To the continued disbelief of countless people, friends and family included, my story was one of eighteen selected for that first anthology. Following that first sale, the contest editor, Dean Wesley Smith, bought two more stories of mine, each for the next editions of Strange New Worlds. He launched several writing careers in similar fashion, including another of your regular Novel Spaces contributors.
While I was submitting entries to those contests, I also was writing and submitting other stories, most of them science fiction. All during this period, Dean spent a lot of time on America Online where he talked about the contest, offering up a continuous stream of writing advice for anyone smart enough to read his postings. We’ve corresponded sporadically over the years, and I’m a frequent follower of his blog as well as the one maintained by his wife, writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. They both regularly dispense frank, invaluable advice about the craft and business of writing, all of it offered from the perspective of years of hard-won experience. You could do worse than to bookmark both their sites.
Since that first sale of mine oh so long ago, Dean’s continued to be an inspiration. I’ve always considered him—along with Kris—one of the “best friends” any up and coming writer ever could want. One of the first bits of advice he offered to me way back when has stuck with me all these years: “Get out of your own way, and just write. Stop pondering every word and sentence. Stop reworking that same paragraph you wrote an hour ago. Stop editing yourself. Write. Get it all out of your head, warts, rough edges and all, and keep moving forward. Write now. Edit later.”
Dean wasn’t just talking a good game, either. He’s a veritable writing machine, possessing what I jokingly refer to as “Fingers of Fury.” Working under his own name and a truckload of aliases, he’s written more than one hundred novels and more than two hundred short stories. In the time it’s taken you to read this far, he’s probably written another novel. Maybe two.
In the fifteen years since my first story’s publication, I’d never met Dean face to face, but I got to cross that item off my Bucket List last week. I was in Las Vegas with my writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, for a convention appearance, and we learned that the scheduling and travel gods had seen fit to deposit Dean and Kris, along with a small group of other friends and fellow writers, in Sin City for a totally unrelated function. A couple of texts and e-Mails later and we all were able to convene at a local bar, where I finally got to shake the hand of the man who gave me my start in the word-slinging biz.
So here we are, fifteen years later, and it’s a simple matter for me to draw a line connecting nearly every story or novel I’ve published over this time back to that first sale. If not for Dean Wesley Smith—and Deb Simpson, who convinced me to submit to that first writing contest back in 1997—my writing career, assuming I had one at all, likely would have taken a much different path.
Yeah. It’s all his fault.
Here’s to you, Dean. I can’t ever thank you enough for the opportunity you gave me. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working in the hopes of showing everyone else that you made a good call.