An unexpected honor came today when fellow writer and GLVWG member David Miller asked me to type up the improv speech I gave on Saturday at the Lower Macungie Library local author event. David shared it with other members of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group today.
The exercise provided an opportunity to polish the speech, improving the focus and making it less frenetic as improv routines can sometime be. Truly, it’s a touch of personal history about my journey as a writer and to honor those who have mentored me, guided me, and eventually invited me to publish with them.
Send the Elevator Back Down
Comedian Steven Wright once told this joke: “When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for 5 minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice.”
Today, I’d like to talk to you about elevators.
There’s a wonderful quote making its way around the internet from actor Kevin Spacey. “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.”
I began writing in the realm of fan fiction back in the late 1980s. For the uninitiated, fan fiction is generally a story based on your favorite characters from television or movies such as Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, the list goes on. I know people who wrote fan fiction based on everything from Bonanza to Quantum Leap.
I found fan fiction to be a marvelous training ground for storytelling. Of course, I couldn’t sell these stories because they were based on copyrighted characters, but I did pass them around and the general feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
It was at about this same time, when I began attending an increasing number of science fiction conventions such as Farpoint, Shore Leave, and Balticon in Maryland and I-CON in Long Island, New York. In addition to meeting so many actors I’d grown up with, I also met many of my favorite writers such as Harlan Ellison, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Howard Weinstein, Bob Greenberger, Steven H. Wilson, and others.
There I was, holding my stack of novels and comic books eagerly waiting to get them signed and to chat with bestselling authors I never thought I would meet. Little did I know that when I was waiting in autograph lines, I was actually waiting for the elevator.
Over the years, I continued to write and to glean advice from many of the aforementioned writers who would return as regulars to Farpoint and Shore Leave. I appreciated their patience and guidance, hoping I was not making a nuisance of myself.
Of particular note was Steven H. Wilson. By the time I met him, Steve had just written a few issues of Star Trek and Warlord for DC Comics and was beginning to craft what would become his science fiction audio drama series, The Arbiter Chronicles. Like me, Steve had also started in fan fiction, but was further along the road than I was. Yet not so far that getting there seemed daunting. I wanted to be that guy.
Steven also founded Farpoint in 1993, and it was at that convention where I came in second place in a writing contest. Steven personally encouraged me to keep writing. Little did I know that the friendship we were forming was also the elevator door opening.
Flash forward to 2007 and Steve had already won both the Parsec and Mark Time audio awards for his podcasts of The Arbiter Chronicles. He had also self-published his first novel based on that series and had received an excellent review from the Library Journal.
By this time, I had moved on from fan fiction and had outlined an original paranormal mystery novel. I asked Steve for the particulars of self-publishing, as the option certainly interested me. However, the business aspects of it seemed a bit overwhelming at the time (not so much today) so I asked him if he was accepting submissions. He agreed and two years later, Testing the Prisoner was published by Firebringer Press, followed in 2013 by my second paranormal mystery, By Your Side.
By 2010, I was attending Farpoint and Shore Leave as an author guest, which I still do today. The reviews for Testing the Prisoner were outstanding and I was beginning to blog.
I was now in the elevator and let me tell you, it was nice and shiny in there.
In June of 2012, I received an email from the aforementioned Bob Greenberger, who is a fantastic SF writer in addition to his long tenure as an editor at DC Comics. Along with another comics veteran Paul Kupperberg and fellow award-winning writer Aaron Rosenberg, Bob had co-created a new fantasy series called ReDeus. Deus is, of course, Latin for God. Slap the “Re” in front of it and it becomes a bit of a pun as in “Again God”. The series ponders what would happen if all of the ancient mythological gods returned to Earth in the 21st century. It was to be published by Crazy 8 Press, a small press formed by Bob, Aaron, Michael Jan Friedman, Peter David, Glenn Hauman, and Howard Weinstein.
Bob was reaching out to other Shore Leave writer guests to see if they would be interested in contributing a story to their first anthology. What an honor! I eagerly accepted, knowing very little about mythology. Bob then sent the series bible with a story deadline of about two weeks. Yikes! They wanted to debut the book at the upcoming Shore Leave convention in August.
The elevator was going up…and fast! I remember researching and writing furiously until 2AM and even writing while on a Saturday conference call for my day job. I work full time in IT. Another technician and I had to migrate a physical server to a virtual machine. If you’re not a tech geek, don’t worry about it. The point is that it became a 12-hour ordeal. When it was the other tech’s turn to take over for a few hours, I wrote like a maniac. I finally finished and submitted the piece on my birthday, July 1.
Two days later, it was accepted with minor revisions. Not only was I published in the first volume, Divine Tales, I returned for the second, Beyond Borders—where all stories take place outside of the USA. I was invited back for the third volume, Native Lands (stories of Native American gods), but was overwhelmed with recording the audio for By Your Side and planning my upcoming wedding. I politely declined, avoiding the risk of promising a story, then failing to deliver.
It was during this time when I decided to pitch an idea to Steve Wilson. I know several wonderful writers who came up in fan fiction and had moved onto crafting original fiction. Some were submitting to magazines but getting nowhere. I knew their work was outstanding and I wanted to find a way to showcase them. I asked Steve if I could submit a collection of their original genre stories with an eye toward publication. Steve agreed, as long as I edited. He and I also tossed in a few of our own tales.
At Shore Leave in 2014, we launched Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity, an anthology of SF, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. Through this book, we brought about five new authors to the public eye and showcased the wonderful work of an Allentown artist.
What a joy it was for me to see these writers at their first launch, signing books and engaging with readers. I had just barely started my own elevator ride when I was holding the door open for others to take the journey with me (thank you, Steve!). In three months, we’re launching a second volume, Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity, and possibly a third in 2018.
If you’re lucky enough to find success and you know talented, burgeoning artists, give them a chance to blossom by sending the elevator back down. If you’re just beginning your career, as I am, attend conferences and library events. Network with those further along the road, and learn as much as you can about your craft.
You never know what can happen simply by waiting for the elevator.