The Highs and Lows of Writing
Writing is the most difficult job that I have ever done. Since the wreck where I got brain damage and spinal damage and the black widow bite that gave me even more neurological damage (the hospital had no antivenin) even doing the research exhausts me mentally. Before that, absorbing new information was like breathing. No, wait; I take that back. I was asthmatic, so breathing was actually much harder than learning. Still, the payoff when you finish something is wonderful.
My first book was returned to me six years after Jim Baen said he would buy it and then had a stroke and died, with a note that said they did not have time to read it. I was relieved. The wait was finally over. By then I didn’t care where the shoe dropped. When I finished my first book, it was both a great relief and one of the most incredibly elated feelings I have ever experienced. I had gone through a great deal of hardship to write that book despite numerous people interfering (some intentionally), computer problems, numerous deaths in my family, and other obstacles.
Despite all this, I find myself a little giddy over the fact that a book was recently released with a foreword that was half written by me. A Dark and Stormy Night is the recently professionally released anthology by Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley created on that fateful night that gave birth to the monster Frankenstein and his creation Adam. If you’ve not actually read the story, then you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
There’s a sense of relief and elation when you finish a piece. There’s a certain amount of elation that comes with that piece being accepted, but at least for me, there is a certain unreality to it until you actually see it in print.
It has always been difficult for me to write and to read. I was born premature and dead. A combination of farsightedness, a lagging eye, dyslexia, and brain damage as well as neuromuscular damage made it very difficult to learn to read and write. I never learned to print and can only write in cursive. It is difficult for me to read cursive; it is much easier for me to read print. My hands cramp up painfully when I sign my name and I’ve been told my whole life that I have the handwriting of a doctor. That is why the majority of my writing is done with a text to speech program—oh, I mean a speech to text program–named Dragon.
In 1980, when I finally decided to submit a story to a contest being run by one of the two science fiction magazines to which I subscribed, it promptly declared bankruptcy and folded. The other magazine to which I subscribed purchased that magazine and then declared bankruptcy and folded. This took two months. Later, after I was published in many fanzines and running my own semi-pro-zine (Planetary Previews Magazine), around 89 or 90 I sold a piece to what was going to be the first online book. This was a while before the web. They had already given me a small advance and we had a verbal agreement on Friday to be followed up by a contract on Monday. Unfortunately, Monday morning the vice president of the company walked from her adjoining office into the office of her husband, the president of the company, and found him on the desk with his secretary. The company was dissolved in the divorce and the book never came out. These are not the only instances of this sort that happened in my career, but they were certainly the most interesting.
Currently, in addition to doing this blog, I am working on the design of two different games for two different gaming companies, and doing freelance writing in the hopes of getting the proverbial promised cheese sandwich they talked about so much in the Golden Age. It is my belief that finally getting published in a professional book has finally broken the curse that began when Harlan Ellison looked me in the eye and said, “Good luck with your book.” Yes, Harlan actually said that to me. I get along well with both Harlan Ellison and Brad Linaweaver. Harlan–most people really don’t understand Harlan. What you have to realize is that Harlan is a Dungeons and Dragons gnome.
The first time I met Harlan, he was surrounded by 20-40 sycophant fans. As I walked by, he told a very dark joke similar to the kind my mother would tell, but not dirty. As they all stepped back and gasped, I burst out in laughter. I got the joke; they thought he was serious.
I know a Chi Gung that would help Harlan get over all that anger, but I know of nothing that will help you get over the fact that other people are stupid other than realizing that you are stupid too. We all are. We are also brilliant, noble creatures. I have found out, as Harlan has, that no one becomes more cynical than a disappointed idealist. Unlike Harlan, I’ve spent my whole life trying to infuse an equal amount of realism into my life.
So what is it like to see your name in print on the cover of a book? You know that feeling you get when you wake up on Monday, dreading high school, and find out that it’s a snow day, that feeling you get when that girl you have the crush on but are too shy to talk to asks you out, that feeling you get when you realize your first paycheck has covered all your bills and you’re walking down the street without a penny to your name and no food for the next week and you see a $100 bill on the sidewalk, that feeling you get when as a child you wake up on Christmas morning and find that under the tree, Santa has left you the present that you wanted most but didn’t ask for because you knew you couldn’t get it? Well, really, it’s nothing like that.
Something I didn’t realize until today, and it’s probably a good thing or I would have quit writing years ago, is that writing is kind of like gambling. It’s long, hard, miserable work with an occasional payoff. Every time someone asks you for your autograph, it’s an incredible stroke to your ego. The first time someone asked me for my autograph, I was astonished and asked if they were joking. But the feeling you get when you actually see your name in print is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. The middle of your chest feels light, like you could float away, and you feel like jumping up and down. I tend to have a feeling of joy tinged with disbelief, or more appropriately, it feels a little surreal. I’m sure it’s different for other people, but this is how it tends to be for me. I thought I resisted the urge to jump up and down, but people who saw me open the book and see my name on the cover tell me I failed. I still feel like I showed much restraint, but I have to admit that most of the restraint stemmed from feeling, no not feeling, being somewhat in shock, even though I had been waiting for the thing for four days. I can also tell you that I wasn’t waiting patiently.
I started writing out of a desire to entertain, inform and help the world. From my experience, the world doesn’t care. A lot of people don’t even care how hard you worked to entertain them. The real reason a person writes is because they have no other choice. I hope that I can help someone somewhere either with my martial arts instruction or my writing but ultimately I do it because that’s what I do and writing is a necessity, but martial arts give joy to my life. The people who have come back to me and told me that I have saved their life have made it worthwhile, but I’m still hoping that someday someone will tell me that I have transformed the way they look at the world for the better. For me this is a very difficult task because I feel the need to show people options and let them decide where they want to go and what they want to do and ultimately who they want to be. This is not propaganda, this is life and I hope you have a good one. Until next week . . . .
Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III