Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dear Melanie

I'm so happy to have people commenting on my story! As my first published work (and as of this week, yes, it's officially published! I'm an officially published writer!), I'm ecstatic to hear feedback, especially if it's positive. *lol*

Normally, I'd reply in the comments section, but since other people might very well have the same question, I might as well write a post about it. Melanie asked in the Comments section of last post whether "My Brother's Own Words" was based in any part upon real life. There is actually very little about this story that is based on real life, for me - my parents fight occasionally, but they've been happily married for over twenty years. I have two younger sisters, but they are far more socially developed than I am. I do not, nor have ever owned a parrot - and although my mother's best friend has an African grey, he's actually rather vicious in unfamiliar company.

No, I did not base this story on real life. A lot of my stories are - "Tears for a Rose" and "Golden Opportunity" both make use of my own personal feelings of social alienation, "Desert Muse" confronts the problem of writer's block, I wrote "Whiff" as a reaction to my newfound sensativity to smells after my mother quit smoking, and "Red Bird, Red Bird" was actually written to express my worries of writing after "My Brother's Own Words."

"My Brother's Own Words" is a special case - it was the first short story I wrote with the intention of trying to sell it. I'd tried novels for years, but I could never manage to finish them, or they were terribly derivative medieval stuff (something I'm struggling through presently while working on Reading 'The Willow King'). I wrote it during the summer of 2005. That year, I had to have my wisdom teeth removed, and while I quite a bit frightened (I'd never been anesthetized before, and I have a low pain threshold), the whole thing went fine and I recovered quickly enough.

During the three-day weekend of my recovery, I lay on the couch all day, did no work, and ate nothing but Tylenol 3 and Neapolitan ice cream while applying icepacks to my swollen jaw every 20 minutes. It might have been the painkillers and sugar talking, but during those three days my Idea-Filter turned off, and allowed "My Brother's Own Words" to be written.

My Idea-Filter, basically, is that little voice in my head that keeps me from attempting to write things that might by too overwhelming for my present abilities. I write fantasy stories, so the ideas that get jammed in the filter can be pretty weird (to the tune of "what if limes ran the government?" or "holy matrimony between a man and a bowl of chocolate pudding").

Well, one of those ideas was "what if there was a boy whose dad was a human, and whose mother was a parrot?" It managed to slip through the Idea-Filter, and since I had three days with absolutely nothing else to do, I wrote the whole thing right away. Although the idea was kind of weird, the rational (and not sugar-addled) part of my brain allowed me to apply rules to the bizarre plot so that as outlandish and magical as it was, it could still be, as Melanie put it, "realistic." It could still be a coherent story with a narrative and characters and a reasonable conflict and resolution.

Ultimately, the experience actually helped me to tone down my Idea-Filter. I used to be a little self-conscious about my writing talent, and was skittish about doing things that were too "out there," but with the way "My Brother's Own Words" turned out, it allowed me to try for crazier ideas, so long as I was able to put them into a story that said something real, that people could understand regardless of the species of their parents.

Of course, I was a little worried afterwards. So far, "My Brother's Own Words" has been the only story I've sold, and for a little while, I was nervous that maybe, just maybe, it had been because of the painkillers and sugar that people liked my story. An irrational fear, but still - as I kept getting more rejections for "Desert Muse" and "Parasite: A Love Story" and "Whiff," I wondered if I would ever be able to write as well again.

Now, of course, I know that's total hogwash - I realize how incredibly fortunate I was to sell "My Brother's Own Words" after so few submissions, and that even the best writers have to deal with mountains of "didn't work for me"s before they succeed. Getting rejected doesn't necessarily make me a bad writer - it just means I'm a writer. For every story I write, there will always been people who love it, and people who will think it's absolute garbage. My job, of course, is to find those particular editors, agents and publishers who make up the former category.

I'm so glad you liked my story, Melanie, and thank you so much for commenting! It made my day!

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