I’m not sure that I’ll ever be 100% used to the fact that I’m a published author. I mean, seriously, what in the heck have I done to deserve that? There are better writers than I will ever be that will never see professional publication, and even more folks walking around with sheepskin-diplomas that will never bounce to the top of that hellish slush pile. I graduated high school on the barest of margins, slept through a few community college classes, and worked as a body piercer for almost seventeen years, so how in the hell did I get so lucky to wind up with a publisher like Thomas and Mercer, when so many others fall by the wayside? This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if I’m dreaming this whole writer gig sometimes.
Thankfully, this has yet to be proven as just a hallucination. Being published professionally was a dream that I never thought I could accomplish, but thanks to an understanding family, an ability to not be shattered to my core by over 400 rejection letters, and an utterly tenacious attitude to writing, I have found myself in a position that I was once too scared to even imagine. I write fiction for a living from the comfort of my kitchen table, and I sure do love it.
This is what happened:
In 2006 I started writing a novel just to see if I could do it. As it turned out, I was in a perfect position to write a novel that absolutely no one wanted to publish, so I borrowed money from my mother and self-pubbed a novel called From Ashes Rise. Ashes never dragged me into the winners circle in the way that so many other self-published authors have been, but I did sell 200 copies, and my desperation to do it again was animalistic. Undeterred by weak sales and far weaker responses from the world of agents and editors, I stepped back into the fire. Five manuscripts and four years after I’d begun work on Ashes, I finally talked to someone in publishing that was interested in hearing what I had to say.
A year before I got that magical email, my wife and I were woken by the sound of her phone ringing, it was her mother, and she had bad news. Really bad. A family outing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had turned to tragedy, and a drunk driver veering off the road had resulted in over ten members of our family being hospitalized, three of them dead on the scene. To say I was pissed would be an understatement, I was gutted and I was furious. I wanted revenge-I still do-but instead of buying myself time in prison with a few ounces of well-placed and well-deserved lead, I wrote.
The book I completed that summer, Nickel Plated, wound up being submitted to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. If you don’t remember my name from that cold winter, it’s because I didn’t win. I left my name on some piece of documentation where names were a no-no, and I was bounced after a few rounds. The miracle was that though I had been bounced, I had reviewed well enough that inexplicably my manuscript had wound up on the desk of my editor, Terry. A few months after I was rejected, I got an email from him offering to publish my book.
As any aspiring writer would do, I immediately assumed that this was one of those scams where you pay to play, but I was wrong. The offer was legit, and I walked out of my basement with my laptop under my arms and tears welling in my eyes. I set the computer in front of my wife and told her to read. She did, had the exact same reaction I did, and it slowly began to dawn on us that the years of rejection might just have been worth it. A few days later I talked to Terry over the phone while I was between piercings in the tattoo shop, and then later inked a contract.
Somehow, things got better from there. My publisher cared about my thoughts on the cover, they cared about my thoughts on edits, and they cared about me. Everything I had been told about the bad old world of publishing had been a lie, these people weren’t just good to me, they treated me like a friend. I was in heaven, to be perfectly honest. Conference call? Hey, I’ve never been on one, but now I was participating in one every few months. A publicist? Sure, why not. A content editor? Yes please. Even now, five works later, the fact that I have these people working with me is nearly impossible to believe. I’m just some tattooed scribbler, I wanted to tell them, you’ve got the wrong guy.
How does this happen? Well, in my case it happened because I read Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing, and I decided that I was going to be published or die trying. There was a lot of luck involved, but the real trick was making myself suffer, reading every rejection letter word for word and then getting back to those keys and punching them as hard as I could. I listened to songs that made me feel horrible and beautiful all at once, studied the bills that piercing was barely paying, and said, I can do this. I had no choice, that was the attitude that I took, and I pounded keys until my fingers were raw.
You can too. Write when the wind is full of the noise of friends laughing and talking, write when you’re at your happiest or most miserable, and write while the soundtrack to your heart blares through your headphones. Just write, and submit, and suffer, and by God, keep your fingers crossed.
Aric Davis’ novel The Fort is available now on Amazon.com. At turns heartbreaking and breathtakingly thrilling, The Fort perfectly renders a coming-of-age story in the 1980s, in those final days of childhood independence, discovery, and paradise lost.
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