Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who Am I to Write Fiction?

By Mike Long
Columbia II Writers Workshop

I don't think I've ever felt that just anyone could write fiction. It seemed to me (still does) that a writer should have impeccable credentials to be taken seriously, either through training or experience. Therefore, an English professor running a creative writing course has a shot, but so does an ex-detective, even if he isn't as polished or articulate as the academician, and especially if he'd been involved in a few sensational cases.

Likewise, survivors of multiple marriages, shipwrecks, combat, and mind-altering drugs might be able to write well about love, hopelessness, fear and science fiction--not necessarily in that order. A twenty-five year old certified public accountant from East Bayonne, N.J., however, is probably going to struggle doing a bi-racial love triangle in Savannah in the 1870s, especially if he flunked U.S. history and never traveled. The same CPA easily could have a runaway hit on growing up on the fringe of The Mob. The lesson seems to be that drawing on one's own experiences is a step in the right direction.

That being the case, what the heck is a South Carolina stockbroker doing writing about Confederate soldiers going home to Texas? I'm not sure. Sometimes I feel like that CPA, and wonder if I will be taken seriously. On the other hand, I don't feel that I ever had much choice about writing this. You see, I'm a history buff, a gun collector, and I spent a couple of years in Vietnam. This started when I began to fantasize about what weapons I'd have carried if I'd lived in the 1860s, and then wondered what would have caused me to upgrade as the technology changed, and then figured how I could have afforded the upgrades. As possibilities presented themselves at all the wrong times, I found myself jotting down notes while driving, or at two in the morning, or, more often, at six a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. As it became more than a gun book, it really "cooked," and I finished it, 400 pages double-spaced, in about six months.

Afterward, I bought books on writing fiction, joined the South Carolina Writers Workshop, and have spent the last year polishing it and reading form reject letters from agents. One of the "How To" books suggested paying for a formal editorial review, so I contracted with an editor in Charleston, S.C. For about one penny per word, the editor allegedly cleans up your grammar/spelling and points up your manuscript's strengths and weaknesses. My review isn't finished, but in the meantime my editor has been hired as the acquisitions editor for a small publisher in Charleston. She's asked if she can "submit" my manuscript to the publisher for possible publication in 2009, and of course I agreed.

More recently, she said the publisher "loved the premise" but has not read the manuscript, and that if it's accepted, I'll need an agent (the publisher will help with that), and I'll have to agree to a book-signing tour.

So, I still don't know if I'm being taken seriously. That line, "loved the premise," appears in several form letter rejection notices.

Guess I'll keep my day job.


purpleprose 78 said...

Write what you know....I don't know if this means write about your experiences. "Write what you love" may be better advice. You love the history and the action and because you love it, you know it. That is my theory anyway!

Emily J. said...

Mike, This is a beautifully written post.
Emily Johnson

Ginny said...

I enjoyed this piece of nonficton, Mike!