When I was in middle school, I didn’t get along with my classmates. I was miserable, but relatively smart. I was bullied. I got in fights sometimes. I don’t know anyone who did well in middle school, but I really sucked.
Then, I learned about the math and science program at a boarding school in Birmingham. I studied, applied and got in, after a grueling set of exams and interviews. I was just so happy to be away from the horrible place I’d been living. I’d say I burned all of my bridges before I moved away, but I didn’t have any.
Once at the boarding school, however, I pissed away all the good things that had been given to me, and I failed out. Okay, so I withdrew before I could fail out, but that’s a technicality. Now, whenever I meet a scientist, I think, “I could’ve been one of you, if I wasn’t so lazy in high school.” I used to feel compelled to prove myself.
I still have nightmares about that school–about the shame I felt when I failed. I had to tell my family that I wasn’t cut out for the challenge. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so at least I didn’t have to go through that. My parents lovingly put me in a different school, so I wouldn’t have to be back among the people I’d left, and I created a new identity.
Time wore on, and I came to realize I had other dreams, and being a scientist mattered very little in the long run. Maybe I’d only enrolled to get out of Athens. Maybe I was lazy because I didn’t really care for day-to-day practical science. Maybe I just wanted a brighter tomorrow, and I didn’t care where it came from. In the end, I also learned that attending this boarding school did not assure the futures of its students.
In 2007, I signed my first writing contract, with a comic book studio out in Los Angeles. I’ve got to admit, I forced my way into it. I owned a web domain that they were willing to pay through the nose for, and I believed in my writing.
We made a trade: I write a three-issue comic that gets distributed nationwide. They keep the domain.
As it turns out, they had very little motivation to keep their end of the bargain. Like many comic publishers, they dealt primarily in finished comics, and had very little ability to contract an artist. They eventually set me up with an untested fellow the editor met in San Diego.
My comic was going to be in most comic shops! I was over the moon. I told my friends and family. I penned my scripts and got them in months ahead of the deadline.
That artist subsequently took two years to finish two issues, deviating from the script to add in as much nudity as possible. I never got the $250 per issue that was listed in the contract. In the end, I abandoned the contract, choosing to get a release of my rights, instead of the domain. I could’ve sued for breach, but why? Comic book publishers are notoriously broke. What was I going to get from them?
I thought I’d been smart in getting my rights back, but two years later, I read the scripts and the source material. It was terrible, and something I’d be ashamed to publish today. It represented viewpoints that I now consider insensitive at best.
Once again, I had to tell my family that I wasn’t going to do something cool after all. I had to add all of my friends to that failure announcement.
I went on to write THE GEARHEART: ARTIFICE in 2008. I podcasted it, and the story was a smashing success. That podcast has a Parsec finalist three times, and there were a metric ton of downloads. It launched my love of music composition and gained me a bunch of good friends. So, in 2012, I walked away from it, promising the fans that I’d be publishing books. I went dark, looking for an agent and a publisher.
I wrote three more books. All of them were roundly rejected by agents and editors with no chance of a book deal. Each book took years of my life, but I learned something every time. It’s hard to say that you traded a year for a few choice writing lessons.
So now I have a book deal. It’s not for THE GEARHEART, but it’s a publishing deal, all the same. I’ve told the world, my fans, my friends and family. Everyone I know has been ecstatic for me, and with good reason. This is a lifelong dream of mine, and I can’t stress that enough.
It doesn’t change the fact that I have nightmares where no one buys the book. I had one last night, in fact. If I fail at this stage, I will now have the largest audience I’ve ever had watching. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but a little comforting, too.
It’s comforting because I’ve failed before. I’ve had multiple, large-scale events take a nasty turn, and I’ve been just fine (and that’s just in my professional life). Chuck Wendig wrote an article on his blog a few days ago: Fuck Your Pre-Rejection, Penmonkey. It grapples with this very issue, but from the abstract. It’s an encouragement to those about to write, but who stop themselves.
I’m speaking concretely here; I’m a failure many times over. If we’re going purely by the odds, it doesn’t look good for me. I’m hopeful, though; After all, I’m the furthest I’ve ever been down this publishing rabbit hole, but those elevated stakes give me a lot of angst.
That’s when I have to tell myself: Maybe it’s not going to be okay, and that’s okay, too. As long as I’m drawing breath, I’ll be telling stories.