Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’


On the phone the other night, a friend of mine asked me what it was like meeting some of my heroes. I thought about it a moment and answered very honestly, “It’s pretty dang cool.” It is cool, and among some of the very coolest people I have been fortunate enough to get to know is one of my first and greatest sources of inspiration, the horror novelist Tamara Thorne.

Tamara Thorne is the author of more than a dozen horror novels. She also had works published under the pseudonym Chris Curry. I came across her work in the ’90s at my local library, and immediately fell in love with her style, twisted humor, and morbid (in a good way) vision of the world. It was around this time that I began to seriously contemplate writing my own novels, and by the time I read her novel Moonfall, I was sure this was what I wanted to do.

Needless to say, you can imagine how excited I was the first time I spoke to her. In the beginning, I kept a respectable distance for fear of frightening her away. I hadn’t yet learned to keep my gushing reflexes under control, and had serious anxiety that I might say something unseemly like, “I’m your number one fan…” or something (I managed to refrain from telling her this until I was sure she didn’t think me a stalker!) ~ but in the beginning, I was totally starstruck. The first time I received a personal e-mail from her, I couldn’t quit reading it ~ and when we first exchanged phone numbers, I would think of things to text her just so I could relive that giddiness when I received the “Message from Tamara Thorne” notice on my phone when she texted me back. I still get a little giddy when I get that notice! Suffice it to say, I’m still a bit starstruck. To be able to casually chit-chat with horror-lit royalty like Tamara Thorne is, for me, one of the coolest things ever.

I’ve spent a good deal of time talking to Tamara. She’s told me a lot about her writing journey and her experiences in the industry. When she told me about how she and some of her fellow horror-author comrades observe a personal tradition in which they create characters based off of each other and kill them as a kind of tip-of-the-hat gesture to one another, I was fascinated. As she and I got to know each other better, I asked her if one day, I could put her in one my books and kill her. She said, “I would be honored, and one day I’ll kill you in one of mine, too.”

That, for me, is probably the closest I will ever come to a sense of having “arrived,” and I couldn’t have dreamed of a classier, more appropriate way for it to happen.

For more on Tamara, check her out at:  twitter.com/tamarathorne or: http://www.facebook.com/tamara.thorne

Q: Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite, and why?

A: It depends on my mood.  Haunted was the most fun to write because it’s pastiche, even though the characters don’t know it.  I felt like a kid in a candy store while writing it.  Overall, though, my favorite novel is probably Bad Things.  Not only did I plumb the depths of my own childhood terrors, but I got to write about elementals — I love Green Man mythos.

Q: Do you ever look at any of your books and wonder how you did it?

A: Every time.

Q: What’s the story behind Chris Curry?

A: Curry’s my maiden name and I would’ve been Christopher had I been a boy.  At that time, I wanted to hide gender, so Chris Curry fit the bill.

Q: When did you decide writing was what you wanted to do?

A: There was no decision; it was just a fact of life.  I was in the primary grades around the time the Beatles recorded Paperback Writer.  It was a dirty story about a dirty man and his scheming wife didn’t understand — but I did, because I wanted to be a paperback writer. . . paperback writer. Paper-baaaaack wriiiiterrrr.

Q: What motivated you to write Moonfall (I love that book!)?

A: My editor.  He’d gone to Catholic school and wanted some sweet revenge on the knuckle-rapping nuns.  I remember cooking it up the night we went to see Les Miz in New York.  We kept whispering back and forth about it during the play.  I really had a good time with that book.

Q: Describe how it felt the first time you got an acceptance letter.

A: It was for an unpaid shameless pun story for an itty bitty small press magazine.  When I got the news, I laughed, I shrieked, I giggled, I crawled on my belly like a snake.  That one still outshines even the big ones.

Q: What was it like seeing your first book in print?

A: Surreal.  It still is.

Q: Besides Chris Curry, what other names have you written under?

A: Just a few: Sue Sydell, Phil Anders,  Eugene Nicks, and Anakin Flyswatter.

Q: Have you ever cried while writing something?

A: I’m far too macho to ever admit to crying, but I do have Romancing the Stone moments that are dear to me.  Remember when the movie starts, Kathleen Turner’s character is finishing her romance novel and she’s in a frenzy of emotion as she types that last page.  I get like that.  Biggest was Bad Things.  It was exhilarating, freeing.  Next biggest was Haunted’s orgy of romance at the end — there was an intentional Ghost and Mrs. Muir vibe going on.  But all of them get me in the end in one way or another (I’m prone to gleeful giggling.)  If they didn’t, I’d have to write a new ending.

Q: Your talent for dialog is, in my opinion, very impressive. Does it come as naturally to you as it seems?

A: Um, yes.  I just listen to the voices in my head and transcribe what they say.

Q: Do you have a muse?

A: Mel Brooks and a gallon of gin.  Also, I reread a little Ray Bradbury now and then.  His beautiful poetic prose has inspired me since I first read him in second grade.  I also like to recall the opening/closing dialogues from The Haunting of Hill House.  “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”  Oh, how I love that paragraph. Talk about painting a picture with words.

Q: When you first started writing horror, how did the people around you react?

A: I only remember my son, in junior high, being really embarrassed that his mother sold a horror novel.  (He got over it.) Before I was published, I didn’t talk about wanting to write with anyone but Bill Gagliani. I just wrote – so did he, and we critiqued each other for years.  It worked; we’re both published.

Q: What kind of imagery sparks your imagination?

A: There are three images that always get my heart beating a little faster.  One is the image of a slender, pale hand appearing softly, slowly  from underneath the bed (or chair), or this same phantom hand holding back a curtain to peer out of a haunted room.   Another is low-level levitation.  When I read Graham Masterton’s brilliantly witty horror novel, The Manitou, and then saw the movie by the same name, I found the old lady floating along a couple of inches off the carpeted corridor about as spooky as anything I’ve ever cringed delightedly over.  Finally, plumbing horror.  Who doesn’t love that?  Whether it’s a shower curtain that’s not quite closed or a gush of blood from a faucet, whether it’s a ghost floating under water ala The Changeling, or the watery scent of the drowned ghost in Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now, it just works for me. 

Q: What do you like to read?

A: Anything but directions.  I love a good haunted house novel more than anything, but I don’t stick to the genre.  I like Nelson DeMille’s thrillers and big fat science/adventure thrillers of all sorts.   (One of my favorite novels is Jeff Long’s The Reckoning. Anyone who likes horror is in for a treat.) I always enjoy Stephen King, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg and Robert McCammon as well as historical fiction like Andersonville, and narrative non-fiction like Erik Larson’s Devil and the White City.  I teethed on Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson and had no idea that Roald Dahl even wrote kids’ books until I was an adult;  I just loved the nasty little short stories he turned out.  I read lots of science fiction before I stumbled upon The Haunting of Hill House in the library when I was eleven.  That set my course.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

A: Changing the ribbon in the computer.  Also, for the first few years, I always worried about my next plot forming, but after reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, I lost that fear.

Q: Have you ever killed a character and regretted it?

A: Well, not exactly.  As my dear friend and mentor, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, told me, sometimes characters insist on rushing into a burning barn to save the horses even though you’re screaming at them, “No, you’ll die!”   So, characters have died when I’d have preferred to keep them around, but I’ve never done in a major one unless he absolutely insisted.  Gotta listen to the characters; they always know best.

Q: Have you ever killed a character and enjoyed it a little too much?

A: Oh, no.  It’s fantasy, so when I kill a character, no matter how much I enjoy it, it’s never too much.  My favorite editor once told me that horror writers are the pussycats of the writing community, undoubtedly because we get to indulge our dark sides on a regular basis.

Q: What do you think are the three most important qualities a good writer must have?

A: You need to develop great observational skills. Learn to listen more than talk and do it without judgment.  Learn to shut off your own inner critic while you work.  You must write to please yourself, nothing more.

Q: Of the books you’ve written, which one are you the least satisfied with, and why?

A: The Sorority, because the schedule was tight and I couldn’t edit the way I normally would.  It was a big book in three acts published as a trilogy and each third was put to bed before the next one was done, so I couldn’t go back and change things the way I normally would — there are always threads the subconscious knows about that don’t reveal themselves until I’m almost done with the entire book.   However, I get to make my changes before Sorority comes out as an omnibus for Halloween 2013.  Whee!

Q: What do you consider to be your “Masterpiece?”

A: Hahaha! Masterpiece? I’ll get back to you when I know.  I’ve had a couple of books I’ve absolutely “had” to write — Thunder Road and Bad Things — and I have another must-write that I’ve barely begun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean one of those will be my “masterpiece.”  Actually, if I thought in those terms, I’d never be able to write anything!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Converting several titles to e-book form. Boy, is that work! There’s nothing like proofreading scans of your own work.  Scanners do strange little changes so you have to pay attention to every word — and you know you’re still going to miss some! On the more-fun side,   I’m planning Candle Bay’s sequel. I hope to start serious work on it the minute I’m done with the e-books and revamping my website this summer.

Q: Do you think that women horror writers are underestimated?

A: Hmm. I obviously used to think so because I used a genderless name.  Nowadays, I don’t think it’s much of an issue, but it’s not something I ever ponder. I just write what I’d like to read. Gender isn’t an issue for me.

Q: Have you ever collaborated with another writer, and if so, what was that like?

A: My BFF, children’s writer (author of the Scary Stories for Sleepover series) Q. L. Pearce and I are currently doing some collaborative work; we have half an adult novel on the back-burner and we’re working on a YA [young adult] vampire novel right now. It’s a pleasure to work with Q because we’re so well matched in our interests, attitudes and personalities. Because we normally write for different readers, we expand each other’s interests and audiences. That said, I do think you must be very cautious about entering into collaborations. Don’t do it on the spur of the moment. Know your collaborator well and be sure they understand professionalism. Be realistic and work out what you’re going to expect of one another in advance.  In most cases, a simple contract is a very good idea.

Q: What is your proudest moment in writing?

A: When my editor told me I made him cry.

Q: What inspired the Sorority Series?

A: Oh, cool!  I’m glad you asked.  Arthurian legend and my mother’s stories about a northern California mountain town she lived in as a girl being moved higher up the mountain so a reservoir could be built on the original site.  That story, alone, thrilled me, but the epilogue was even better: On their honeymoon, my parents swam over the drowned town.  My mother saw the tops of the pines beneath her in the water and was too spooked to go deeper.  Instead, she sat on the banks while my father repeatedly dived and swam around the old church steeple.  As for Arthurian legend, it’s simply something I’ve loved since I was little.  The antagonist throughout the trilogy is Malory Thomas: invert the name and look it up.  And they’re searching for the ghost of Holly Gayle.  Say that one out loud. . . Sorority is loaded with horrible puns –that’s the most shameless one of all.

Q: How do you feel about e-books?

A: As long as they don’t destroy old-fashioned books, I’m all for them.  I think the format may help a lot of us earn a little more money than we’re used to.

Q: What is the best thing anyone has ever said to you about your books?

A: Kids who write to tell me they hated reading before they found my books and people who write to tell me they became writers because of me. Makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something.

Q: What do you like to do aside from writing?

A: I collect hub caps and turn them into wind chimes.  I also make Cthluhu figures out of dried apples and squid.  I also make these things by special order. Finally, I love local history, visiting ghost towns, and staying in haunted hotel rooms. Because if you’re going to shell out over $100 for a room, it’d better have some entertainment!

Q: What makes you laugh out loud?

A: The book CAT by Kliban. The Colonel Angus SNL sketch. Blazing Saddles Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Airplane! and Idiocracy. The song stylings of Tom Lehrer.  Also, just thinking about setting off a fart app in a crowded elevator. Oh, the things I could do if I could control the giggle fits.  I never should’ve stolen the soul of that 10-year-old boy.

Q: What do you think the most important rule of good storytelling is?

A: Write what you love.

Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite and why?

A: Oh boy, that’s a toughie.  There’s nearly always a secondary character – or even an intended throw-away character – who suddenly comes to life and does all sorts of unexpected things.  The Prophet James Robert Sinclair in Thunder Road.    Professor Tongue in Sorority.  Theo Pelinore and the Cox brothers in Haunted.  A major character who really fascinated me was Carlo Pelegrine in Thunder Road.  I dreamed him up one night (literally) and he was the missing piece the book needed.  In the dream, he was a serial killer called “The Peeler.”  In the book, well, same thing.  Only he’s reformed. Possibly. Oh, and Dakota O’Keefe in Bad Things.  S/he’s a cross between Tim Curry’s Dr. Frankenfurter and my idea of what a best friend should be.

Q: Which of your characters do you most relate to and why?

A: Two of them, for very different reasons.  First, Ricky Piper of Bad Things.  I gave him most of my childhood terrors concerning the dark.  It was an intense write.  The other would be David Masters, the ghost-chasing uber-skeptical horror writer in Haunted.  I gave him all my thoughts on the paranormal and he’s not buying anything unless it happens to him. Even when it does, he continues to explain it away until, well, you know. . . the ectoplasmic shit hits the fan.  In real life, I’ve experienced some things which probably aren’t explainable by current science, but like David, I just end up wanting more.  But those are tales for another day.

Q: What do you usually do for Halloween?

A: I like to put on a costume — a grim reaper, dead clown, something nice like that and go out amongst the trick-or-treaters and scare the snot out of them.  Last year, I was Zombie Gimli and got to walk bow-legged all night gibbering about brains and running at children. I was in Austin and had George Bush’s head on a stick, so there was an attractive air of danger.  Best night of the year.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry in five years?

A: There’s a lot of reinvention going on.  I agree with Del Howlison of Dark Delicacies Books in Burbank:  e-books are the new mass market paperbacks. I don’t think *real* books will disappear.  People will gravitate toward what they like and publishers will try to fill the niches.  Maybe there will be a lot more boutique publishers.  I think there will be — already is — a closer connection between the writer and reader thanks to technology and social media.  I love how easy it’s become to interact with readers via Facebook.

Q: Do you do outlines?

A: Only if they buy me a drink first.  Generally I have a page with a beginning, middle, and end on it with a few side notes.  I like to know where I’m going so I don’t have to worry about it.  Chances are, the characters will take it somewhere else, but sometimes they agree with me.  I tend to do a lot of plotting while dreaming/lucid dreaming.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I think about and research a book for a year or three beforehand — I like the slow simmer approach.  The research amps the instant I complete the current book.  Very often, I dream at least part of the book.  Lots of times, I know a book is ready to write because I’ll have had the whole thing pop into my head, like a big gestalty blob, for a few seconds.  This tells me it’s time to sit back and let my subconscious take over.   It’s almost ripe.

Q: If a person you loved dearly told you they wanted to be a writer, what warnings and/or words of wisdom would you give them?

A: Half would be the same advice my mother gave me: have another skill, too.  The other half is write what you love, what you love to read. Don’t think about selling, just have fun.

Tamara’s novels, Haunted, Candle Bay, Moonfall and Eternity will be out in e-book format this summer, and in September, new paperback editions for Haunted, Candle Bay and Moonfall  will be available from Kensington Press . Also, look for e-book versions of Bad Things, The Forgotten and Thunder Road which will also be released in e-book format this fall.

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When I met James Renner, I was a little starstruck and to be honest, I still am. After talking a bit and getting to know him, I was pleased to learn that he is kind, easy to talk to, and fun to be around. When I told him the idea I had for my blog and asked if he’d be interested in being a part of it, he said he’d love to do an interview for me. It made my day!

In 2005, James directed a short film based on Stephen King’s story, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away, starring Joe Bob Briggs and Harvey Pekar. His first book, a nonfiction account of the disappearance of Amy Mihaljevic called, Amy: My Search For Her Killer, was published in 2006. This was followed by Serial Killers Apprentice, a collection of true stories of Cleveland’s most intriguing unsolved crimes. He is also the author of the fictional novel, The Man From Primrose Lane, and the release of The Great Forgetting is tentatively set for 2013. He is an investigative reporter, a film producer, a novelist, and he was even named one of the cities most interesting people in the December 2004 issue of Cleveland Magazine. But most of all, he’s cool enough to take the time to answer my questions and just be an all around great guy. It isn’t every day you meet and befriend someone like James Renner… and I’m pleased our paths have crossed.

For more information on James, check him out at: http://jamesrenner.com/

James Renner

Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

A: Generally, it takes me about 9 months to write the first draft of a new novel. Then I set it aside for a few weeks and work on something else, like a script or short story, then I come back to it with fresh eyes for editing. I’ll do an edit. Then I work on another edit with my agent, Julie Barer. Then yet another edit with my editor.

Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

A: I’m surprised at how hard it is to actually get your book in bookstores, even if you’re with a large publisher. It depends a lot on early reviews and also how excited your rep is when they pitch the book to booksellers.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A: Texas Hold’em

Q: What is the best thing anyone has ever told you about your writing?

A:  My agent, when she said she liked it so much she wanted to represent me.

Q: How do you choose the names of your fictional characters?

A:  Names have different feels to them, based on who you know with that name and simply how it sounds to the ear. Some names just fit with the character you’re trying to create. Sometimes it takes a while to find the name that feels right.

Q: How is writing fiction different from writing non-fiction?

A: It’s really not that different. There’s a lot of research involved in each, especially if you want your novel to feel true.

Q: How do you do research for your books?

A:  I generally have a nugget of an idea that I think about and develop over the course of a couple years. I have about five or six ideas I’m building right now. Then I spend some spare time researching the interests of the central character. If they live in an old home, I research the words they would use to describe the decor; I speak to people who have the same job as the character, in order to learn slang and terminology. Stuff like that.

Q: Do you prefer writing or film producing? And why?

A: I prefer writing, because it’s easier. It’s crazy hard to get a good book published. But it’s next to impossible to make a good film.

Q: What are the main problems you’ve faced in finishing a book?

A:  Planting my ass in the chair to start the day.

Q: What motivated you to write The Man from Primrose Lane?

A:  When I was 11, a cute girl from down the road was abducted and murdered. As a journalist, I’ve been trying to find her killer for many years. The Man from Primrose Lane grew out of a dream I had of a world in which somebody saved the girl. I began to wonder how that might have altered both her life and my own.

Q: What is your relationship with your agent like?

A: She keeps me grounded. Or tries to. She looks after me and my stories.

Q: You just returned from your “Crazy Stupid Fast 2012 Book Tour”. What was that like?

A: It was the smartest and dumbest thing I’ve ever done. It was great to meet so many bookstore owners and book sellers. But I didn’t give myself much time to enjoy any of the cities I passed through. I was only in New Orleans for two hours. And I had to skip the last couple stores in Ohio because I got a flat on the way home.

Q: How many cities did you visit?

A: I visited 40 book stores in 7 days.

Q: What do you think your greatest strength as a writer is?

A:  Finishing.

Q: What about your greatest weakness?

A: Starting again.

Q: In what ways do you identify personally with David Neff, your main character in The Man From Primrose Lane?

A: Like David Neff, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to my exposure to horrific crimes in the course of my work in journalism. We both fell in love with strong women who helped us fight our demons, real and imaginary.

Q: In 2004, Stephen King gave you the rights to adapt his short story, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away, which you directed. What was that like?

A:  I think I was the tenth person to get permission from King to adapt one of his stories as a student film, for $1. Frank Darabont was the first, so I was in good company. The whole experience was the most fun I’ve ever had working on a project. And to see it get accepted to the Montreal World Film Festival was totally rad.

Q: As a writer, what do you think is your greatest accomplishment?

A:  Simply getting published.

Q: What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on two books. A big, meaty thriller about paranoia. And a shorter novel that is a kind of throwback to the classic horror stories I grew up on.

Q: Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?

A:  The Man from Primrose Lane is still my favorite at the moment. I really had fun coming up with the strange structure and rules the novel has to follow.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A:  Read as much as you can about how other people got published before you start sending queries to agents.


There aren’t many things that are more revealing than art. Whether writing a story, painting a picture, or singing a song, we put ourselves directly into the things we create. Knowing this, many people tend to keep their creations to themselves for fear of judgment from others and/or having their work rejected outright.  The good news about never disclosing your inventions is that you eliminate the risk of being criticized. The bad news however, is far more considerable. First, if no one sees your work, you will never get any feedback. This will limit your potential because we are biased, either negatively or positively, toward our own art. Second, if no one sees it, no one can buy it. And last, but not least, whether you have a natural talent for something, a burning desire for something, or both, you owe it to yourself to take it is far as you can.

The other day a friend of mine asked me how I “overcame” the fear of rejection. It was a subject I hadn’t given hardly any thought to for a very long time. I stared at him and gave him the best answer I could – “I don’t really know.” That question prompted me to give a little more thought to it though. Truth be told, I rarely suffer from any distress over whether or not someone will or will not like my writing. However, that certainly wasn’t the case ten, or even five years ago. So, to the best of my ability, here is the story of how I got from there to here:

When I was young, I often wrote little poems and stories that no one ever saw. As I got older, I kept writing, but still kept it to myself. In my twenties, I took a temporary interest in photography. Photography was much easier to exhibit because I could hide behind the models. I still never became entirely comfortable with displaying my work though. After a few years of taking pictures, I reached a point where I felt I’d taken my photography as far as I wanted to. It was like walking off a cliff. I was left wondering, “what now?” I spent a great deal of time and energy looking for a more powerful sense of purpose, and all the while, only one thing kept happening consistently: I kept writing.  At this point, I was writing mostly poetry, and no one except a very few carefully selected folks were allowed to see it. I was terrified of what might happen to me if someone didn’t like it.

As my seriousness in writing grew stronger, so did my need to expand my confines. I vividly remember the first time I ever posted a poem on MySpace. I put the poem up and took it down three times before finally deciding to let it linger on my “blog” for a while to see what happened. I checked my MySpace a dozen times that day, waiting for the hate mail to flood in.  By the end of the day, an amazing thing had happened: nothing. No one seemed to notice whether or not I posted my poetry, and that is what gave me the self-confidence to keep doing it.

Over time, I accrued a cute little following of poetry readers who liked my work. I also made friends with some other poets and eventually I was featured on several radio shows and some online magazines. I was at the height of my career as a poet! But I was restless and had fast grown tired of the limitations of poetry. That’s when I started writing novels.

I paired up with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen, took some writing classes, devoured every book I could get my hands on about the writing process, and above all, I wrote my ass off. In the meantime, I attended writing conventions and workshops, signed up with the local writer’s league, and began to meet all kinds of writers, big names and little names alike. I didn’t have time to be terrified of what people would think of my writing.

Then, the first literary agent I ever met took a strong enough interest in my book to request my full manuscript. I was both elated and horrified. I sent her the book and for the next five months, I obsessed. When she finally got around to letting me know she didn’t feel the market was quite right for my story, I felt as if I had been dropped like a glass ball, and shattered into a thousand little shards of the man I thought I was. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty. But I had a lot of helping hands putting me back together, and was very quickly back on the wagon, acquiring rejection slips from agents far and wide.

Today, I take criticism and rejection like they’re candy-coated Klonopins, and somewhere along the way, without even realizing it, I have (for the most part) seemed to have misplaced my fear of judgment and rejection. After analyzing it a little, I’ve decided that the answer to that question, “how do you over come fear of rejection?” is that you don’t. You just plug along and take the necessary steps despite the fear. There are however, a few things you can do along the way to soften the blows.

The first, and most important thing you can do to combat the fear of rejection is to be damned good at your craft. Learn everything you can, utilize that knowledge, and experiment with it openly.

Second, give yourself permission to suck. You don’t have to be perfect. You aren’t even supposed to be.

Third, read the works of your contemporaries. I assure you that therein lies much suckiness. The point to this however, is not to scoff at your friends. The point is to stop comparing yourself to Charles Dickens.

Fourth, read the stories behind the success. Stephen King acquired enough rejection slips he was able to wallpaper his office with them… and he did. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was rejected over one hundred times. “The Wizard of Oz” was called stupid and unimaginative by critics. No matter what an agent or anyone else tells you, art is subjective. No one has the facts on what is good and what sucks. They never have and they never will.

Fifth, accept the fear. Oh yeah… I said it. Accept that you’re afraid and that being afraid is part of the game.

Finally, one of the most important things one can do to combat fear of rejection is to just keep writing. By focusing your attention on your craft and away from the opinions of others, you are putting your energy into the only thing you can control… which is you. Also, by continuing to attend writer’s events, critique groups, and submitting to agents, over time you’ll naturally build an immunity to the scathing reviews.


     A few years back, I attended a writing workshop where I met some of the most unusual and memorable people I ever have. It was there that I first heard one of the most preposterous and, I soon found out, common, writing faux pas’ that exists. When the workshop facilitator asked us what we liked to read, the gentleman next to me spoke up and stated he did not read anything. The room turned its head in unison to blink at this guy. “Why… don’t you read?” asked the facilitator.  The man next to me proudly explained that first, he did not have time to read, and second, he avoided reading anything because he was afraid of unconsciously plagiarizing whatever authors he was reading. There was a long stretch of silence before the facilitator ushered the topic into new territory.

     Reading is the first reason I ever had to write at all. I have never met a credible author who wasn’t also an avid reader. I was surprised by a writer who didn’t read, and apparently I was not alone. It made me wonder what kind of writer I would be if I didn’t first have a profound love for reading.

     One of the first books I ever remember loving was Howliday Inn by James Howe. I was intrigued by the humanization of Chester the cat and Harold the dog. Chester and Harold has this very Holmes/Watson kind of relationship which showed me very early on the importance of character contrast. I submerged myself in the Bunnicula series for the next couple of years and from there, I remember reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. This style of writing kindled my intrigue with murder, mystery, suspicion and suspense. It showed me how characters are used to move the story forward. Also, Agatha Christie wasted no words, so from her I learned the importance of getting to the point. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was reading mostly adult fiction. Granted, I was only ten and there were many things I didn’t understand about the things I was reading, but I believe beyond doubt that these books are what shaped me into the kind of writer I am today… warts and all.

   

     In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he talks about reading actively. What this means is that first, you must read, and second, you must be conscious of what you’re looking at. Pay attention to what the author is doing and what emotional response his words are invoking within you, the reader. I began practicing active reading immediately and have since trained myself to read this way almost solely. It has its pros and cons. On one hand, it will absolutely hone your own writing. On the other hand, it makes reading less enjoyable because you are often too focused on the technique to experience the story. Over all, it’s worth it though. In reading actively, I have learned many things that can not be taught otherwise.

     I suppose it’s possible to be a great writer who doesn’t read anyone else’s work, but personally, I can’t imagine it. I think it’s important to learn from the greats. Not just the classic, historically cemented, old-time writers, but the contemporary writers who are experiencing the success you are striving for. Yes, writing is absolutely an art… but it’s also a business, and that business doesn’t have much compassion for writing that relies too heavily on an authors need for self-expression. And there’s a lot of self-expression out there.

      To be great, I believe, you must first learn what great is. From there, you must determine specifically what makes them great and how that greatness was translated onto the page. Then, you must try to find your own greatness. You must know your strengths and weaknesses and find creative ways to capitalize on both. You must be willing to sacrifice snippets of your own brilliance for the overall quality of your story. You must be willing and able to take criticism, insult, and ignorance. You must be willing to place your ego on the chopping block and allow complete strangers to take turns bashing it to bits. But above all… you must continue learning and getting better, and I can think of no other way to do this than by learning everything you can from those who’ve traveled the path before you.


     So, after four long months of feeling much like I was being frisked by a police officer, I finally heard back from the New York agent yesterday.  Of course, after that amount of time, I was certain she wasn’t going to choose to take me, so it wasn’t as hard of a blow as it could have been when she told me she was sorry that she wasn’t going to offer to represent me.  Her greatest concern was that The White Room was caught somewhere between commercial and literary fiction.  I assume this means that she felt marketing the book would be difficult.  Otherwise, she said very kind things about the manuscript, and admitting she could be wrong about it, encouraged me to continue seeking other agents.

     I expected to be shattered, but strangely, I’m okay.  I am lucky, I suppose, to have the luxury of understanding how this business works a little.  I didn’t expect to write one book, meet one agent and become a an all-time famous novelist.  In fact, if I follow along the same statistical lines as the majority, I can expect an average of six or seven more years of rejections before one of them chooses to represent me.  The sad fact is, unpublished authors are a high risk.  It’s similar to a college graduate who has a hard time getting a job because they lack experience.  But how can you get experience if no one hires you?  The writing business is much the same way.  This goes to show that in any field, competition is stiff and one must always begin at the beginning, which unfortunately, is at the bottom.

     Needless to say, about a month ago, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen with the New York agent, so I began querying other representatives.  This week alone, I’ve gotten three rejections and have more coming to be sure.  Thankfully, I have yet to receive any of the scathing reviews I’ve heard so many horror stories about.  The agents who have replied to me have been kind, supportive, and encouraging.  In one case, I was simply told, “I’m not the right agent for this.”  In another, I was asked to send the first five pages so the agent could get a feel for my voice.  After a day or two, she wrote back saying thanks but no thanks.  And,of course, the New York agent.

     So, what is the next step?  From conferences, my mentor, and listening to other writers, I’ve learned that it’s too early on to start thinking about revamping the story.  If I receive twelve or fifteen rejections, all pointing out the same troubles, then it’s time to revisit and revise.  But until then, a writer must keep in mind that one, or even a few agents’ opinions are not law.  They’re generally looking for a book that speaks powerfully to them and leaves them with little doubt about it’s possibilities in the market.  Some agents will read your manuscript and get a strong vision for it… and other will not.  So for now… I will keep writing, because that is my only weapon against the rejection.

     From what I have learned, one of the biggest (and most common) mistakes a writer can make is to write one book and place all of their hope into it, not realizing that it may never be published.  After having one book rejected a few times, they throw their hands in the air, call this an impossible business, and bow out of it.  I’m not going to do that.  If it takes me ten years to get published, then the way I see it is, I will have ten to fifteen novels written by then, which will create a great back log of material when my agent asks, “what else have you got?”  This is an incredibly tough, rigid business and, as I’ve been repeatedly and earnestly warned, it is not for the weak.   Times like these, writers must simply remind themselves that all the great writers have taken some pretty tough punches to  the gut in this business.  Laurell K. Hamilton was told she didn’t fit into a genre tightly enough to ever be published.  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and sixteen times before it caught the right person’s eye… and poor Stephen King was rejected several times a month for almost fifteen years before he published “Carrie.”  So you can’t quit because someone says you’re not good enough.  This is simply that part of the process which separates the hobbyists from the lifers and, on the bright side, weeds out your competition. 

     I am lucky.  I have a vast network of supporters; people who have read my work and love my work.  These people keep me in perspective and remind me of the realities of this world that I, for some masochistic reason, insist so vehemently on one day penetrating.  So, I will let myself feel this.  I will feel bad for myself for an hour or two and then I will sit down and keep working on the next story while The White Room makes it rounds among the agents I have sent it to and the agents I will continue to send it to. The truth is, I believe in The White Room- as it is right now.  If I need to make some changes later on in order to find it a home, I will, but for now… I still believe in it and will continue believing in it until the time comes that I no longer can.  But… in the meantime, I have about a hundred more books to write…  so that’s what I’ll be doing.