Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Tell us a story, Storyteller
I have a weird and wondrous story to tell about my path to becoming a published novelist. The journey started with (you'll never guess this part)… writing a novel from beginning to end.
This should be the first stepping stone for every person who wants to publish a novel. Yeah, it sounds like a no-brainer, but the truth is that many people start writing a novel but never quite get around to finishing it.
Agents, editors, and publishers don't have the time to invest in an unknown writer who might, eventually, finish writing a book. It doesn't matter how stellar the idea is, or how nicely the sentences in a query are strung together.
It took me years (ten, if you must know) to write a complete first draft of DeVante's Children. And after all of that, it wasn't even good yet. I sent packets to agents and publishers and received rejection letters (if I received anything at all, that is). I joined a ListServ writer's group and received critiques that thickened my skin.
I re-wrote the book. More than once. More than twice.
I read everything in the vampire genre that I could lay my hands on. (It was possible to do this in the pre-Twilight years, FYI).
I started writing a new book, which is a technique I highly recommend. The new book was easier. I was a better writer with better writing habits. And I had learned to trust the process – so long as I keep pounding out the words, the story will come. I had a full first draft of DeVante's Coven in eighteen months.
When I wasn't writing, re-writing, or reading, I tried to connect with other writers. Facebook and Twitter didn't exist, but I found on-line communities, critique groups, and email groups.
If an author of a book I liked had a public email address, I'd send a message. I couldn't imagine an author not wanting to hear that someone liked their book. (I still can't imagine it. Email me. Tell me you loved my book. Please?)
One of the authors I had a sporadic correspondence with was Greg Herren.
What makes many writers' paths to publication interesting is that every journey is twisted and convoluted in its own way. Each of us has taken a different route to reach this destination. There are key markers along the way – learning the craft of writing, and connecting with people who will say your writing sucks and then tell you exactly why. Some of them will even tell you how to fix it!
But Greg didn't read my novel and proclaim me the worst writer in the world. He didn't introduce me to his publisher who thought I was the greatest writer in the world, either. And I didn't ask him to do any of these things.
I told him I liked his book. I probably asked him a few questions about publishing. I'm pretty sure I asked him about gay vampires, as I was still struggling with the fact that Daniel, the main character of DeVante's Children, was gay. That hadn't been in the outline, and it both excited and blindsided me. It was Greg who informed me (gently) that gay vampires were not new, that it had been done before. Heck, it had been done by him.
I could have been disappointed, but he was always encouraging and kind.
Sometimes the little things turn out to be the big things. The favorite bedtime story shared with a child, the little decisions that lead to a whole new direction in life, the small kindness of a passing stranger that brings hope to a fledgling writer.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Greg, his partner, Paul, and scores of other people relocated to other parts of the country. Kindness made me want to know that Greg and Paul were doing all right. An internet search sent me to Greg's Live Journal page and gave me some reassurance.
Another search result popped up, too, for a writing contest sponsored by Suspect Thoughts Press called Project: QueerLit. The links were not particularly related. Perhaps Greg had written something published by the contest sponsor. I never figured it out. But there was the contest, and all I needed to enter was an unpublished novel with a gay main character. Coincidence, Karma, or fluke?
I entered DeVante's Children and won an honorable mention.
Two years later I entered DeVante's Coven.
And won the grand prize of a paperback contract.
Meeting Greg Herren last year at Saints and Sinners was a big deal to me. This year I managed to be a little less shy, and asked Greg some questions about Katrina, New Orleans, and his work. I figure if I want to talk about him, the least I can do is rope him into the conversation and maybe even pimp his writing. Please check out his recent releases with Bold Strokes Books.
Quick and dirty interview with Greg Herren:
In the Scotty Bradley Adventure Vieux Carre Voodoo, Scotty talks about how Katrina changed him. The book carries a theme about reaching for the brass ring and living in the moment, because you never know what might happen tomorrow. How did Katrina change you as a person, a writer, or both?
Katrina changed me as a person in much the same way it changed Scotty; a realization that everything can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. We always take for granted that tomorrow is going to be there, that our lives will be the same, and there's always going to be time to do all the things we want to do, and dream about doing. I had already thought I was aware of that--I'd always dreamed of being a writer but never did anything about it, until i realized it wasn't going to just 'happen' unless I made it happen. It was a sobering realization. We don't like to think about those possibilities; that tomorrow I could get hit by a bus crossing the street, or the tornado is going to come ripping through my neighborhood, or some idiot on a cell phone is going to plow into my car. But it does happen, every day. I once said I never wanted to look back on my life with regrets for not doing things I always wanted to do. So, now I try to remember that and take chances, do the things I've always dreamed of doing. Paul and I are going to Europe next year for the first time--which I've always wanted to do.
I get the feeling from reading your books and your blog that you have an ongoing passionate love for New Orleans. Where in the city would you send a visitor so they could experience what you love most about New Orleans?
You know, it's really the little things I love the most about New Orleans. I love the pie lady, who walks around yelling "PIES! FRESH BAKED PIES!" I love that you can be walking to the post office and come across a second line parade. I love that there's always live music playing somewhere. I love the smell of garlic outside Irene's on Chartres Street. The sky is such a stunningly beautiful shade of blue here. I love that the clouds at night over the French Quarter are pink from all the neon glowing. I love walking along the river on top of the levee and watching the freighters and barges. I love the sound of the streetcars. I love the way total strangers start up a conversation like they're old friends. I love watching the local public school marching bands in Mardi Gras parades. I love the way the trees on St. Charles Avenue have beads trapped in their branches.
Some of those little things never came back after Katrina--like the little kids tap-dancing for tips with bottle caps on their shoes.
Listen to the pie lady here. I'm not positive it's the right pie lady, but maybe?
Here are some trees on St. Charles. If you look closely and maybe squint, you’ll see the beads.
What current project are you most excited about?
Right now I am finishing a vampire novel and the next Chanse mystery. I am pretty pleased with both of them, but next year I am writing another y/a I can't wait to start, and a romantic suspense novel--I've always wanted to write one, and now I actually have the chance to do it. I think about both of these two books all of the time--which kind of sucks since I have to finish these other two first. I also am toying with ideas for another Scotty. There's a very strong possibility that this Chanse book will be the last one, so I really want it to be good, go out with a bang, if you know what I mean. I also have a couple of short stories I'm working on I am really enjoying.
I know exactly how hard it is to work on existing projects when new ideas are screaming for attention!
For more about Greg Herren, check out this recent interview by Jeffrey Ricker for Lambda Literary or visit Greg's blog, Queer and Loathing in America.
Thursday = almost Friday. Yay! (Or as Greg would say – Huzzah!)
Happy Thursday, darlings! Hope you have a great weekend.