Writing to me has always been a highly personal endeavor.
For as far back as I can recall, I’ve been a writer. When I wasn’t putting pen to paper, I was thinking, dreaming and scheming about plots and characters. Later, in high school, this passion turned to music and I penned hundreds of lyrics to songs I’d never be good enough to sing. Still, I always carried my stories with me, even when I wasn’t actively writing them.
Out of high school, I completed my first book, a fantasy entitled The Spirits of Man. It was, by no small margin, inspired by the series I was reading at the time, The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. I toiled away on the first book, while drawing maps and character outlines for the rest of the series.
At some point, I was invited to attend my mother’s writing group.
As I’ve written about elsewhere, I never really entertained the idea of being a writer. Though it’s certainly in my blood and something I can’t deny, I was never confident enough to quit my day job for it. Joining up with the critique group gave my ego a much-needed boost, while also reeling in my expectations. I could go toe-to-toe with some of the other writers there (which made me happy, because I was the youngest by far), but I also had a lot of work to do in order to hone my craft.
I had to drop out of the writing group when I took on a job driving for Dial-A-Ride. The hours were too erratic and there was no way I could guarantee I’d be off in time to attend group. Missing that kind of fellowship, my next big move came in joining Authonomy. This was my first experience letting strangers read my writing, and I was heartened by the all the encouragement I received. I also took the criticism seriously, and used it to better my writing.
Through all of this, I remained a solo act, if you will. I was a rock. I was an island. I wrote by myself, sharing very little of my plots and schemes with anyone. Even when I returned back to group and had the start of a new series to present The Four-Year-Old Guardian), I kept it all hush-hush. I knew how the series would end, what twists and turns were coming, but I shared them with no one. The other members of the group would often tell us what was coming, but I liked to see their reactions in real-time. If there was a scene I felt was powerful and it elicited very little response, I knew I had to make a note to myself to revisit it. Also, it gave me an insight into how potential readers might react to certain scenes and what clues they might pick up on in the body of the narrative.
So despite the help I received in group, I still considered my writing a one-man act. Even now, if I were to die tomorrow, nobody would know what to do with my unfinished projects. I have notes scattered around all over the place, but good luck reading them! (I can scarcely decipher them most of the time).
But something happened when I started self-publishing last year. It began with my wife taking a look at my cover choices and saying, “I can do it better.” And so she did, creating a number of different options for Ascension before showing me the white version. It was so startling different from my original, black cover, I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized I liked it. It was almost minimalistic, stark, but it was definitely eye-catching. The fact it fits in with the themes of the book was a plus.
After her victory, she sort of became my go-to cover girl, turning my selections into the works of art they now are (if you can’t tell, I’m quite pleased by my covers). With The Shadow Walker, she transformed a an orange paint blob my daughter had scribbled on the wall into the shadowy visage of a Uracai. She nixed a lot of my ideas for Bravado/Dramatique and took my general request for theater masks and made it something special.
Now, whenever I think of a book plot, I also try to envision the cover and start discussing it with her, eager to get her feedback. Because of her, I changed the name of one of my upcoming books (it was Friends For Sale; now it’s Together Alone). Even though she’s only read one of my book (*cough, cough*), she’s become a part of my process.
By the same token, I’ve come to rely on a few people for reviews, including Katy Sozaeva. Some of you may have noticed she’s reviewed all of my available books so far, but I assure you, she’s not somebody I know outside of the writing world. When I first signed on with GoodReads, I put out a feeler for people who might be interested in reviewing my books and she responded. I take her opinion seriously (I follow her blog and read every review) and when she suggested I use an editor, I knew she spoke the truth. So for my next round of books, I plan to have them all edited by someone outside of my close-knit circle of friends and family members (it’s all right to applaud, people who’ve had to suffer through my typos).
Also, in the future, I’m considering getting some beta readers (there’s a guy at work who sort of fills that role, but he doesn’t want to read the book pre-release, which kind of defeats the purpose) and I’ve also looked at hiring a cover artist so we have a broader set of parameters we can work with when putting the cover art together. I’ve also entertained the idea of doing a book trailer and I might see if a friend can compose some original music to accompany it.
What I’m trying to say in my usual, long-winded fashion, is this one man, solo “I’m a rock” act has become about much more than me. My name may be on the cover and in the search engines, but there’s now a small team behind me, helping make these books a reality. If this were video, the credit roll would be short, but it would say more than, “Written, Directed, Filmed by and Starring Steve Madden”. It would show this man is no island.
Besides, I thought the title of the post was funny.
Thanks for your support,