I've really only loved to do three things in my entire life. One was graphic design, specifically print graphics, which depended heavily on the print medium’s continued existence and a more reserved, more aesthetically discerning working public than I think we may ever see again. Hence, the discipline as I understood it imploded and mixed it’s smoldering, leaden pellets with various forms of programming in order to continue to exist at all. I wasn't down. Please, please don’t make me code.
Another is snowboarding, which I fortunately didn't discover that until my 30th birthday or I’d likely be dead or worse by now.
Through it all (as every cliché goes), there was writing. It was there first and it’s still there now. You’d think I’d have done more with it in all that time, but in truth I've run from it most of my adult life, content to craft a really solid email on demand, or pen a very sound and physically existent letter to my grandparents. I mean, yeah, occasionally a story would flutter into my headlights and splatter across my field of vision, leaving me no choice but to sit down and bang out a bad draft just to squeegee it off… and yes, that did feel good… but that’s exactly what I was running from.
I got the notion pretty young that the whole "do what you love" trope was just that, a trope. I tested this theory of negation against my deep desire to work as a designer, and, with the help of a little inductive reasoning, it proved out. The balance of my working life has been a pinball’s journey of "sure I know how to do that" and learning on the fly… or not. It’s weird what people believe when you say it with properly ordered buzzwords and a pair of thin-rimmed glasses.
So now what? I’m still technically young (bring your own air quotes), as in not yet middle-aged. I've acquired a ramshackle, rusty pile of skills — the bulk of which currently command little demand and even less pay — and a few stories I either drunkenly poke at or feverishly rewrite whenever the mood hits. Other than that, I’m as wealthy as the first day I collected a paycheck from Bozwell’s Party Supply: I was fifteen and still couldn't afford a bike.
Time to stop running, I guess.
Last year I randomly threw a few stories up on Amazon in a collection I called Picks. I expected little and got even less, but I was okay with that; over the years I’d amassed fair stack of rejection letters and I just wanted somebody I didn't know — a reader, not a submissions editor — to read my shit. I figured if I even got reviews, they’d be tepid, like the tone of the form rejections to which I’d grown so very accustomed. For a year Picks didn't even get that, or actually anything, and I quit looking.
Not forgot, just quit looking. I missed the first review when it came in. It was good, and when I finally saw it, I was in the right frame of mind for it to change me a little.
Almost immediately after that, Indy Writers Monthly invited me to submit an original short for an anthology. I've never written anything so short, so tight, and in such short order that I liked at all, let alone how much I liked "The Egg Timer," which I submitted almost at the last second. More on that at a later date. Maybe.
This gets us back to the review. I was half asleep but I got a Twitter alert on my phone, which doesn't happen a lot. A reader tweeted this at me:
@usbtoothpick Wow, just read "Picks" and was floored by how good it was! Great writing and so varied in tone. LOVED IT!
— Amanda Niehaus-Hard (@Amandaraqs) July 2, 2014
This shocked me awake. Not cogent, but awake. I tried to reply graciously but probably just sounded addled.
I don't know if anybody else does this, but on Amazon, you don't get any kind of notification when a review comes in, so you just have to look, either at the product page or at your author page. I did this incessantly when I first put the collection up, I generally do it when I'm running a promo, and, usually, I find time to do it in between. I have a few OCD ticks like this, but none quite so pronounced.
Anyway, I hadn't seen it, so after the tweet there was absolutely no choice in my universe but to go and look.
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm going to break some personal taboos of mine and admit a few things here. The tone of this blew my mind. To describe it how I read it wouldn't be fair to anybody and least of all Mz. Niehaus-Hard, but I will say that this is exactly the tone in which I personally want readers talking about my work. I didn't know it until I read it, but I fucking live for this.
Also, I never in my life expected to hear the word 'literary' applied to anything I'd written. I dig English, and pop culture and colloquialism have always been fun places to play, but I'm as woefully under-educated for writing as I am for the rest of the work I've faked my way through my whole life. I recognize that I probably shouldn't be calling attention to this if it does mean that much to me (particularly in cyberspace), but if intend to go down this road, I don't think I have a choice.
I'm kind of a private guy. I don't talk about myself or my own thoughts much without prompting, but if this blog isn't busy, it will at least be honest.
In a similar vein, I'm not currently all that prolific as a fiction writer, but I do think what I write is true.
There's room to improve in both departments if I want to keep getting better and stay creative. It's funny: I've been bending further and further away from my current career but toward nothing in particular. Now, a few words from a few strangers and I know where to go and damn the consequences. It's not just validation; it's truth, and the precise thing I've always striven for in my various occupations when I should have been ignoring it and striving for money. I mean, that's why I was there, and why I mostly gave this up.
So my deepest thanks to everyone that's read and enjoyed my work, and especially to those brave souls taking chances on us unknowns. To those very few who've reviewed my work so favorably, well, "thank you" doesn't really get us there, but seriously, thank you. I'm back where I belong, for better or worse, and I won't be looking back any time soon.