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Adventures In Publishing: The Ruined Man

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.

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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!”

Ad infimum.

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.

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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.

Signed,

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.

And waited.

And waited.

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.

And waited.

And waited.

And 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.

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Daily Wisdomisms: Rumi (The Guest House)

Today’s tidbit is an inspiring and eye-opening poem from Rumi. Enjoy!

 

“This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

 

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.”     The Essential Rumi, p. 109

 

To me, this is a poem about perception. I like the idea that being human is a guest house whose purpose seems to be to entertain all these different experiences. But isn’t that the point? We are here to experience all that life and the world has to offer to us. The good and the bad. I”ll be the first to admit, it’s hard to meet the negative at the door laughing. It’s even harder to invite them in. But in the end, even those experiences add to our character and strengthen our souls.  We can’t live life in fear of or trying to avoid negativity and hardship. It WILL find us eventually. There is no escaping the fact that life isn’t all smiles and rainbows. The greatest weapon we have against them is our perception of them.

Even when they “come into our house and violently sweep out all of our furniture” we still treat them honorably. Even when something happens in our lives that totally screws everything up we have to keep a reasonable perception about it. After all, change is often a violent and unsettling process, but the end result is always likely to be a “new delight.”  Seeing misfortune and hardship any other way is a one way ticket for self-pity and depression. And life’s too short to spend in the dark place of our souls all the time.

So” be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond”.  Each and every experience of our lives is serving to move our souls toward growth and development. So we have to be conscious of falling into the self-pity, woe-is-me mind traps that open so easily every time misfortune knocks on our door. Remember, every time we grow comfortable, we cease to grow.

Enlighten up: Or the Truth behind Awareness

You asked for enlightenment and it was granted to you. Did you think it would be so easy after that? Did you expect to dine with Sophia and not have to pay the bill? Awakening is only the first step in a lifelong journey. In that journey we are supposed to transcend our humanity. To become one with God, as it were. This, we all know, is impossible. Because in the end, we are all human. Utterly, hopelessly, beautifully human. Despite our divine origins, our humanity remains. We feel. We love. We suffer. We sacrifice. And so you asked for enlightenment thinking that all the answers to life’s problems will be answered in a moment of brilliant clarity. This is not the case.

Enlightenment is understanding is awareness. Once you gain this sense of awareness, you start to become aware of things. And it is a dangerous thing to become aware of things. Things are devious by design, you see. And they hate when we become aware of them. It’s like peeking behind the curtain and seeing the puppet master pulling the strings. Things are a sham, you understand? It’s all a show. Smoke and mirrors. But things have a purpose and they defend that purpose with purposeful ferocity. That purpose is distraction. Things distract. There you have it. And once you enlighten up, you can see past those distractions.

Nothing is more ferocious than a distraction that fails to distract. Awareness infuriates all sorts of things. And things try even harder to distract. And those things ripple out into your world, alerting other things to your enlightenment. And then those things start to distract.  But still you progress. You trudge on through hard times and good. You persevere. You grow in your enlightenment.  And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, then things get really pissed. So they start doing drastic things to pull you back down into distraction. Or what existentialists would call “the human condition”. Not surprisingly, since we are human we slip and we fall. Plummeting back into things. Southern Baptists have a good term to describe this: backsliding. Now to the Southern Baptists backsliding is when you quit drinking and start going to church only to start drinking and quit going to church. It’s much the same for enlightenment.

The fact of the matter is we are all mired in things. Even we are things. Distracting ourselves from our true purposes. Even distracting us from our own enlightenment. So people say, “Don’t let things get you down” and they always smile as they say it without ever knowing it is the key to understanding. Don’t let things get you down. And when things get you down, you get back up again. That’s right. No one is accepting the e-vite to your pity party. They’re too busy sending out their own.

Don’t forget, you asked for this. You wanted understanding. You wanted awareness. You wanted to see the puppet master. And so you have and now there is no turning back. Don’t blame things. Things can only be what they are. Things will get nasty. Things will get difficult. Suck it up and forge on through. For an aware individual, things will always get better. For an enlightened person everything offers understanding. So remember: When things get you down, enlighten up. Eventually, you’ll get there.

Daily Wisdomisms: The Holy Bible

Today’s bit of wise-ness comes from the Gospel of John. Of all the NT Gospels, this is my favorite. I don’t know if it’s because of my love for good story telling or my spirituality, but both are fed when I read this Gospel. This passage speaks volumes to me. Enjoy!

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, the world hates you.” John 15:19

Ever heard the phrase “You can’t serve God and Mammon”? The above verse is the heart of that phrase. Mammon represents materialism, which is rooted in the physical world. To deny Mammon is to deny material gain and ambition. Doing this has inescapable consequences. Take some time for self reflection and ask yourself who you serve. How important are things to you? Could you give it all up and walk away if it meant an adventure of discovery and self-realization? Be warned though. Mammon knows those who’ve turned their backs on him. And if you try to exist in his world while seeking Enlightenment he’ll make you suffer for it.

Daily Wisdom-isms: Franz Bardon (Knowledge and Wisdom)

An excerpt from Initiation into Hermetics by Franz Bardon. His is an interesting story. Worth looking into if you are so inclined. Enjoy!

“There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom. It is considerably less difficult to gain knowledge than it is to attain wisdom. Wisdom is not at all dependent upon knowledge, although both are identical to a certain degree. The source of wisdom is within God, within the causal principle, in the Akasha, on all planes of the material, astral and mental worlds. Therefore wisdom does not depend on the intellect and memory but on the maturity, purity and perfection of the personality of the individual.”—-Franz Bardon, Initiation into Hermetics. pp. 55, 56

This really speaks to me. Especially in a time where there is far more knowledge than wisdom in the world.

Daily Wisdom-isms: Rumi (Solomon’s Crooked Crown)

Another piece from Rumi. Wisdom? Judgement? Even the wise judges can lose sight of their God-given wisdom. This is illustrated in the following poem: Enjoy!

SOLOMON’S CROOKED CROWN

Solomon was busy judging others,
when it was his personal thoughts
that were disrupting the community.

His crown slid crooked on his head.
He put it straight, but the crown went
awry again. Eight times this happened.

Finally he began to talk to his headpiece.
“Why do you keep tilting over my eyes?”

“I have to. When your power loses compassion,
I have to show you what such a condition looks like.”

Immediately Solomon recognized the truth.
He knelt and asked forgiveness.
The crown centered itself on his crown.

When something goes wrong, accuse yourself first.
Even the wisdom of Plato or Solomon
can wobble and go blind.

Listen when your crown reminds you
of what makes you cold toward others,
as you pamper the greedy energy inside.

This needs to be read and applied by EVERY world leader today. And a vast majority of the laity could benefit from this simple lesson too. Unfortunately, humanity has become too proud to kneel and ask forgiveness.

Daily Wisdom-isms

Today’s Wisdom-ism comes from The Capricious Cosmos by Joe Rosen. He’s a scientist, Rosen is. Here, he explains science’s place and function. Enjoy!

“It seems to me that they lay reader is too liable to gain the impression that not only is science capable of attaining full understanding of the material universe as a whole, in all its aspects and with all its phenomena, including the role of Homo Sapiens in it, but that science is actually on the verge of doing so. Some authors believe that themselves. They seriously consider the possibility of a ‘Theory of Everything’, Capitalized just like that and acronymed to TOE.

Yet the fact of the matter is that science, by its very nature and structure, cannot in principle comprehend the material universe as a whole. Through science we can, and indeed do, gain understanding of various aspects and phenomena of the material universe and discover laws governing them. But as for the whole, as for the material universe in its entirety, it inherently lies beyond science.

As far as science is concerned the material universe as a whole is orderless, lawless and unexplainable, indeed the capricious cosmos. Any understanding of the whole can then come only from outside science, from non-scientific modes of comprehension and understanding.”— Joe Rosen The Capricious Cosmos Introduction

Daily Wisdom-isms

Today’s Wisdom-ism comes from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. In this excerpt Hoff compares Taoist wisdom and simplicity to Western academia. Enjoy!

“It seems rather odd somehow, that Taoism, the way of the Whole Man, the True Man, the Spirit Man (to use a few Taoist terms), is for the most part interpreted here in the West by the Scholarly Owl–by the Brain, the Academician, the dry-as-dust Absent Minded Professor. Far from reflecting the Taoist ideal of wholeness and independence, this incomplete and unbalanced creature divides all kinds of abstract things into little categories and compartments, while remaining rather helpless and disorganized in his daily life.

Rather than learn from Taoist teachers and from direct experience, he learns intellectually, and indirectly, from books. And since he doesn’t usually put Taoist principles into practice in an everyday sort of way, his explanations of them tend to leave out some rather important details, such as how they work and where you can apply them.

On top of that, it is very hard to find any of the spirit of Taoism in the lifeless writings of the humorless Academic Mortician, whose bleached-out scholarly dissertations contain no more of the character of Taoist wisdom than does the typical wax museum.”—The Tao of Pooh pp. 25 and 26

Daily Wisdom-isms

The legend of Hermes Trismegistus goes back thousands of years. Despite who he was or where and when he lived, his teachings have influenced many schools of thought since time immemorial. In this post he discusses One God creating the universe as opposed to many gods. Hermes considered the true God to be something akin to the Kabbalah’s Ein Sof.

From The Way of Hermes Enjoy!

“This one God makes everything; a plurality of gods would be absurd. Is it surprising that God creates life and soul, immortality and transformation when you yourself do so many things? For you see and speak, hear and smell, touch, walk about, think and breathe. There is not one who see and another who hears, one who speaks and another who touches, one who smells and another who walks, one who thinks and another who breathes; there is a single one who does all of these things. But none of this is possible without God. For just as if you cease to do things, you are no longer a living being, so if God ceases from these things–though it is impious to say–He is no longer God.—The Way of Hermes p. 55

Daily Wisdom-isms

I’m not saying PKD isn’t wise. On the contrary. Studying the Exegesis has opened my eyes to more than a few ideas and concepts I’ve not considered. Dick’s opus also aided in congealing theological issues I’ve been mulling over. Nevertheless, my quest has led me to other sources of inspiration. I’d like to share some of that with you. Today’s Wisdom-ism comes from The Essential Kabbalah by Daniel C. Matt. Enjoy!

“Every definition of God leads to heresy; definition is spiritual idolatry. Even attributing mind and will to God, even attributing Divinity itself and the name “God”–These too are definitions. Were it not for the subtle awareness that all these are just sparkling flashes of that which transcends definition–these, too, would engender heresy.” —Essential Kabbalah p. 32

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