A lot of my writerly acquaintances/friends/family have their own ‘origin story’ that is fascinating to me. They say things like, “I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid,” or, “I’ve always told stories and made up my own worlds.”
My origin story resembles these only if you turn your head and squint. I liked to make up stories- my stuffed animals went on all kinds of improbable adventures- and I wrote a certain amount of fanfiction- mostly in my head. I have one world in particular that drifted away from the source material so much that I need to get it down on paper and publish; it’s a crime that it’s sitting there, doing nothing.
But somehow, I never connected my hobby to my eventual career. If I really had to give a reason for this incredible oversight, I’d say that I grew up in a middle class New England family, where there wasn’t a lot of money lying around. What we did have was fantastic work ethic, and a desire to be more successful than the last generation. My parents encouraged me to consider college majors and careers in terms of, “Can I make a living at this?” Writing was never considered a workable career for me, and since I can be weirdly unimaginative and obedient at the drop of a hat, I never considered it, either. It simply never occurred to me that I could be a writer, even when I had no idea what I should do with my life.
I made it to twenty-two without thinking much about writing. Then I got sick. Details aren’t important, but I ended up with a fairly rare autoimmune condition, brought on by too much stress in college, and it took a year to arrive at a diagnosis and start treatment. During that year, spring 2012 to spring 2013, I basically did nothing; I had no strength to do anything but sleep for eighteen hours a day, and read books when I was awake. Occasionally I managed to make up a little story of my own, but they were scattered and repetitive, and I couldn’t even work up the effort to write them down. It was not a good year. Thank goodness my dad gave me a place to live; I was in no condition to care for myself, or even work a day job.
Okay. That last paragraph is maudlin and boring, and has nothing to do with writing. It’s only interesting as a stepping stone. On April 11, 2013, I was sitting on the couch in my childhood home, trying to make up a story for my own amusement, only my usual characters weren’t talking to me. In one of my rare fits of rebellion, I said, possibly even out loud, “Fine. Stupid characters. If you won’t cooperate, I’ll make up some new characters.” In less than five minutes, The Garia Cycle was born. It’s a tricky little universe, and doesn’t fit into any particular genre, but it has two published books and between six and eight more waiting in the wings.
But the Garia universe was conceived for my own amusement, at first. I had no plans to actually publish it. Life was too busy at that point. Within a month, the doctors figured out what was wrong with me, I started treatment for it, and got a job. That kept me well occupied for about a year.
Until the lightbulb went on. I’ve always been a great proponent of the public library in my hometown, and can usually find something worth reading. But sometime in late 2014, I took out a few really terrible books, right in a row. They had nothing to do with each other, and I no longer recall the titles, but they were awful. Gray goo, no plotting, and endings that left me wondering if the publisher had accidentally chopped off the last chapter. And they were all traditionally published.
I looked at those awful books, thought about the infant Garia Cycle (at the time, only one book) and said, out loud, “I can do better than this.”
So I set out to do exactly that. I had about as much success as you’d expect; I knew nothing about publishing and very little about writing. But I talked to people, and got a few hints from them. Submitting to trad publishing was a waste of time, but I didn’t know that until I’d sent out a very early draft of A Kingdom of Glass to a few different houses.
By summer 2016, I hadn’t exhausted all of my options, but I was casting around, looking for new and innovative ways to screw up my chances of getting published, and I discovered the Calliope workshop, put on by Taliesin Nexus. The program has undergone some changes since then- I think it’s now called Cinder- but it was a writer’s workshop specifically for political conservatives. On a whim, I submitted an application and, lo and behold, they accepted me. I can only guess about the quality of the works that were rejected; my writing was still very patchy and I disguised a lot of gaps with good grammar and copyediting.
But I went to the workshop and got some good tips on branding, talking to editors, networking, etc. For the writing portion of the workshop, we were split into groups by genre (supposedly). Each group had a mentor. I don’t know what our very own Sarah Hoyt did wrong in a past life, but it was bad enough to make her the mentor for my group, which was a hodgepodge of newbies whose work varied in quantity, quality, and genre. But we had fun and learned a few things. I met my fiancé as an indirect consequence of that workshop, and for that reason alone, it was worth it.
I came home from Calliope and rewrote almost my entire book. Trust me, the second draft had its issues, but rewriting was the right decision. I published A Kingdom of Glass on Amazon about six months later, which sounds incredibly slow from my current perspective but was probably pretty speedy for a new writer.
I leave you to judge if The Garia Cycle is worth anything; the first two books mostly serve as an example of how much a writer can improve with practice. I started out with no talent or skill at storytelling, and now I’ve developed a little skill. But it showed me that I could write and publish, and make a little money from doing. Other books of varying length followed. The most recent is a regency romance, The Secret of Seavale. I have a space opera that needs editing, another half-done regency romance, and five or six more lurking in my head. The next Garia book is about two-thirds complete, and the rest of the series prods me occasionally.
Why am I telling you this? Um, good question. I’m trying to give myself a kick in the butt, and accomplish some writing. But mostly, I think it’s because I’m back in the same position I was, five and a half years ago, when I couldn’t think of anything to write and made up a new universe out of sheer bullheadedness. You see, I’m visiting my family for Christmas. So I’m sitting on the living room couch- it even has the same green couch cover- looking at the same furniture, with a laptop on my knees. And my characters won’t talk to me. Yet.
A few things have changed, of course. The Christmas decorations are pretty much the same, but they weren’t there in spring 2013. I don’t technically live in this house anymore; I live in Colorado. That awful disease that was killing me, is in remission. With a little luck, I won’t see any more consequences from it for the rest of my life. And my fiancé just came down the stairs and wished me a good morning.
Even when things come full circle, they’re not quite the same as before. All in all, I’m okay with that.