I don’t like bridges. I mean the physical, not the musical, ones. Your typical short span over the local creek won’t upset me. But those huge, arcing monsters traversing vast rivers or bays give me the willies. Perhaps the Sum of All (my bridge) Fears is the Coronado Bay bridge in San Diego, pictured below. It is high, it is long, it is curved, and it doesn’t even have any external skeletal structures to give you any sense of containment or safety. As you can see from the picture, there’s barely even a guard rail at the side. Look again at the little dark bump a bit right of center of the picture, on the bridge. That’s a vehicle driving by. I’m sure it has never happened, but in my nightmares I envision cars flipping over that rail and going into the bay.
But the nightmares get much worse than that. In them, there is no rail at all, and only a line separating oncoming traffic from each other. The curves are canted at such an extreme angle that you have to accelerate into them or risk sliding right off. But if you accelerate too much, you’ll fly off the outside edge. The whole thing is more twisted than a knotted shoelace, with multiple on and off ramps and cars streaking past at insane and uncontrollable speeds.
Go ahead: you can make that jump …
You might ask yourself, why I am sharing these sleep disturbing images with you? Well, good question, glad to see you’re paying attention. For the record, I did tag and categorize this post as “personal,” meaning that the reflections are largely personal ones that need not have any deeper philosophical significance. Although, in this instance, there is a deeper personal significance to last nights squirrelly dreaming.
I just published a book.
Now, I’ve published books in the past, but this is different. It is a work of fiction, and it is intended to entertain you, and supplement my very limited resources with actual money. If this seems like an especially peculiar way to go about marketing that just published work of fiction, that is because this is NOT an effort to market that book (that will come in a different post). Rather, this is a reflection on the creative process as it effects me, and the consequences of what I and some friends sometimes refer to as “exposure shock.”
The first draft of the manuscript languished in my (computer) files for something over 20 years. It is testimony to my obsessive maintenance of back up files that the original was never lost. It is also testimony to my uncharacteristic anticipation of future technological trends that I transferred the MS into a genuinely transferable file format (.RTF) before the original format (StarWriter) vanished from the universe. (OpenOffice, which absorbed StarWriter can no longer open those files; not, at least, any of the files I still have.)
So why did it take me so long to get the story out there? Well, there were major problems in the first two chapters, where the two central characters are introduced, but by itself this was not such a big obstacle. Having written my way through an entire trilogy, some 1,000 pages of typescript, going back and redoing the first two chapters shouldn’t have been such a problem.
No, the problem that dogged me was that the idea of working on the story any further involved committing myself to publishing it. It was on that particular hook that my demons hung my will to move forward. The story wasn’t good enough, the characters were too crudely drawn, but most especially, the story itself wasn’t original enough. Now, all of these self-accusations were largely (if not entirely) bullshit, and in the back of my mind (at least) I knew them to be such. With the exception of my concerns over the story’s originality – that still dogs my mind. But in truth, no one has told a genuinely original fantasy tale since Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and that wasn’t all that original, since Tolkien gathered most of his ideas from Saxon mythology (in one form or another.) So I was (and am) fretting over a myth about a myth. NOBODY‘s fantasy tale is all that original; all any of us can do is add some different seasonings to the stew, and hope people enjoy the meal (even though it is, after all, still stew.)
Years passed, and I got caught up in other projects. The thought of my fiction writing began gnawing on me a bit in the lat 5 – 6 years, but I still didn’t pick it up. Until, a couple of months ago, I learned about a writing contest through Amazon UK. The prize was significant – about $25,000.00. (I say “about” because, being Amazon UK, the prize is in English pounds.) It was the final conjunction of forces – I had the time, I almost had the manuscript, and I really needed the money, even if was nothing more than the writer’s version of buying a lottery ticket. Submission to the contest required that the MS be published on Kindle Direct, so that is what I did. I rewrote the chapters that needed it, corrected odds and ends throughout the first book of the trilogy, and published it on Amazon. The publication process was less than transparent, but well short of Byzantine, so it only required six hours of effort (with breaks), and relatively little screaming to get the job done.
So why the nightmares?
I assure you it is not because I’m worried about “losing” in the contest – I take that as a forgone conclusion. No this goes back to what I said before, about “exposure shock.” Not only am I an introvert, I was catastrophically shy in my younger years, and only long, grueling, brutal, effort on my part, where I often felt like I was being flayed alive (and where I, often enough, was the one doing the flaying) did I succeed in cultivating a few tricks and tools that helped me function in social and public manners in anything like an operational sense. Publishing philosophy – whether in books, or articles, or public presentations at conferences – was stressful in its way at first, but became easier as it was always less personal. But anyone who has written fiction knows that there is more than a little piece of your self in that finished work. And I have just exposed my self to the world. I literally woke up this morning with the thoughts going ’round and ’round in my head: “You shouldn’t have done that! Why did you do that? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”
So I woke up this morning from nightmares.
And this is part of my catharsis. Because what I did was not stupid; on a lot of levels it is actually pretty damned good. Having had to read through the entire MS before submitting it for electronic publication, I found myself very happily engaged with the characters, their situations, the people they met, and the problems they had to work through. And others have still managed to find typos in the manuscript, damnit! Well, when I fix the MS – again! – be assured that if you purchase it early, the next time you update your reader, you’ll get the corrected version, free of charge.
When my self-doubt is not screaming into the microphone, I actually think it is a good book. When I actually start promoting it, I will say as much. I hope you will not only agree, but will agree with enough sincerity to recommend it to others. Meanwhile, I feel like I flashed the girl’s locker room, and barely earned a giggle for the effort.
I feel like I drove off a bridge.