The first time I met Sam Montgomery-Blinn in person, it was 2009, and he got me very, very drunk on Fat Tire beer. Not my usual fare, but he was buying. I was nervous as hell after my first public reading, so not really arguing. I’m still not sure how I got invited to the reading that night (it included actual writers like Mur Lafferty and Jeff VanderMeer) being in such an nascent state in my writing career, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with Sam. They wanted someone else local, I suppose, so I packed up my favorite shoes and read from the novel I had been podcasting a draft off (inspired by Mur, of course).
Earlier that evening, as I was meandering through the aisles of Chapel Hill Comics, he popped up from between the colorful stacks, and extended his hand saying brightly, “I’m @montsamu! From Twitter.” I laughed, telling him he was the first person I ever met that I’d only known on Twitter and that he pretty much looked like his profile picture. As you do.
Anyway, he’d listened to all of The Aldersgate, and I recall a text exchange with him at once point and realizing he’d thought the book was out somewhere in paperback, or else being published. I hastened to inform him that it wasn’t, and he was rather surprised. I told him I was just hoping to get the book out there, get feedback, and edit. Then may send it out to agents.
Which I did. I won’t say it was unsuccessful, because after the book lived (and died) in slush piles at Ace/Roc (I mean, it’s been five years and I never heard one way or another, so I’m assuming it never made the cut, hah!) for a while I submitted it to agents and received plenty of supportive feedback (partials, full requests) but, at the end of the day, a steampunk/western/secondary world fantasy wasn’t very marketable.
I gave up and started writing other things, and the steampunk bubble burst a bit.
I never went on an agent hunt again, really. I wanted to focus on writing and family, and had that awful bout where I thought I might never be able to type again. I worked on a non-fiction book with a big publisher and, more notably (as far as growing as fiction writer), published my debut novel (which was written directly after The Aldersgate). I had another kid, too.
Yes, a great deal has happened. But in the years since, while I’ve written a dozen other books, I’ve let The Aldersgate languish.
Pride is a funny thing. I have two voices in my head, one telling me that it’s a trunk novel and I need to let it go because that’s best. The other is Sam, and not actually in my voice but in person and through email and text and IM and Facebook messenger. Every few months he pokes. He prods. He lets me know there are open calls at publishers. He encourages me, damn him, and it means that I can never fully let that book sit and die. Others, sure. I know well enough that I have a handful of trunk novels.
But releasing that podcast into the wild had an unexpected side-effect. It made the book matter to more than me. It made the book matter to Sam (and his wife). And that means that I’m more responsible for it. It opened more doors and made me more friends and, weirdly, helped establish me, even though it was never traditionally published. I’m generally anti-snowflake and anti-precious, but I think this book is special where others of mine aren’t.
That first voice? Maybe it’s got a point. But maybe, just maybe, it’s saying to let go because it’s easier. It’s easier to ignore Sam and his enthusiastic and continual encouragement (Seriously, people, he emailed me tonight. I’m not making this crap up.) because there will be less rejection. To say that he’s biased. But he heard the story even before he had any reason to be nice to me or make me feel good. He’s not like my dear friend Karen (we’ve been friends for a decade), or Dorothy (since college), or Michael (since before that). They are supporters, but I expect them to be. Within reason, of course.
This is all to say that, I’m realizing, writing and success and accomplishment don’t happen in a vacuum. As writers, we often fall back on the old, “Oh, writing’s such a lonely business. It’s all work and no play, and you give up so much.” But the older I get, the more writers and editors and enthusiasts I meet, the less I believe that to be true. Sure, actually writing books is lonely. But everything that comes after is tied up so much with the people you meet. The personalities and supporters and detractors around you. It’s really about becoming the social writer. At least it is for me. It’s not just about how I feel about something. I have to spend time actually listening.
By way of an update, I informed Sam that I did, indeed, submit The Aldersgate to a publisher recently. Which I’ve never done directly.
And I’m promising you now, dude, that if it comes back with a “no, thanks!” I’ll send it to at least two of those people on that long list you just sent me an hour ago*. Deal?