AnomalyCon 2016 Schedule! Hurray!

Title Time Participants
Colonialism in Second World Fantasies Fri 7pm B. Dornbusch, J. Campbell, A. Ritchey
Science For World Progress Sat 8pm R. Maas, A. Helms, K. Helvig, A. Ritchey
Space! Is It Really the Final Frontier? Sat 6pm K. Helvig, L.J. Hachmeister, E. Denmark, A. Ritchey
Actually, Where HAS the Rum Gone? Sun 1pm S. Holl, A. Peter, E. Camomile, A. Ritchey
The Rules of Time Travel Sun 3pm I. Brazee-Canon, N. Maslakovic, A. Ritchey

Ten Years of Complete Victory!

Dandelion Iron Cover - February2016This is the last of my meditations on ten years of writing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Next week, on the RMFW blog, I’m going to be posting “TEN YEARS OF LESSONS ON WRITING. So, yeah. But this is where I go through my successes.

I talked about failures yesterday, and I was kind of vague because I didn’t want to linger there. I’ve lingered there long enough. And I will change my thinking. I have to. So, here are my very real, very epic successes. If I don’t celebrate my little successes, I won’t celebrate the big ones.

Let me say that again, for me, to change my thinking. If I don’t celebrate my little successes, I won’t celebrate the big ones. And if I take that one step further…if I don’t see my little successes as complete victories, I won’t see my big successes in that light either.

So. Here is a list of my complete victories!

  1. I only have three unfinished projects. Every other book I’ve started I’ve finished. This is huge. This is amazing. This is epic. And even more? I’ve edited most of those projects, and I’m not huge on that whole editing thing. I’ve written well over a dozen books in the past ten years. Every book is a victory as grand as blowing up the Death Star. All three times.
  2. I have over a hundred rejections. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not very many. For me? For someone with my level of fear and self-loathing? It is an epic victory. It is Pelennor Fields. It truly is.
  3. I have had four editors choose to spend their life’s minutes on my books. I say the publishing industry has ignored me. That is NOT true. Four people, with death looming, chose me to work on. This is amazing. Out of all the writers writing, me. These are four victories rolled up into mine.
  4. I have three published books. I have three ISBNs.
  5. I was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Gold Contest in their very competitive young adult category.
  6. My daughter and I were reading one of the books I’d written for her together. We were going slow. One day, she came to me, ashamed, because she couldn’t wait for us to read it together. She had to find out how the story ended. This, my friend, is a victory. My daughters don’t automatically love my books. And for her to be so swept into the story she had to read it, well, if that’s not enough for me…what ever will be? The praise and adulation of strangers? Huh.
  7. At a first chapter workshop in Big Sur, a woman was reading the first chapter of The Never Prayer. She started to cry. She looked up at me and I saw such a depth of emotion there, I started to cry too. It’s been said authors live on the tears of their readers. That should keep me going for the duration.
  8. I auditioned and was chosen to be a part of a critique group of highly decorated authors: Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, Warren Hammond. This was huge! Huge!
  9. I won a horror short story contest online for a story called “Deep Woods, True Story”. It was my first win of any sort of writing contest where I wasn’t involved in the voting!
  10. I was invited to be the Emcee at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference three years in a row. Again, I can’t tell you how much of a huge deal this was. I got to rub shoulders with Bonnie Hagan, M.B. Partlow, Chris Mandeville, Sue Mitchell, Jason Henry and a bunch of other wonderful people. I had a such a lovely time at the conference and I loved the audience. This was a big deal. It really was.
  11. The entire 2013 year was hard on me. February 2014, I got my first Kirkus Review for Long Live the Suicide King. It was glowing. I needed it. When I opened up the website to first read it, I squinted, looking for keywords in the sentences. If I saw bad words I was going to shut my eyes completely. If I saw good words, I’d read every one. and I did. It was glowing.
  12. Long Live the Suicide King was a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite Young Adult contest. And I got a five-star review, awesome, and it was great to be a part of that organization. I didn’t win, but I got a sticker to put on the front cover of the book!
  13. Long Live the Suicide King won the Building the Dream Young Adult contest. I am an award-winning author thanks to Kris Tualla, Deena Remiel, Morgan Kearns and the rest of the gang. Thanks for bringing me in.
  14. In July of 2014, Peter J. Wacks called me. We had just published our G.I. story, Post-Traumatic Stress Commander and it was number one in Kindle Worlds. I had an official Amazon bestseller.
  15. In the fall of 2015, I got a basket full of fan letters for Elizabeth’s Midnight. I answered them. Fan mail. How cool is that? While Elizabeth’s Midnight hasn’t performed well, it’s a book I love. And my parents liked it the best out of all my books. It’s a victory.
  16. Quincy J. Allen picked “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” for The Best of the Penny Dread Tales published through WordFire Press. It’s one of his favorite stories. And that story really solidified my name in the local writer community in Colorado. I wasn’t just pretty, but I was talented too. That story really did well for me, and I love it so.
  17. Quincy J. Allen insisted several people nominate “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” for a Hugo. So I am a Hugo-nominated author. Ha! I used that for a while.
  18. Getting into WordFire Press with The Juniper Wars series really felt like a victory. And not just one book, but six. Six books of what I love to write. The books of my heart. I was at a Superstars Writing Seminar and I mentioned I was at WordFire Press. Someone muttered, in awe, “Wow, you must be good.” Dang straight I am.
  19. One of my reviewers who read KILLDEER WINDS, the second book in The Juniper Wars series, said she ugly cried. Now, that, right there, is worth the price of admission.
  20. Ron Cree gave me one of the best reviews of my life for his review of The Never Prayer. When he read Dandelion Iron, the first book in the series, he said, and I quote, “Your other books were good, but this one, this one..”
  21. In 2015 I got a story in Hex Publishing’s Nightmare’s Unhinged. It was the story I’d won for the horror story contest. We decided on a different title. “Deep Woods.” I got to do a signing at the Tattered Cover with a bunch of other writers. It felt like the big time!
  22. I got a story in Hex Publishing’s noir anthology as well. At this point, the story is called “Shoe” and I love it.
  23. While working with Vivian Trask on the first two Juniper Wars books, she said that Cavatica Weller sounded like her when she was a sixteen-year-old Catholic girl. A total victory.
  24. My daughter just finished reading the third book in The Juniper Wars series. She texted to me, and I quote: OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD. I’M AT THE PART WHERE ….SPOILERS … AND I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK!  And there you have it.
  25. All the praise. All the tears. All the laughter of the people who have read my books. Every reader who finishes a book is a victory. I spent a lot of time writing books people couldn’t read.

I’m sitting in the Salt Lake City airport, on my way home from a writer’s retreat where I won the coveted Edward M. Kovel Prize for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

I love airports. I live travel and adventure. I am so blessed to be on this quest to make it as a writer. That I get to do this, at all, is a miracle.

Travis Heermann interviewed me for his blog, and he asked which character in literature do I most resemble. Bilbo Baggins.

In the end, I’m Bilbo Baggins. Really, I wanted to stay in my hobbit hole, eat lots of donuts, and watch lots of TV. And suddenly, this adventure has been thrust upon me.

The dragon Smaug awaits in his mountain. I have many obstacles ahead, but I must slay the dragon. And the dragon isn’t the mean ol’ world of publishing, and it’s not bad book sales, and it’s not literary obscurity.

The dragon lives inside my head and I am the beast I must fight.

But I don’t think I can slay the dragon.

In the end, I think I must become the dragon and bathe the world in my fire.

Ten Years of Failure

Let’s say ten years ago I went to medical school. To become a brain surgeon.

Well, ten years later, most likely I’d be a brain surgeon.

Or a special forces merc bent on revenge?

Ten years later, I’d have my revenge and a story to tell.

Ten years later, in my writing career, I have three published books, a contract for six more, an award, some short stories, and fifteen minutes of fame on Amazon as a dubious bestseller.

My publishing business is not self-supportive.

If I had to rely on my writing to pay the bills, I would be living in Quincy J. Allen’s basement, eating all of his bearclaws and smoking all of his cigars.

I really thought I could smooze my way to the top. I have good friends who are agents and editors, but they have all said they will do anything for my career. Except, I can’t give them a book they think they can sell. Well, dang, skippy, that is just depressing.

My Amazon ranking, is, um, even more depressing.

At times, I feel like people read my books and leave nice reviews to be nice. Behind my back, they are saying, “Poor Aaron. He tries hard. But he’s just not there yet. Yes, I’ll go to his dumb book launch party, and yes, I’ll buy a book, but when is he going to learn?”

I just wrote a story where that’s what the people say about an artist, struggling to break out. Even worse, the artist’s little sister, who may or may not be real, says the same thing. The artist is Big Sue. The sister is Little Say. Because she doesn’t have much to say. Only the same thing, over and over.

When are you going to give up because this obviously is never going to work out for you?

I don’t have an agent. I’ve only been published in small houses. I’ve not received an advance. My work hasn’t been translated into a variety of exotic languages. I don’t have an audio book.

I was going to count exactly how many rejections I have, but I really want to get back to editing SASS MCQUEEN AND THE KUNG-FU PRINCESS! Aiiiiiiaa! So I’ll do a rough guestimate…

The Severed Earth = 3

The Storybook, the Turner Brothers, and Eli Kane = 1

Long Live the Suicide King = 5

Elizabeth’s Midnight = 20

Flung = 1

The September King = 1

The Never Prayer = 50

Sparked = 10

In Too Deep = 5

Dandelion Iron = 13

Various Short Stories = 25

That’s roughly 114 rejections. Of various shapes and sizes. It’s a million near misses. I’ve had big-time agents in closed rooms going over my work, arguing about its merits. And the answer? No.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t even really trying. It’s not. Ray Bradbury had something like eight hundred rejections before he published ANYTHING. Stephen King filled nails in and then spikes with his rejections. Kevin J. Anderson once won a contest among his writer friends because he had the most rejections. Not, like, by a little. By, like, hundreds if not thousands.

And notice, many of the books I’ve written and polished I didn’t query at all, or queried only once.

I could argue time. I could argue I had small children. I could argue that I wanted to perfect my craft. I could argue all of those things. The real answer?

I’m afraid. Not was afraid. Am afraid. I hate it. I don’t want to do it. And part of me, since I have my own Indie press, thinks I can be done with this. But that, for me, is a cowardly answer.

I have at least ten short stories, polished and ready, languishing in the dungeon of my computer. They are not being shopped. Nothing is going on there.

So on my writer’s retreat, we’ve been playing these massive board games at night, and when I play them, I don’t play to win. I play not to embarrass myself. I come up with little strategies, but it’s more for my own entertainment than anyone else. And so I don’t embarrass myself.

I’m playing the writing game the same way. Any little strategy I have is half-thought out and not something I truly embrace. Because in the end, I don’t really want to play the writing game. I want to write. And I have. And I will continue to write. I have a small set of fans who like my stuff. I like my book launch parties so I’ll continue to do them even if Steve and Melissa Jankowski are the only ones who show. And Tony Freeburg.

But the real game here is not the writing game. It’s my fear. It’s my thinking.

I like the idea of me being a tragic failure. I like the nihilism of the tragedy. I embrace it. I tell myself, over and over, that I am a B+ writer. Sure, I’m better than most. But the “A” club? Nope. Not me. Not ever me.

Not. Ever. Me.

So I either play to lose or I don’t play at all.

So in a very real, very economic sense, I have failed at the writing game. I have and continue to embarrass myself by trying.

Yes, I’ve had little successes, and we’ll talk about them tomorrow. Because notice, this is near the end of my week of reflection. This is the dark moment. For the sagging middle, check out my blog post yesterday about all the books I’ve read and written. Ha. No one read that mofo.

So this is the dark moment. This is the time of tragedy. I will gnash my teeth in the darkness.

But if I don’t change my thinking, I might not quit writing, but I will continue to embrace the tragedy of my failures with relish and ignore my successes. This will lead to my eventual obliteration.

If I don’t change my thinking, I will continue to fail because I like it. And I do things I like. I’m funny that way.

A little story. Chris LeDoux is a country music singer who spent his youth on the rodeo circuit. He won a huge reward, and he did well, but he was also a singer-songwriter. So he started recording his songs and selling them independently at rodeos. He did this for twenty years.

And guess who would buy them? Garth Brooks. And Garth Brooks loved Chris LeDoux. Wasn’t long and Chris Ledoux got a big business contract and shot up the charts.

Twenty years.

I have another ten.

But only, only, only if I can change my thinking.

Wish me luck.