As I write this I’m sitting propped up in bed, listening to midnight waves crash on the beach while my wife sleeps soundly beside me (I didn’t use the word snore, but thought it). Even on a family vacation the need to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is a strong one. When it calls, I listen. By the time this is posted I’ll be back in the land of Oz, ready to start the grind that is editing a novel. For now, however, my mind is on the beach and how plans are nothing more than a sandcastle built during the day that will undoubtedly be washed away at the coming of the tide.
Someone asked me if I was still writing the blog recently. I responded with “not really.” If you’re a follower of the blog and have missed it, I’d like to apologize for its absence (and thanks, by the way). The truth is I haven’t been maintaining the website with even half-hearted attention, let alone writing new blog posts. The reason for that will be explained in the coming paragraphs. It wasn’t a planned absence, but one of necessity.
The previous ten months have taught me a lot about coping with situations that not only didn’t go according to plan but weren’t in the plans in the first place. In June of last year my wife was diagnosed with a tumor at the base of her brain. She survived thanks to emergency surgery performed by the team of doctors and nurses at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Life is a bit different than before—difficulty swallowing has been the biggest struggle for her—but enjoyable, nonetheless.
Then we received unexpected news. She was pregnant with our fourth child. It was hard wrapping our collective brains around having another child at our ages (we’re at that age where only senior citizens think we’re young, but our kids think we’re geriatric). Four kids. All looking at us as the responsible adult-type person who shall be the biggest influence on their lives. Sure, we had talked about an addition a few years ago, but moved onward when nothing materialized.
After the initial shock wore off—which happened around the time of the first ultrasound—we were excited about our new addition and ready to embrace the challenges of a six-person family. Our three daughters are ready to help by changing diapers, feeding bottles, and generally loving the new baby, even if it is a stinky boy.
A two-week hospital stay in an unfamiliar city wasn’t in the plans, neither was the physical therapy that followed. Adding another child might have been a plan (I would prefer to think of it as a vague idea at best) three years ago but had faded from the forefront of our minds. That’s how life works, as I’m sure you’re aware. Sometimes life throws obstacles that you aren’t prepared for, leaving you to adapt or face the consequences. Other times there seems to be a bit of a delay in the realization of certain plans coming into being. It can create a certain hiccup in our giddy-up due to the poor timing. Yet isn’t a delayed result on a plan—or dream if you get where this is going—better than none?
Obstacles. Delays. Changing plans. The past ten months of life have mirrored my writing life as of late. The plans in that writing life could be described as ambitious dreams to those not inside the mind of this writer. A modest career as a writer with a small but loyal fanbase without the added hassle of working a “real job” was the plan (if you read dream here, that’s fine, just keep that four-letter word to yourself). By the way, most dreams are about handouts and charity that people haven’t earned; what I want I have already devoted a lifetime of hard work to achieving.
Those plans of a career in writing were made by a single man many miles down the shoreline of the beach that is life. Now I walk amongst sandcastles and water toys as a married father of three, with a fourth on the way, yet the plan remains. There have been rejected short stories by magazine editors, rejected novels by literary agents, and more self-doubt than one person should be able to produce. Obstacles.
Included in the larger plan (that’s really a goal) was a series of smaller bullet points to achieving said plan—because plans should always have bullet points and goals should always have steps. Bullet point number one was getting my first short story published in a literary magazine, which was achieved with greater ease than I can fathom in hindsight. I wrote and submitted five short stories to literary magazines at the age of nineteen. These were the first stories I had written with the forethought of having another living soul lay their eyes upon them. One of these was selected for publication. Seven long years would separate publication number one from two. Self-doubt can cripple a spirit under those circumstances. Indeed, mine has suffered breaks and sprains, but somehow survived. Eventually, the publications came after I had worked out just what type of writer I was going to be. Delays.
The bullet point regarding building a respectable resume of publications took longer to achieve than I ever dreamed. Yet I consider it done. Next, I turned to the novel, which had always intimidated me as a writer of the artform that is the short story (yes, I believe it’s an artform at its core). I won’t bore you with the details of my failures as a novelist (look at some of my previous posts if you’re interested) but will summarize instead. I wrote three middle grade horror novels and queried two of those—the third was a sequel to one of the other novels. More than a hundred literary agents received a query regarding those novels. One full request and a pass was the result. I have it upon good information that my queries were solid. It’s either the writing or the story.
Earlier I wrote about self-doubt in an earnest and open manner. Years reading other writers—both traditionally published and non—have taught me that I am capable of a traditionally published writing path. Egotistical or self-awareness, I’ll let you be the judge (and I would counter that Stephanie Meyer is proof that a traditionally published author needs only a miniscule amount of writing talent). The ability to write a coherent sentence isn’t an elusive skill. Millions of people around the world possess it. Many of them are fledgling writers as well. If you possess the ability to write a sentence without tripping over your fingers, voice and story are more important.
If writing ability isn’t the problem (and I assure you that it isn’t) then it must lay with either voice or story. In writing middle grade horror, I’ve gone with a straightforward and readable voice (sounds boring, right?). Honestly, it could be the voice, though I’m not sure I’d fix it within the boundaries of that genre. When it comes to the elements of story in those two novels, well, I feel like I brought my two best batters to the plate in a key situation and watched them strikeout. Those were the best stories that have ever spilled out of this head for that genre. If they weren’t good enough, fine. Change of plans.
It’s true that I have always enjoyed writing middle grade horror—still do, in fact—and my weary bones have always felt comfortable in its macabre waters. Yet I have also envisioned a reality that allowed me to publish both middle grade and adult horror (Yes, that is a bit farfetched and dreamy, but, hey, aren’t your dreams?). Even while writing middle grade horror I still maintained a connection to adult horror by writing short stories (by the way, nothing is harder than writing a 140K word novel then turning around and trying to squeeze an entire story in less than ten percent of that). With the failures of my middle grade stories, I decided to switch things up. I would focus on horror.
That brings me to the reason I stopped maintaining the blog/website. Trying to salvage something out of my writing career by switching to adult horror required my full attention. I tried to maintain the blog for a few weeks, but it was in vain. I wasn’t meeting my weekly wordcount goal, thus something had to give. Family time or the blog; that’s what it boiled down to. Yes, that stinks, but it was the right choice.
When I get home from this crazy multi-family vacation, I’m going to settle in and read the first draft. Hopefully, another fulfilled delay can be added to my writing career, with my first published novel. Traditional publishing is my medium of choice, but either way this novel will see readers unlike the middle grade novels that will never see the light of day. It’s time to be read.
The midnight waves have done their duty in lulling me back to sleep. May your dreams be as pleasant as mine are in paradise. And remember to always follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth