Our friends over at Kirkus are posting a weekly writing and publishing blog that lends practical advice from experts and “How I Did It” stories from some of the nation’s most successful authors and self-publishers. And they’re sharing it with IndieReader.
To paraphrase President Bill Clinton, how I did it depends on the definition of “it.” I’m a writer first, and an accidental publisher second. What drove me to do either is that I wanted meaning in my life.
The other night, my wife Ann and I zipped over to the Hollywood Bowl, invited at the last minute by a friend with extra tickets. It felt like destiny. I witnessed for my first time cellist Yo-Yo Ma play and Gustavo Dudamel conduct—both brilliant, both passionate, both leading me to ponder what it took for them and any one of the orchestra members to get there.
A sell-out crowd of 17,000 was focused on classical music. Yo-Yo Ma played often with his eyes closed, his face incredibly expressive as if the music were telling a story and he was finding surprise and amazement in every twist and turn. He seemed near tears in delicate parts, his lone cello a voice in the woods.
Conductor Gustavo Dudamel looked like a young man surprised at a treasure he stumbled upon. He was ecstatic to unleash the kettle drums, the trumpets, and the full orchestra as a signal call to a final offensive stand, his baton and hair leaping in the air.
There are times when I write that I feel the same way. I‘m emotionally wrought at sad parts, laughing at funny parts, on the edge when danger flings itself at my protagonist. What it took me to get there were the hundreds of stories that I wrote when I was younger that just didn’t work, but each story brought me closer to writing a better one. I took writing classes in college and beyond, and I was pushed.
Reading great works such as Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried showed me what could be. I never thought of what I did as “work.” As Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers reveals, you have to put in the hours.
To get where I am took more than reading, practice, and classes. I also looked for ways to immerse myself in story. I became a book reviewer in grad school for two Los Angeles newspapers before reviewing live theatre for Daily Variety for eight years.
At the time, I was also writing plays. Theatre demonstrated how to reveal character through action and dialogue, and the constant critiquing led me to question why certain scenes or plays worked or not. I’d ask the same questions of my own stories. I wrote on tight deadlines, which whipped away any idea of writer’s block. Later when I started teaching creative writing and English, I could critique student work too, remaining sensitive to not blow out any flames of creativity.
For my first job out of grad school, I was the senior editor for a small publisher in Los Angeles. There, I experienced first-hand the obsessive nature it takes to create a finely crafted book, starting with the text but also following through in book design, publicity and marketing. When my first agent in 2005 did not want to represent my collection of previously published short fiction, I started my own imprint, White Whisker Books. I knew what to do.
When my very first review for my first book, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, appeared in the Los Angeles Times in January 2006, I spit the cereal I was eating out all over the table. My heart began racing. I assumed I’d be excoriated in front of millions of people as had happened with my first produced play, Suburban Anger. But no, the reviewer provided clear insights, and she celebrated the book.
I don’t write for the reviewers, but good reviews help in being discovered in a crowded marketplace. Sending your books out for review is critical. This I learned when I worked for a publisher.
Read the entire post with Christopher Meeks here.
Christopher Meeks began as a playwright and has had three plays produced. His short stories have been published in a number of journals and are available in two collections, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons. During the last five years, he’s focused on novels. The Brightest Moon of the Century is a story that Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews describes as “a great and truly humane novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving.” His new comic novel, Love At Absolute Zero, is about a physicist who uses the tools of science to find his soul mate–and he has just three days. Critic Grady Harp calls the book “a gift.” He also runs White Whisker Books. Visit him online at Red Room, Facebook, Twitter, and www.chrismeeks.com.