So tomorrow, August 7th, is a writing anniversary of sorts. Twenty years ago on that date, I signed my first professional contract. It was a three-book deal, for Code of Conduct—written but not yet edited—and the books that became Rules of Conflict and Law of Survival. I did so over dinner with my then-agent. during BucConeer, the 1998 Worldcon. I’d sold no short works to that point. No nonfiction. That contract was well and truly my first.

I don’t recall what I ate. I don’t recall much of that convention, in fact. I did attend an Orioles game. Rode a very small, very warm, very tightly-packed elevator to one of the upper floors of the con hotel, where the SFWA suite was located, and felt a twinge of panic when the doors took a few seconds too long to open. Walked along the waterfront.

Crabcakes. I did have real Baltimore crabcakes. They were good.

The rush from that first deal dissipated after I returned home. I had a day job, so writing was confined to evenings, weekends, the odd lunch hour. I dealt with my first edit letter, which led to my essentially rewriting Code. What followed were the things that most writers experience. Time crunches and mini-writers blocks and getting derailed by Life. Marking days on the calendar and the word counts required in order to hit the deadline, and the deadline after that. Sometimes, the deadlines were missed. See the comment about Life. Some writers can work during the rough stuff. For them, writing is a refuge. For me, it’s a mirror.

In the years since that first contract, I’ve written seven novels—five as Kristine Smith and two as Alex Gordon—and a handful of short works. A decent output, by some standards. By those of the genre marketplace, not so much. When I compare myself to some of my friends, I feel quite the slacker. I’m a slow writer. That’s just how it is. I’ve tried to speed it up. It won’t speed. I’m not asking for advice about how to speed.

I made mistakes in the writing, though overall I am content with how my stories have turned out. I still enjoy the process of working out a plot, a character, a twist, though I do wish I could figure out a way to simply download all the cogitation onto the page so I could bash and prod it into shape. No, dictation isn’t the answer—the spoken story has been filtered at that point because I can’t talk fast enough to get it all in. I need to download directly from my brain. I suspect someone in Silicon Valley is working on it.

I made more mistakes in business—so many mistakes—but that was never my strong suit and it still isn’t. If I could get away with walling myself off from it all and tossing a manuscript out of a cave every so often, I’d be happy, but that’s not how things work. I don’t think it’s how they ever worked.

I was forty years old when I signed that first contract. Forty-one, when Code hit the shelves (just in case anyone thinks they’re washed up if they haven’t published by age twenty-five or whatever the latest drop-dead age happens to be). Basic math still holding true, that means I’m sixty now, a fact I have yet to fully grasp.

Five years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to retire from the day job. Since then, I’ve come to realize that I enjoy other things—cooking, working outdoors—as much as writing. That said, there are still stories I want to tell. The difference is that even though no one may want to read them, I still want to write them. Just to see if I can pull it off. Just to see what happens.

Here’s hoping I can post twenty years from now to let you know how it went.



Writerversary — 8 Comments

  1. Whatever your process is (and everybody’s is different) you’ve managed to produce taut, eminently readable books that don’t seem dated. Looking forward to your next.

    • Thank you, Sherwood!

      Datedness concerned me–Code has been out in one form or another for almost 2 decades. You do what research you can in fields not your own, and you cross your fingers. I admit I did a LOT more research into neurology/the medical side of things than I did the weapons, ship propulsion, etc., but I enjoyed it so much more.

      Then there was editing. I’m one of those writers whose books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Sometimes several times. At least, that was the case with all except the latest, JERICHO. Hoping that signals a change in my process to one that doesn’t waste quite so much material.

  2. Congratulations! I still remember the day. 1:33 PM, on a Tuesday, October 13, 1993…

    I got the call. Life has never been the same. And my desire to write has not diminished. I’ve moved on from the dragons but not far. There is just so much more to write about. Sales numbers may think I’m washed up. But my brain hasn’t caught up to that yet. So I publish here at BVC as well as with my Trad publisher.

    You go girl!

    • Thanks, Phyl!

      I didn’t talk about it in my post, but the joy of writing, of constructing a story, having my backbrain download a perfect bit of connection between some I wrote without thinking several chapters prior and something I’m writing at present–it can get lost so easily amid the commercial concerns. But that’s mostly what drove me for the six years it took to write Code of Conduct.

      Well, that and sheer bullheadedness.

  3. Happy writerversary!

    That WorldCon was our first, where we met lots of Bujold listies. I’m glad your publishing career has done so well. We still remember you on the Bujold list. If you ever have time or interest, you’d definitely be welcome back.

  4. I remember the Bujold list! We had a lot of fun. It’s nice to be remembered there.

    A little scary how long ago that was. Before that, it was the UseNet groups.