Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bitter Dreams


Dreams sometimes come true. Eventually. In1984, while I was in graduate school but spending late nights fiddling around with fiction, a title occurred to me. That title was “Bitter Steel.” At the time I’d written only a few stories and fragments of stories, none very memorable, but I decided—with the irrepressibility of naïve youth—that Bitter Steel would be the title of my first collection of heroic fantasy tales. I even remember that it was late at night while walking across the University of Arkansas campus that the thought came to me.

Fast forward to April of 1993. By that time I’d sold half a dozen stories and had some successful contest entries under my belt. Most of my success had been with heroic fantasy stories, but I was no longer as naïve as I’d been in 1984. I was a long ways from setting the writing world on fire. I’d discovered how tough it is to write publishable stories, and how hard it is to find time to write when you’re also trying to build an academic career. It began to occur to me that I might never have a short story collection published. I printed out all the fantasy stories I had and spiral bound them for myself under the title Bitter Steel.

In 2009, I pitched an idea for a collection of my heroic fantasy tales to Borgo Press, which had published my Talera trilogy. Borgo liked the idea, and in 2010 that collection was published. I could do nothing else but entitle it Bitter Steel.

I went back this week to compare the published Bitter Steel with the spiral bound home version from 1993. I was amazed to find that 9 of the 14 stories from that original collection made it into the published version, although all of them have undergone revision. Four others have also been published, and only one has never been seen by anyone but me. I’m kind of pleased with the life of these tales.

No matter how naïve it may seem, dreaming is important. There were quite a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I thought about giving up on writing. I had novels written but not published, stories selling but only to small markets, a growing list of agents unimpressed with my submissions. People were telling me that the sort of stuff I liked to write was old fashioned and out of style. Progress never seemed better than three steps forward and two back, and sometimes the other way around. But I never could quite forget the dreams I had almost from the first moment I tried to write, dreams that I would find success, that I’d see my name in print. And not just once, but many times. In 1984, I dreamed of Bitter Steel. In 2010, I saw it come true. I’m glad I held on.

27 comments:

David J. West said...

Don't hurt that its a damn good book either.

Liane Spicer said...

Dreams do come true, although - especially in the world of publishing - it often takes longer than we anticipated.

I wrote the first draft of novel #1 in 1997. It was published in 2008. Takes a lot of dreaming to sustain this kind of delayed gratification.

Faith Imagined said...

I like your publication journey! I think great writers have one consistent characteristic: perseverance!

Congrats on Bitter Steel!

Charles Gramlich said...

David J. West, thank you, Man. That means a lot.

Liane, yes, very few overnight successes, or over year successes in our business.

Faith Imagined, thank you. And I appreciate you dropping by.

Evan Lewis said...

Surprising what dreams - and persistence - can do for you.

Erik Donald France said...
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Erik Donald France said...

And that . . . is the beginning of the story. It's a major existential accomplishment, and is a lot more inspiring than the idea of "setting goals" on a to-do list.

Ocean Girl said...

Thank you Charles for an inspiring story and for reminding me to dream again.

the walking man said...

Perish the fool that refuses to dream of thing desired and life, long life, to the one who remember dreams are the beginning of work, hard work.

Congratulations Charles. These steps towards your ultimate dream are getting you to it. May your readership be ever increasing.

laughingwolf said...

well said, charles... keep on dreaming, too!

Paul R. McNamee said...

Inspiring and a good lesson in being tenacious.

I wasn't sure if this was going to be about aspirations - or about writing all your crazy night dreams into sellable stories ;)

I bought 'Bitter Steel' a few weeks ago. It's on my short list for reading this year.

Charles Gramlich said...

Evan Lewis, but if I had not the dream, any persistence might be misdirected. Definitely the hanging in there is critical.


Erik Donald France, I didn’t even think much about that when Bitter Steel was first published. But the looking back that the end of the year often brings brought it home to me.

Ocean Girl, and thank you for the kind words.

Mark, Yes, I have new dreams now. I hope they won’t take quite so long to come to fruition. But if so, it’s OK.


laughingwolf, thank you, man.

Paul R. McNamee, I hoped the title of the blog post would evoke some curiosity. It was an intentional play on my part. Thanks for picking up Bitter Steel. I appreciate that.

SY said...

congrats to you for having a dream and making it come true.. thanks for the inspiration
- Sy

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I started writing too late to have the necessary youthful hopefulness to dream about it.

Tom said...

I currently find myself in your exact 1993 position, except I haven't had anything published yet. Still, I do dream, and I do work on it. My biggest accomplishment recently is setting aside the need to write for pay, and just write for joy. I figure if I do that, eventually the pay will come. Or not. But at least I am having fun.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm glad you hung on there, too, baby. I know how frustrating working in artistic fields can be, but if you love it, that's the most important thing. :)

ArtSparker said...

As someone who gets discouraged very easily, I appreciate your example.

David Cranmer said...

Great post, Charles. You remain an inspiration.

BITTER STEEL is a great title and that's a sharp looking cover.

BernardL said...

Good dream and good follow through.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Dreams do come true. I wrote the first draft of CassaStar... well, let's just say over three decades ago... and it just sat for so long. Even when I started to rewrite the story, everything I heard said science fiction was dead. But for a dream, I pushed on. Glad I did, and glad you did!

Charles Gramlich said...

SY, and thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it.

Patti, Age does have an impact on that. I’ve felt it myself.


Tom, I always wanted to get paid, but I never really cared how much, and at times I just wanted to try and get something into a particular magazine and I didn’t care if it was for no pay. The fun is the biggest part of it, though, and the ‘need’ to write, to get stories out of yourself into some concrete form.


Lana Gramlich, you sure do sweety. But we both have had some good success in these past few years. We’ve brought each other luck.

ArtSparker, I do get discouraged, but I also get very very stubborn at times.

David Cranmer, I wish the hands on the cover were more scarred and warrior looking but the sword is definitely cool.

BernardL, I appreciate that.

Alex J. Cavanaugh, Creative projects don’t have any standard gestation periods. I don’t think the publishing industry understands that when they push writers to try and do 2 or 3 books a year and the results are often a little shoddy when the writer could have done great with 1 book a year.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Dreams. Daydreams.

I too am a firm believer in staring at the wall. But a wall knows more wittily about art. The wall makes you think, dream and then do.
And that can take forever.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, walls are made to be filled with creative markings.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Congratulations. You've just proved the old adage: Good things come to those who wait.

Jewel Amethyst said...
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Steve Malley said...

"So you have built castles in the air; good, for that is where castles belong.

Now start to build foundations under them."

--Thoreau (I think)

Charles Gramlich said...

Jewel, sometimes at least. :)

Steve Malley, yeah, that's where the hard work is.