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.