After the excitement from “The Saga of Shamus” died down I took a step back and decided to work on my craft. Learn how to smith the words better. To accomplish this, I started writing short stories like a mad man. This was a relatively new field for me. Until then I had mostly written plays and novellas. I had just moved to Albuquerque and me and my friend Brandon would spend our weekend mornings writing. And believe me, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I churned out at least one short story a week for a weeks on end. Most of these stories were garbage and will never see the light of day. I collected my favorites and self-published a collection called “Twisted Yarns.” I know what you’re thinking. Why would I self-publish again? What would possess me to want to undertake that exercise in humility again? To be honest, I was getting discouraged. Because even though I was churning out garbage short stories at a record pace, I couldn’t find anyone to publish them. Most of the stories I wrote were too long for the word counts of these publications. Flash fiction was really big at the time and everyone thought that if you couldn’t tell a story in under 1000 words, it wasn’t really a story. I don’t write 1000 word short stories. Hell, I don’t even write 3500 word short stories. My short stories start at 7500 words and usually top out somewhere around 10k. And the few places that did accept lengthy stories gave me nothing but encouraging rejections. If you’re a writer, you know the kind.
“Great story, but not what we’re looking for right now.”
“Really enjoyed the story, but doesn’t fit our issue. What else do you have?”
And so on and so forth. Over and over again. One rejection after another in a constant flow of bad news. After a while the ego takes a hit. After a while you start asking yourself questions and doubting yourself and your talent.
One of the stories to come out of this frenzy of writing was the original short story version of, “The Ruined Man.” The story actually followed the events of the upcoming book 2. I sent a copy to my old creative writing professor and he got back to me the same day with, “Turn this into a book! It NEEDS to be a book!” So that’s what I set out to do.
Turning a short story into a full-length novel is no easy feat. I’ve heard it said they are two separate modes of writing. A short story is like a passionate kiss from a stranger. It is fast, unexpected and leaves you breathless and wanting more. Whereas a novel is like a love affair. It’s slow, develops over time and is chock full of emotional highs and lows. So the trick was how to turn a passionate kiss into a love affair. I decided to start at the beginning, like all good love affairs. I told the story of how Victor Wolf became the Ruined Man—a story that ended up beginning 15 years in the past. The story, which ended up being book one, “The Ruined Man,” flowed out of me as if Wolf was telling it to me over afternoon coffee. Before I knew it, I had completed the Purple Gates story and had to move on to the second half which covered the events in the short story. Turning that into a love affair was difficult and took years. Literally years. The few query letters I did send out about The Ruined Man were met with rejection (surprise, surprise). Even after the discouragement settled in and I quit writing, I would still go back to Wolf and tinker around with the novel. It soon became a monster. A monster that I loved like a child. A beast I wanted to protect from the slings and arrows of all the nasty assholes rejecting my work and chipping away at my self-esteem. So I kept the book locked away in the fortress of my hard drive like the electronic manifestation of the Man in the Iron Mask.
Eventually, I quit looking at it altogether. Because I had finally had enough. Enough rejection. Enough criticism. Enough ridicule. Enough hearing loved ones talk about how I needed to “find a real job” and leave this writing thing behind. Those of you who know me know how huge this decision would be for me. All I ever wanted was to be a storyteller. Period. From the time my imagination started imagining I was making up stories. There is nothing I love to do more than get lost in my imagination and find a story there to share with others. I had spent years of my life not listening to all the naysayers. My high school teachers begged me not to be a writer. My college professors begged me not to be a writer. My parents REALLY begged me not to be a writer.
“There’s no money in it.”
“You’ll be poor your whole life!”
“Nobody respects writers! They are slackers and miscreants!”
I ignored them all and pursued my dream only to find out they were right. As I said in my last blog, I was one voice in a cacophony of thousands trying to get heard. Few people listened. Fewer cared. Everybody wants to be a writer but nobody wants to read. I was discouraged, disgusted and frustrated and I was getting real tired of rejection. So I decided to leave it behind and get a job in IT. There is nothing more soul-crushing than giving up on your dreams. Very little else will take the light from your eyes and the life from your step like losing a piece of who you are. But I had to. I couldn’t take the pain any more. I couldn’t take the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. I couldn’t take the smoldering disappointment I felt radiating from everyone around me. I had been defeated. So I stepped back and “gave it to God.”
I felt it leave in that moment—the fire I had kept stoked for years just didn’t die, it was snuffed out. As my imagination dimmed, a sharp pang stabbed my heart. It felt exactly like breaking up with someone. The loss was immense.
Franz Kafka said a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. Franz Kafka knew something about it because I learned the truth in that statement pretty quickly. My whole life I used writing to process the world around me. The stories, poems, plays and essays I’d written were fueled by a myriad of emotions. But that was gone now. I didn’t have an outlet for creative expression. Those were dark days.
During the summer of 2016 I came across Michelkin Publishing’s call for submissions. They were an indie house out of New Mexico and they were seeking local writers with books about New Mexico. Bonus points for magical realism. My thoughts immediately went to The Ruined Man, but I quickly pushed it back. I had quit writing. I didn’t want any more rejection. I gave it to God and He decided to keep it. All my passion for writing was gone. But I kept going back to it for days. Finally I relented.
“It’s no big deal,” I convinced myself. “You haven’t gotten a rejection in years, you can handle at least one. It doesn’t even matter. It’s not like you’re a writer anymore, anyway. Accepted or rejected, it’s all the same now. Besides, it’ll be rejected for sure. No doubt.”
So I went to Michelkin’s site and filled out the submission form and included a summary of my monstrous word-baby. I clicked send and was hit with a brief spike of excitement that was quickly dulled over. Then I waited. Waited for the rejection I was sure would come.
“Dear Mr. DeGray,
Thank you for your submission but we can’t find room for you right now.
Every publisher or agent ever”
The morning I got the email from Michelkin’s publishing department that’s what I expected it to read. But that’s not what it said. They actually said they liked the summary and wanted to see the first 50 pages. I couldn’t believe it. I was shaking as I dove into the electronic dungeon of my hard drive. My heart pumped wildly as I opened the key and let my Monster in the Iron Mask see light for the first time in ages. I spit-shined the manuscript and sent them what they asked for. Then I waited again.
Months later I got another email. Again, I expected this to be the one where they thanked me for my time but they had decided to pass. Again, not what happened. They felt the first 50 were solid and wanted to see the whole manuscript. I almost cried. No joke. I spent the weekend polishing up my beloved brain-child and sent it off to them. And then I waited.
By this time I was getting anxious. It was December now and I hadn’t heard a thing from them since the end of September. I was convinced they hated it and hadn’t gotten around to sending me the rejection yet. I tried not to care, but the fire had been sparked inside me again. It burned with a tiny flame. Like a tea light–a miniature flicker of light in a sea of dark hopelessness. It was fragile and I knew that this rejection would snuff it out for good. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the cosmic plan behind it, the killing blow that would ensure I would never get back up. And then it came.
December 10, 2016 I was at my niece’s birthday party when I got an email from Michelkin Publishing. My throat instantly dried and I was hit with a rush of excitement. I took three deep breaths and returned to the party. Later, after I had gotten home, I paced around for at least an hour terrified to open the email. Finally, I steeled my resolve and read the email.
They said they’d be happy to publish my manuscript. In two books. I cried. No joke. And that tiny flame suddenly grew into a blazing beacon.
And now, six months later, my first published novel is actually out. It feels great, I can’t lie. It’s blissful to no longer be a monster courting insanity. All dreams are worth living. That’s what I took away from this adventure in publishing. No matter who you are, no matter what your secret dream is—live it. Don’t let the wet blanket of hopelessness put out your fire. Don’t let the criticism and disapproval of others guide the direction you take. It is YOUR life, after all. You are the one who has to live it, so live it well.
“I consider the positions of kings and rulers as dust motes. I observe treasures of gold and gems as so many bricks and pebbles. I look upon the finest silken robes as tattered rags. I see myriad of worlds of the universe as small seeds of fruit, and the greatest lake in India as a drop of oil on my foot. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusions of magicians. I discern the highest conception of emancipation as a golden brocade in a dream and view the holy path of the illuminated ones as flowers appearing in one’s eyes. I see meditation as a pillar of a mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime. I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces of the four seasons.” —Buddha
From “Zen flesh, Zen bones” as compiled by Paul Reps
The world is a petty place. All of its glitter and gold, its shine and appeal is an illusion. And behind that illusion, the truth of the world is as fake and tarnished as those who proclaim its brilliance. Buddha saw this. He noticed that nothing was as it seems. That reality was not real. That all of the world’s temptations and ideas of success were flawed and ultimately meant nothing. Not even religion and all the promises of the afterlife were devoid of the stain of pettiness and lies that covers everything we see, hear, think and believe. Right and wrong are in constant flux and all of our deeply held beliefs are nothing but passing memories. As a matter of fact, the only pillar that exists is meditation.
We have to go inside to find the answers we are looking for. We have to take time to listen to that still, small voice that so desperately wants to guide us. Because when the external world is nothing but illusion and lies and Nirvana is the nightmare of creation all we have left to guide us is that inner light. So always be encouraged to “Be still and know God.” That’s where beauty and truth really exist and it is they only place they do.
She laughed a beautiful tune and twirled around
to blow a sweet breeze across the muggy woodlands of a Midsummer’s soul.
This was her only answer.
Always and forever.
The same lonely song,
the same unwilling sonata refusing to be written.
I’m fairly sure some of you have heard of Robert E. Howard. I’m sure all of you have heard of Conan the Barbarian. Conan was Howard’s most popular character though he birthed many others. He’s also credited with single-handedly creating the genre of “sword and sorcery”. Where did this pioneering writer see most of his works printed? Strictly in pulp magazines. The junk mags of the depression era. He, sadly, never published an actual book during his life. Today’s anecdote comes from a conversation he had with Novalyne Price Ellis, the local English teacher.
Ms. Price commented that she wanted a side job writing for the pulps like Robert did.
He looked her square in the eye and said, “It’s one or the other. You can’t do both.”
—taken from “One Who Walked Alone.”
And isn’t it true? There’s this line. This unspoken step in the proper social progression. See, when we’re young, we have all these grand ideas for the legends we’re going to make for ourselves. We’re told over and over that we can be ANYTHING we want to be. So we want to be things like painters, actors, astronauts, writers and pro athletes. These desires ultimately shape who we become. But here’s the kicker: Somewhere along the way these dreams get abandoned.
Artists end up architects. Actors become politicians. Writers become English Teachers. And pro athletes sell cars. This happens in almost every instance because at some point most people abandon the search for their dreams and become comfortable in a “practical lifestyle”. But why?
“It’s one or the other. You can’t do both.”
So what about the intrepid fools who don’t give up? Some people never lose sight of their dreams. Some people can’t. No matter how hard they try to fit in, to become comfortable and complacent. Sure, these passionate fools cross the line from time to time. Even starving artists have to eat. But they never stay. The pull of their dream is too strong, their passion too great. For these daring individuals, life isn’t about seeing how high you can “level up” your material junk. It’s about creating. It’s about leaving behind a legacy that will live on and inspire lives long after they’ve passed.
Novalyne Price never wrote for the pulps. She was an English Teacher for most of her life and her only published work was a memoir about her experience with Howard that was written after she retired. And Robert E. Howard? He never crossed the line into proper social progression. He committed suicide at age 32 and his legacy survives to this day.
Tags: astronaut, career, celebrities, Conan, creativity, dreams, english teacher, Entertainment, jobs, life, literature, One Who Walked Alone, painter, passion, pro athlete, Pulp. magazines, Robert E. Howard, social progression, Society, sword and sorcery, unhappy, videogames, work, writer, Writing
After a grueling editing process, I’ve finally got a reading copy of my new manuscript ready! That’s right! I finished another book. It’s an exciting supernatural thriller set in New Mexico. I’d like to have a few people read it before I start shopping it around. If you’re interested, drop me a line and lemme know!
I enjoy looking through my old writing notebooks. They’re like journals, only the stories are told in poems, scenes and stories. Enjoy this trip down my memory lane!
Love me, loathe me,
but please don’t
a torn curtain
my fantasy dances alone
inside a box
crying for mother’s milk
that dried up
dinosaurs dwelt in bars
drinking gin with God
of the diner is an old house
with many stories
to tell if one will
The Sound of Silence
within our hearts
has all the noisome answers
one can fathom.
Copyright 2003 Jason DeGray
I’ve been away and I apologize. After a lifelong dedication to my craft, my passion for writing and words took a heavy blow a few months ago. My passion and dedication waned. I became full of self doubt and loathing and actually began to rethink my purpose. For those of you who know me, this will come as a shock. I have followed the writer’s path for as long as I can remember. So much so that writing is what I’m really great at. So why the blow to my passion? On some level, I think I felt betrayed. I mean, I dedicated my life to writing and all it gave me in return was a handful of preformed plays and poems published in magazines no one will ever read. Yet all around me, talent-less hacks are ghostwriting themselves onto the NY Times Best Seller List for no other reason than they are famous. They have no talent to offer the craft, only novelty. And that’s what our society has become obsessed with: Novelty.
Novelty is distraction without substance. Art sans Creativity. It’s whatever is cute, funny and/or viral at any given moment. Novelty is devoured like mental junk food and then forgotten with the next helping of Novelty. Art in all its forms has suffered for this love affair with self-induced mental retardation. After battling this trend for a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. Self doubt began to set in. And once self doubt had a firm foundation, it opened the door for Distraction. By this point, I had given up and gladly invited Distraction in.
I jumped head first into a myriad of distractions: movies, video games, books, Captain Morgan. In short, I became obsessed with Novelty too. Because giving up my passion left a hole in my soul. And I tried to fill that hole with Novelty. It didn’t work. I didn’t start feeling more “alive” because I was going with the flow. I didn’t start seeing the beauty of the Great Machine and all of its distractions. My acceptance of living a “normal everyday life” didn’t bring me peace. No. The more I inundated myself with Novelty, the more miserable I became until I had retreated so far inside of myself, I couldn’t see the light of day.
So what happened to restore my dedication, to rekindle the fires of my passion for my craft? A literally paralyzing experience gave my brain a hard restart. When I came to, all I could do is look at the time I wasted and cry. But through the tears I saw the truth. I saw that passions and life goals should not and can not be driven by external influences. Self worth can not be measured with material wealth or some preconceived status on the Social Scale. In the end, we are all accountable to ourselves and ourselves alone. We know the paths we are supposed to walk, or at least we used to. Novelty and Distraction are like mental white noise droning out the still small voice that so desperately whispers to us. The more distracted we are, the less likely it is we will ever hear that voice and self correct our paths. But we have to try. Because in the end, we are the only ones who know what we are supposed to be doing with our lives. Everything else is just Novelty.
I think one of the underlying themes of the Tao follows closely with the adage, “The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Often, our intentions (even good ones) cloud or vision and judgement. They become a stumbling block instead of a building block. This is especially true on a societal level where a few peoples’ clouded judgement can literally collapse the whole system. Enjoy!!
“If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
The less self-reliant people will be.
Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes as common as grass.”
—-The Tao Te Ching Ch. 57
One of my favorite passages from the Tao. Enjoy!
“A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever he wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and rejects no one.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.”—-The Tao Te Ching Ch. 27
I came across this passage and thought it explained things so well. In it, Jane, Mark’s wife, is being shown around The Manor at St. Anne’s. The Manor is the opposition to the N.I.C.E. and things are done quite differently there. Enjoy!!
“There are no servants here,” said Mother Dimble, “And we all do the work. The women do it one day and the men the next. What? No, it’s a very sensible arrangement. The Director’s idea is that men and women can’t do housework together without quarreling. There’s something in it. Of course, it doesn’t do to look at the cups too closely on the men’s day, but on the whole we get along pretty well.”
“But why should they quarrel?” asked Jane.
“Different methods my dear. Men can’t help in a job, you know. They can be induced to it: not to help while you’re doing it. At least, it makes them grumpy.”
The cardinal difficulty”, said MacPhee, “in collaboration between the sexes is that women speak a language without nouns. If two men are doing a bit of work, one will say to the other, ‘Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl which you’ll find on the top shelf of the green cupboard.’ The female for this is, ‘Put that one in the other one there.’ And then if you ask them, ‘in where?’ they say, ‘in there, of course. There is consequently a phatic hiatus.”
“There’s your tea now,” said Ivy Maggs, “and I’ll go and get you a piece of cake, which is more than you deserve. And when you’ve had it you can go upstairs and talk about nouns for the rest of the evening.”
“Not about nouns: by means of nouns,” said MacPhee but Mrs. Maggs had already left the room.