Never a Straight Line

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part I

I finished the first draft of Broken Magic six years ago. Since then, I’ve been querying agents and publishers, begging them to publish or represent it. And failing. Six years of rejection distances you from your novel. Broken Magic became a query letter and synopsis, a product, a sales pitch. A sales pitch no one was buying. Making the decision to self-publish demanded I close that distance. I had to remind myself that the really important work – writing a novel – was still done. It hadn’t been tarnished or diminished by those rejections and setbacks.

Broken Magic came out of filming one of my first movies. A movie that will – like all of what I shot before 2005 – never see the light of day. I dropped a lot of balls filming that movie. I’d write it all off as nothing but an embarrassing failure if not for how much the experience of it changed me. I met a lot of talented and incredible people. I discovered strengths I didn’t know I had, and weaknesses I wished I didn’t. I got involved with local, independent theater. And, somehow, I found just enough confidence and inspiration to believe I could write and finish a novel.

That inspiration was what kept me going, and it’s the reason I can believe Broken Magic is worth this dive into self-publishing.  Broken Magic is really, seriously personal.  Way more than anything else I’ve written. I emerged from that failed film wrestling with the kind of emotional issues that, in the past, I’d swept back under the rug without addressing. Like my confusing series of attractions to two, very different types of women (and what said attractions said about me); my love of escapism via fantasy and science fiction; the deep lack of comfort with who I was and where I was going. Writing about any of that was the last thing I wanted to do. I wasn’t looking for inspiration. I just wanted to recover from a film that had too many problems to complete, to distance myself from the acute emotional turbulence that builds when you’re trapped on a set with the same people for days or weeks, and to hide from everyone while I did so.

I don’t even know that I decided, per se, to write a novel. It was more that everything smashed together like atoms in a particle collider, all at once, and when they did, everything seemed so obvious that Broken Magic was an inevitability. All those problems – my attractions, my escapism, my sense of invisibility and displacement – were related. They were facets of the same gem. Turning that inspiration into something readable demanded I take a lot of uncomfortable crap from my life – people, fears, events, embarrassments – and smash them together in the same way. The novel that came out of that scares the crap out of me. Broken Magic isn’t about me, but it’s a refraction of myself that I’m terrified to let people read.

Yet, it was exactly that refraction that got me through writing. It’s the novel’s heart, and it’s what led me back to Broken Magic after every rejection.  Without it, I wouldn’t have the strength or desire to do the great and terrible work that self-publishing entails. Without it, I doubt I’d have anything you’d care to read. It just sucked to write. (Ok, it was wonderful to write, but it also sucked.) Speaking of which.

Writing anything is hard. Really hard. There isn’t a single thing – not a blog post, not a short story, not a script – that’s easy to write. They’re all a pain in the ass in their own, special way. The thing that makes novels murderous is time. Unless you’re Stephen King, writing a novel takes a really. Long. Time. Hell, even if you are Stephen King. Broken Magic took me three years from inception to completion of that first draft. Three years of notes, of outlines, of scrapping chapters. Three years of fears that I’d wasted time I didn’t have on something crap, and the despondence of realizing how much more time it would take to finish said piece of crap. By the middle of Broken Magic I didn’t have a clue what I was writing, why I was writing it, or if I’d ever be done.

Around the time I started Broken Magic, Quentin Tarantino released Kill Bill. There’s a quote in it, from Hattori Hanzo, master swordsmith. He’s talking about revenge, but it’s the best analogy for novel writing I’ve heard. When I’m afraid that I’ve lost the path, that my novel has gotten away from me, I find my way back to Hanzo’s (ok, Tarantino’s) words.

Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest, and like a forest it’s easy to lose your way. To get lost. To forget where you came in.

That’s what you’re in for if you want to have a novel to publish. A forest in which you can and will lose your way. It’s what makes writing a novel terrifying, but it’s also why it’s the most rewarding writing I’ve ever done. I’m addicted to being lost in that forest. Addicted so bad that even my terror of this self-publishing thing hasn’t stopped me in my tracks.

Writing the thing might be the most important part, but it’s still just the beginning. You’ve still got to figure out how to convince people to read the thing.

Which starts by taking a machete to all of your hard work. You left a hell of a mess finding your way out of that forest. Time to clean up.

Broken Magic will be available for Kindle, Nook and in print in September 2012.

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5 Responses to Never a Straight Line

  1. susanedits says:

    The hardest part about writing is writing.

    I’ll be looking forward to reading Part II. I’m curious about how you chose to self-publish. There are so many ways to go about it.

  2. Mere says:

    Wow. That Tarantino quote is so apt. There always comes a point in my writing — be it TV show, feature, short story, or (yet-to-be-finished) novel — where I just throw my hands in the air and say, “Shit. I’m lost. What the fuck was I trying to say with this again?” Usually that inspires a good deal of panic and angst, but sometimes — just sometimes — it frees me, too. It allows me to think, “Screw it. I’m just gonna finish this thing and sort it all out later.” Of course, sometimes — and only sometimes — this results in a fantastic hike right out of the forest and into the Promised Land. Other times it results in me weeping face-down on the couch and regretting that I ever learned English. But I’ll take those odds any day, because getting out of the forest even once is worth staying lost in it 10 times over. And I think Beatrix Kiddo would agree.

  3. samatwitch says:

    A winding path is always more interesting than a straight line – and getting lost in a forest isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you eventually get out. Good luck with your path. (Just don’t hurt the trees in the process!)

  4. Eric says:

    @susanedits – Thank you for reading! Part II is probably going to be about that decision, since I came to it rather windingly.

    @Mere – Beatrix Kiddo would absolutely agree. Also probably cut my arms off.

    @samatwitch – Thank you for the well wishes, Sams! I’d never hurt the trees on purpose. But I can’t promise not to stumble into them. I’m such a klutz.

  5. Pingback: Cleaning Up Your Mess » Saalon Muyo

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