On Writing: Every Writer Has a Journey

And every writer’s journey is unique. This is mine.

Science and fiction coalesced for me very early. It was the age of Apollo. Watching the Moon landings filled me with a sense of wonder that continues to this day. It was also the age of Star Trek, the original, in syndication when we only had 7 channels (the Dark Ages, I know). I was captivated. Skylab, Silent Running, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (on TV). Apollo-Soyuz, the Space Shuttle program, Space: 1999, and Star Wars before it became Episode IV. As inspiration for the desperate fleet story arc in Andromeda Rhoades, you need look no further than the original Battlestar Galactica and Star Blazers, the English translation of the Japanese anime, Space Battleship Yamato.

My childhood was also the age of Vietnam. I watched the war correspondence with a child’s inability to comprehend. My father and grandfather loved history and news, especially World War II. By the age of six, I started reading World War II history books, then branched out to the American Revolution and Civil War. In second grade, when other kids read comic books, I read astronomy books and other sciences. By the third grade, the biographies of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and Saburō Sakai, American and Japanese World War II fighter aces, showed me different sides and viewpoints in war, a theme that fascinates me still. This is reflected in Andromeda Rhoades in telling the story from both Ray’s (protagonist) and Gen Serenna’s (antagonist) points of view.

In fifth grade, my teacher couldn’t understand why a kid would read only non-fiction books and “forced” me to read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, my first fiction reading book. I’ve been hooked on fiction reading ever since.

Why the long (and hopefully not too boring) intro? Because, like most writers, I fell in love with reading before I fell in love with writing.

I started writing short stories in high school, but never tried to sell any. I may post my favorite, To Dream of English and Chocolate Spitballs, on the website someday. In college, I spent two years writing my first novel, Beacon Lost. Dozens of rejections and no sale. (Although, if you read the timeline on the website, the novel became the background material for all the events leading up to the Solthari War, and one of its characters, Cyra Dain, introduces Andromeda Rhoades Liberation. Yes, I still have the book files all these years later.)

Beacon Lost taught me that I had a lot to learn about writing if I ever wanted to become a published author. I joined the Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop on America Online and began writing Andromeda Rhoades soon after in 1994. If you’re thinking of writing or you’ve recently started writing—Find a good Writer’s group!!!! I learned the basics of professional writing there, and developed the thick emotional hide every writer needs.

So, what did I learn? 1) Writing is Work! It’s one thing to have a great idea and say you’re going to write the next great novel, it’s a whole other kettle of crawdads to actually do it. Writing professionally takes discipline, patience, and persistence. 2) Writing doesn’t sell; Rewriting does! This is an old writing maxim, but it is sooooo true. Unless you’re a prodigy, the first draft ALWAYS stinks. 3) Writer’s groups (a.k.a. critique or reading groups) are essential! At every stage of writing, I’ve belonged to writers’ groups equal to the level of writing (beginning, intermediate, advanced, etc.) I’m at. Getting feedback is great, but critiquing other’s work and pulling apart what works and what doesn’t is gold.

Moving on. Andromeda Rhoades, the original version with only Ray and Dag as viewpoint characters and way too much military jargon, earned dozens of rejections and no sale. However, there was a major difference from Beacon Lost. Several rejections contained handwritten notes or personalized rejections from editors. As busy as they are, I’d heard that they only spare such notes for promising works and writers. Peter Stampfel at DAW Books provided one such personalized rejection. He liked the book, but it didn’t make the cut in marketing. Writing is not horseshoes, hand grenades, or nuclear war: close enough isn’t a sale. Oddly, though, that rejection became an inspiration for me. It told me an editor at a major publishing house took my writing seriously. Short stories and novellas that I wrote about the same time also earned numerous personalized rejections.

But no sales. Well, I did sell a few freelance articles, but that barely counts. By 1999, I gave up, reenlisted in the US Army, and had a whole other very successful career that I’m still living today.

Obviously not the end of the story or you wouldn’t be reading this. Turns out, all that professional writing development translated to technical and business writing. Bosses and coworkers quickly discovered I could write, and many assignments and some promotions followed. It started innocently enough with a Standard Operating Procedures document I co-wrote in the Army. Soon, jobs had me writing and co-writing not just SOPs, but plans, policies, doctrine, white papers of all flavors, budgets, PowerPoints (of course), contract documents, peer-reviewed academic papers (3), and even a White House strategy document and some Congressional legislative language. There is still a 4-day resident course at the Emergency Management Institute that I wrote solo and taught for several years.

Despite all that, or maybe because of it, the itch to write fiction refused to go away. I joined the Columbia Writers’ Group within the Maryland Writers’ Association and began rewriting Andromeda Rhoades, adding Gen Serenna and Ecuum as viewpoint characters to deepen the universe, and focusing on bringing the characters to life. Andromeda Rhoades Liberation is the result. I’m already well into writing the sequel, Andromeda Rhoades Firestorm.

Thanks to the democratization of publishing (a.k.a. self-publishing), acceptance or rejection is now in your hands. I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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