't opened the bloody thing yet. No! This demanded ceremony! There would be Dr. Pepper drunk in my honor! Hubby came flying home from work, bff and her other half did, too! We all sat around in the living room, the envelope sitting on the coffee table like it was a Willy Wonka FudgeBar with the Golden Ticket inside! With sure hands, I finally opened it and pulled out a single piece of paper and began to read.
It was a refusal letter. I won't bore you with ALL the details but words and phrases such as "insubstantial", "lacks depth", "characters are two dimensional", "unpolished" and my personal favorite "stilted and in desperate need of plot overhaul" were thrown around.
I was devastated. My dreams had simply been that..dreams. I wasn't America's Next Top Author.
That very night, in proper Teri fashion, I gathered up my own manuscript copy, along with all the letters that had passed between Silhouette and I, and put them in a nice box, shut the lid and taped it up nice and tight. It went to the top of the closet and I went on with my life. It was topic non grata. I never mentioned it to anyone again, my wanting to write. Nor did I allow anyone to bring it up to me.
At some point, I took up writing poetry and had minor success as a poetess with several works accepted and published. It was a soothing balm to my soul.
Years passed. Good things happened, bad things happened. I laughed, I cried, I lived, I loved. I hurt, I knew passion, I knew pain. I did many things I was proud of and just as many not so good things that molded me. I got divorced, I changed jobs, I had adventures.
In short, it was a life most ordinary. But it was my life. And I ran the gamut.
It was in the process of helping a dear friend and my own sister last year with their respective writings, that that voice began speaking once more. All the advice I gave THEM, was resonating within ME. Never give up! Never surrender! If you don't have faith in yourself, no one else will! Pretty annoying, I am.
I sat down and wrote Timeless Night. It took months to do. Every page of it is infused with blood, sweat and tears. I started it out as a tribute to a relationship I was in at the time. I was gloriously in lurve, he inspired me! Unfortunately, he wasn't in love so much and we broke up. I hit ground zero and for a brief time, put the book away. How could I finish it when everything that infused it was gone?
But it never stopped speaking to me. The voices of my main characters, Sabrina and Alex, kept at me, never letting me be. Even when I wasn't writing on it actively, they both made sure I did constructive things that at least were part of the entire process. It's never been a secret how much in love with Alexander, my literary crush, I was and am. He may have been born of the love I bore my then boyfriend, but I finally realized that he'd grown beyond that boundary. Alex was his own man (errrmm...vampire). Sabrina is a bit of me...and a bit of what I'd like to be, I guess. They became my solid supporters and nagged me to at least finish their story. I didn't get my personal happy ending, but I owed them theirs. It was the least I could I do.
The funny thing is this: it wasn't just Alex and Sabrina who became so large in my mind. The other characters did too. Even the bad guys. They became, in all their highly individual ways, my best friends. The streaks of light in the darkness of my mind. They were so much more than JUST characters. They were my children in a way only an artist's creation can be. I love them. As I wrote further, I realized I was feeling all THEY felt. Their struggles, their story, their pain, their joy...was my own.
I drug my feet at the end...the last chapter was the hardest. I had to say goodbye..and I didn't want to. The though of NOT working on the book took my breath away. For so long it had been inside of me and now it was in front of me on the screen.
I have tried, unsuccessfully, to begin the editing process several times. I am at war with between what NEEDS to be done and realizing that at some point, my baby will be growing up on its own. I think I discovered that as much as I thought I needed Alex and Bri.....they need to break away and hopefully, find their way across the world and into other hearts beside my own.
Last night, I went rummaging and found The Box. Yes, I'd held onto it all these years. Never once has it been opened in 20 years. All taped up and mocking me the entire time, yet I never found the courage to chuck it. I opened it up, in the dark hours when I couldn't sleep and since everyone else sleeping in the house, I scuttled to the bathroom and by the dim light in there, I curled up on the cold floor and read it. For the first time in forever, I once more revisited that tiny world.
And I saw what the publisher had meant. Every one of those criticisms was spot on. Ain't that a bitch? I found myself rubbing my head at a few points and snorting. It was a WTF moment for sure. That manuscript ..well....it sucked. I packed it back up and have plans for it somewhere down the line.
But I know why it seemed so shallow, so empty. Now, I know.
At age 23, I hadn't really lived yet. I hadn't experienced a tenth of what the next 20 years would bring me. How could I write about rage, despair, pain and loss when I hadn't known it? How could I create people or worlds based on such a slim margin of comparison? What did I know, then, of extraordinary bliss and extreme anguish? I've always been a firm believer in that one should write what they know.
Bottom line, 20 years ago..I didn't know a thing.
And now I do. Well, some things anyway.
I'm standing at that crossroad I mentioned at the beginning. Two paths are before me. One will lead me into the unknown, the road where I man up, do the edits and began submissions. I can take it now, the advice and criticism. I AM a writer, no matter if I'm published or not. I succeeded in doing what I'd set out to do....tell a story. The other road is the safe road. The road were I do nothing. The road where I put Timeless Night into a box, tape it up and put it to the back of my closet to gather dust.
So what road do I take? Where do I go?
I go onward. And take the road less traveled.
And maybe, after all, my Happy Ending lies down that trail after all.