Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's All This Guy's Fault

Fifteen years ago this summer, the first story I ever sold to a professional paying market was published. It was for a writing contest, the first ever of its type sponsored by Pocket Books, called Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The contest was soliciting Star Trek short stories from unpublished writers, which in this case meant those who had sold fewer than three stories to markets offering "professional" per-word rates. I never before had written anything for submission to such a market, and it was at the urging of my friend Deb Simpson that I wrote a story and sent it in for consideration.

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.

Achievement. Unlocked.

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.


Julie Luek said...

Sometimes all it takes is one person to see our potential, believe in our story and offer us the next step up. Great post.

Charles Gramlich said...

Nice tribute. I bet he appreciates it.

Liane Spicer said...

So glad you got to meet him in person after all these years! I bookmarked those two blogs years ago--when that other NS member (hi, KeVin!) pointed the way. Best advice and industry assessments I've found anywhere.

KeVin K. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KeVin K. said...

Ah, I envy you. Have not seen Dean or Kris in almost six years. Dean's an affable bear of a man and Kris is a targeted lightning bolt mid-trajectory. At first it's difficult to see how they work together, much less live together for umpteen years. Until you watch them work together - and interact when they're not working. Then you realize Dean's demeanor hides a mind every bit as incisive and a personal discipline that probably exceeds hers.

I've actually been corresponding with Dean recently on a publishing project and am seriously considering plunking down the $300 for one of their online courses - complete with Skype and videos. Their columns are educations in themselves; I read them weekly.

Everybody, do what Dayton says (something I never thought I'd say): Bookmark Kris and Dean's blogs and become regular visitors.
(And don't forget to drop a few coppers in their PayPal every now and then as thanks for what they give away for free.)

Dayton Ward said...

It's interesting that I posted this right after Sunny's article about sharing knowledge within the writing community. Dean and Kris are two of the most giving people in this business I've ever known, and Dean in particular was of enormous help to me very early on (whether or not he realizes it). He doesn't just answer questions but instead "points the way," in much the same manner Sunny advocates, so that it's more instruction rather than simple one-time assistance. I've always tried to emulate that approach when asked for help or advice.