A Different Level

(Warning: rambling thoughts ahead) 

Depending on the path you take in your writing career, you might find yourself in a few interesting places.  See, there are all these different schools of thought for when it comes to building a career.  Some talk about submitting work to the highest paying markets and then working your way down.  Others say that those markets are your barometer, that if you can’t land a story there then the story wasn’t that good in the first place.  Still others swear by starting at the lowest rung possible and working your way up.  Every proponent of one of those methods will swear the other two are followed by idiots or elitists or idiotic elitists or, possibly, elitist idiots.

At this point, you’re probably expecting me to promote one of those viewpoints.  I’m hesitant to do that, though.  I took a dash from each as I moved through the earliest stages of my career (feels weird to call it that).  See, I still consider myself a writer who’s learning, who really doesn’t know much of anything yet.  I’ve written a few books, and folks have purchased and read them.  Some people have told me they like my work.  That’s all great, and I’m grateful for all of it.  Doesn’t mean I’m not still learning.

This is where we reach some of those interesting places.  Right now, I find myself in one.  At World Horror this year, I had numerous fans come up to me and tell me how much they like my work.  That’s always great to hear.  On the other hand, a week later I was in Indiana trying to explain to family members that they can’t get my books in stores and I don’t even have copies of my short story collection left.  For every fan that says they pre-ordered a book and can’t wait to get it in their hands, I have to explain to some friend why their book won’t arrive for another five months and why it had a $60 cover price in the first place.

Really, these are all minor issues, and they’re ones I deal with either gladly or begrudgingly, depending on the day, my mood, and how much coffee I’ve inhaled.  What it really means to me is that I’m at a level where I’m considered a professional author by some while I consider myself something else.  I can walk into a store and buy books by Sarah Langan, Peter Straub, Gillian Flynn, Joe R. Lansdale, Rhodi Hawk, Joe Hill, and Tom Piccirilli.  Now that Scavengers is out, I can go into a bookstore and kindly ask them to order a single copy for my own enjoyment.  It’s not hanging out on the shelves.  Not bad, but not exactly the same thing.

Every now and then, I see other writers at this level (and sadly, sometimes I see myself) start speaking like some kind of authority on writing and publishing.  You see them popping up on message boards all the time, offering helpful advice to some newcomer when they’ve done nothing more than sell out a 100 copy print run of a novel.  Shit, I’ve been guilty of it.  Not proud of that fact, but I might as well own up to it.

Here’s the thing, though.  Deep down, I know I’m not where I want to be.  I know I have a lot to learn and a lot of progress to make, both in my writing and my career.  I try to keep all of that in mind when I consider the big picture.  “In the Middle of Poplar Street” was nominated for a Stoker Award, and that’s awesome, but “Going Home, Ugly Stick in Hand” received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and that’s worth ten times more to me.  Why?  Because Ellen knows her stuff, and odds point to more people reading her anthologies than searching out the latest Stoker list.

Look, I’ve got nothing against monster stories or pieces that are big, dumb, and fun.  I have two zombie novellas due by the end of the year, and they’re big, dumb, and fun as they come.  I also have a monster novel in the works that’s trying to be something a little more.  I mean, there’s a pretty huge difference between Simmons’ The Terror and the average Leisure release, and it’s not just page count.

I’ll admit I’m almost never happy with my prose.  Come to think of it, I know few writers I admire who are.  The really good writers don’t look at a completed manuscript and say, “Perfect.”  They look at it with this mix of heartbreak and determination, knowing it can be better.  That’s what I want, for everything I write to be better than it was last time.  I want to improve, to be the best writer I can be, and that means effort, even if you’re working with something like zombies or vampires.  Alden Bell’s The Reapers Are the Angels is a masterpiece, and it’s a zombie book.  It’s a wonderfully crafted one, too.

So that’s the goal…and the endgame of this little rant.  I want to reach a different level.  I want to be better than I am now.  Hell, I just want to be better.  Sooner or later, I will be.

And then I’ll still want to improve.

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