This is my very first “Writer’s Life Blog Post.” To commemorate the moment I thought I’d start by telling an awesome story, because, as a storyteller, that’s what I like to do. This story, however, is a real life yarn. One straight from the pages of the moldy, poorly edited book, which I call my life.
Now come, gather ‘round children, let ol’ Pappy James tell y’ll a little story about my wedding day—which indirectly, illustrates several important points about the publishing/writing biz.
*Settles into a rickety, old rocking chair, puffs on fancy Sherlock Holmes pipe, and stares fondly into the flickering orange light, dancing from the fireplace*
“The year was twenty-ot-six—that’s 2006 in plain speak,” I say, voice wistful, “and I was a broke-as-a-joke lance corporal with the Marines, getting ready to come home on leave before my first deployment to yonder sand box: Iraq …
I had finally managed to convince my now-wife to marry me, which was no small thing. Believe it or not, I proposed to my wife Every. Single. Day for six months before she finally caved into my … let’s go with persistent charm … and said yes. There were a thousand reasons she said no—but mostly they boiled down to timing. That’s another story in itself, though. What you need to know is that we got engaged and set a date: December 29th, over Christmas leave, because that was the last time I would have a chance to see her before heading over to the Suck, that sandy paradise, full of sand, more sand, and one extra heap of sand just for good measure.
- Hurry up and wait: The publishing game—whether you’re a starry-eyed writer looking for a traditional publishing deal, or a rough-and-tumble indie author—is largely a waiting game. Just like trying to win my wife’s hand in marriage, trying to woo a perspective agent can take months and months and often times you will be rejected mercilessly over and over again before you finally hear “yes.” And, even if you do manage to entice an agent with a sparkly piece of eye-candy—an awesomesauce book—the process will repeat itself ad infimum, since you then must court coy publishers and editors.Now, you might be saying, Ah, but I’m an indie author, so exnay to all that noise, and high-fives all around. Well, I’ve got bad news for you, friend, you’re not off the hook when it comes to the waiting game. Sure indie publishing is faster, and yes, you don’t have to fuss with the agents or publishers, but there’s still a helluva lot of thumb twiddling to be done (at least if you’re doing it right): waiting for beta readers, edits, book covers, blogger responses, reviews. All of that takes time. Often a long, long time. And never forget that you still must woo the all important reader, and readers can be even more fickle and disinclined to say yes to your proposal than my wife was to me.
Okay, okay back to the story. Now, we weren’t planning on a big wedding—who am I kidding, we were so broke in those days I’d barely been able to afford a wedding ring—just a quaint affair with a handful of friends and family. Still, I was, understandably, ecstatic. I mean the thing I’d been after for so long was finally a reality—I was going to marry my high school sweet heart and total dream girl. But as the day drew near the plot thickened like pea soup, conflict reared its ugly head, and the Law of Murphy swung into full effect: everything went to utter hell.
- Hearing “Yes” isn’t the end of the story … As authors we like to make stuff up, so it’s only natural that we start importing fiction into our own lives. We often construct these elaborate fantasies about what life will be like after we hear “yes”—read: get an agent, land a book deal, press the publish button for the first time, whatever. We’ve been working toward this goal for sooooo long, that actually taking hold of it seems like a fantasy in itself. But, news flash, reality often has a funny way of taking our idealized outcomes and running them through the meat-grinder called life, until they’re hardly recognizable. Instead of getting a fat, delicious New York Strip, you end up with squish meat-paste in a tube.
Stage Left: Enter Reality. Two days before I was supposed to hop on a plane and fly from sunny San Diego to Denver, the storm of the century rolled up over the Rockies and descended on my hometown like a plague of icy, kung-fu ninja monkeys, led by Old Man Winter himself. A blizzard. Followed by another blizzard. And that second blizzard? It got a little rowdy and invited up yet another blizzard to the snowstorm party. The whole state shut down. Including the airports. No air travel. Period. I spent an entire day on hold, doing the customer-service shuffle, trying to get someone on the phone who could help me. But oh no, I was well past the stage of help.
After hours of pointless phone calls, I grabbed up my seabag, snagged a ride over to the Greyhound bus station, bought a one-way ticket, and boarded a cramped bus. I was going to get home. I was going to get married. It was going to be awesome, dammit. Now, I’ll admit, this all sounds vaguely romantic. It was not. Not unless bus-stations that smell like unwashed hobo-bodies and old urine is your idea of romance. I mean instead of being home with my family and future wife, as planned, I was stuck on a Greyhound bus over Christmas Eve and through Christmas Day. By myself. In a snowstorm. For thirty hours. Without a book. The very definition of misery.
- Murphy’s Law: Things will go wrong. Period. This is especially true if you are self-publishing for the first time. If you want to be a professional and do things right, you’ll find that there’s a mighty step learning curve to contend with. And while you’re learning, you’ll find that lots and lots of things go wrong—even if you’re careful and meticulous.Everything will end up costing more than you planned. Your early readers will say, “wow, the book was great …” awkward pause, “expect for the third act which I hated more than laser-wielding killer bees.” Your editor will take twice as long as you anticipated. The cover art might well come back looking like something a talented fourth grader whipped up during art class. And formatting … don’t even get me started on formatting. Even once your word-baby actually goes out into the world, the complications will continue to pile up. Don’t be surprised if your magnum opus is buried under a snow-pile of bad reviews (which literally crush the soul from your body and feast upon your tears, so prepare now), or even worse: no reviews. Indifference hurts worst of all.
Okay, back to my wedding. I pulled into a frosty bus station in Denver on December 26th—worn out, smelly, and grumpy—finally it seemed my persistence had paid off. I was home, the weather had seemingly broken, and it looked like clear sailing was in store for me and my blushing bride to be. A win for love, am I right? Yes *arm pump followed up by a high-five of epic proportions*. Err, wait … what’s that dark cloud looming on the horizon? Breaking news: the universe hates James Hunter.
You see the weather was only playing a cruel, cruel joke on my wife and I. It saw young love flourishing despite all the odds and was like, Oh hell no, I’m just gonna turn this car around and squash that right quick. December 29th, my wedding day, rolled in bright and clear and perfect. By which I actually mean another blizzard had ambled into town and ravaged the state overnight. A blanket of white, three or four feet thick, covered the land, smothering our wedding plans like some hateful, serial killer of marital dreams.
- Murphy’s Law—again. Just when you think you’re finally on the verge on success, reality once again shows you where exactly you can shove your misplaced hopes and dreams you fool. Bwahahaha
Everything was closed: churches, courthouses, Chuck E Cheese. There was no place to get married and no one to marry us. My beautiful bride was upstairs laying on her bed, weeping hysterically while I made phone call after phone call, trying to find someone, anyone, who would help us tie the knot. I talked to Judges (my Mom worked at the federal appellate court), pleaded with pastors, placed mayday calls to ship captains … well, okay, no ship captains. They all said no, it was too dangerous, it was impossible to get out—everyone, everywhere was snowed in. Excuse after excuse. They all told me the same thing, “Just wait until next week after the blizzard lifts and get married then.” Except we couldn’t do that, because I only had a few days before my leave expired and I had to return to California and then Iraq, gone for nine months, possibly never to return.
Que Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Despair. Darkness. Hopelessness. As my bride weeps, I’m overcome with the impending sense that fate simply doesn’t want us to be together. Dread worms its way through my gut, but still I pick up the phone; more calls to make, more pleas to issue, delivering my sob story over and over again for anyone willing to hear it.
It was after 4:00 PM when someone finally relented and said yes. My persistence had finally paid off. We finally found a pastor who would marry us—sure, we had to send a rescue party with a heavy-duty four-wheel drive vehicle to get her, but by golly, we had us a minister. Of course we didn’t have a location, so we ended up getting married in my parent’s living room (every girl’s dream, I know), with only immediate family in attendance, but still we got married. Huzzah!
- Don’t quit: At some point in your publishing journey you’re going to feel like giving up forever. Like it isn’t worth it, like the deck is so stacked against you that success is impossible. But it’s not. If you want something bad enough—as badly as I wanted to marry my sweetie-pie—you’ll find a way. Just keep at it. Keep writing, or querying, or publishing. Don’t quit and eventually you’ll get what you’re after, even though it may not look exactly the way you’d expected (read: will you be the next Stephen King or E.L. James? Probably not).
- Silver lining: I constantly joke with my wife that ours was the best wedding of all time. Why? You might be asking, since nothing could be further from the truth. Because when you start things off as badly as we did, you can only go up from there. If you’re first release sucks—maybe you get called a hack or ignored completely—hey, at least you can only go up from there, right? There really are no failures, just learning opportunities.