Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Out of the Nest

          My first fictional “baby” was sent out of the nest this past weekend.  Circle of Justice is actually a story I wrote almost twenty years ago, and which I have rewritten every year since.  Well, okay, I admit that was an exaggeration.  There were several years that I kept it hidden in a file cabinet or buried in a desk drawer believing it not to be ready to be viewed by the world or even my mother.  It wasn’t just that the story wasn’t ready.  The truth is, I wasn’t ready, either.

          It’s nerve-wracking, to be honest.  I’ve written for magazines before, first sending out the query letter that proposed an idea and then waiting for some editor to either give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  If it was thumbs down, I’d pick another market and send it back out.  The only three people who knew I had faced rejection were the editor, Char, and me.  On the other hand, if I was lucky enough to get the go ahead, I’d commence writing the allotted words and eagerly send it out with high hopes into the mail system.  Even then, however, the sale wasn’t a guarantee.  Quite a bit can happen between “Yes, we want to see it” and the manuscript actually landing on an editor’s desk as promised.
Cover Art by Sarah E. Ahrens
          Those rejections never really bothered me, and I saw them as just part of the writing process.  Pick up any book on the craft of writing and you’ll find it said over and over again.  Rejection happens.  Get used to it.  Perhaps the editor was cranky that day and rejected everything they saw, or they just received a similar piece just two days before getting yours.  It might be that the editor that requested your article no longer works there and the new boss has a different vision for the publication.  It could be anything.  I would shrug, rework the piece and send it back out.  Eventually, I even sold a few manuscripts.
          However, for some reason fiction has always been harder for me to let go of than nonfiction.  While I pour a lot of myself into my articles, they are really just facts and suggestions, a sharing of ideas.  I’m quite used to people not appreciating my suggestions, so when the article gets rejected I don’t take it personally.  Fiction, on the other hand, to me is quite another story.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
          Creating The Mess that is Me was a step in pushing the “kids” out of the nest.  It was a more personal writing experience as quite often it wasn’t just my viewpoints on things, but sharing the inner workings of our family.  It opened us up to critiques and either laughter or praise.  Most of the essays are close to the heart and rejection of them stings quite a bit more than a cold form rejection letter.
          However, for reasons I have only come to realize, my fictional writing is much more personal than even my autobiographical pieces.  These stories represent people that I have spent time getting to know intimately, situations and places that have grown from within me to fill the blank pages.  I’ve felt what they’ve felt, experienced their roller coaster journeys as they struggled through them.  Together we’ve faced betrayal and even murder, love as well as passion.  I know their secrets and in a way they know mine.  These aren’t just characters.  They’re friends.
          As readers we get to know the players in a story and we feel for them, grow to love or hate them, and if the writer has done his job well, we forget that they are not real people.  For that to happen, the writer has to make them come alive, and he can only do that by spending time with them.  In the writing process, characters cease to be characters and become people with opinions and motives of their own.  Sometimes, even the writer doesn’t see what’s about to happen.
          Putting them out to a fickle world is almost like gossiping about their lives, which, truthfully, is what we’re really doing.  As the authors, we know all about these people and we’re in essence saying, “Look at what Faith did here in the warehouse with Edwin.”  Readers are peeping Toms and writers are the ones holding the curtains open.  We’re exposing things real people would want to keep hidden.
          With each story I put out, I am inwardly saying, “Meet my friends.  Please, be kind to them.”  Of course, that doesn’t keep me from killing some of them off or allowing them to go through hell, sometimes literally.  Still, these are people I have grown to care about and whose company I enjoy.
          However, it’s time for all of them to leave the nest, and for my physical friends to finally meet my imaginary friends.  Hopefully, everyone plays nice; well, at least a little bit nice.
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