Staring at the Blank Page

Welcome. The pen name’s J. Alter (J. short for Jessica), and I am a published writer.

Well, I made a commitment to put together a writer’s weblog. I am not the kind of writer who has tips and tricks. I don’t know the publishing world, except that it’s nearly impossible to break into it. Getting a recognized agent is very hard. From what I saw, I would have to have something plucked from a slush pile at a publisher to even get the attention of an agent. Publishers avoid the slush pile, so it would involve either massive amounts of psychic energy, a magic ritual involving a particular moon phase, or a prayer tent full of faith healers sending intent toward that slush pile for it to even leave the mailroom of a publishing house. Then, even seeing it released is another hurdle, since the grim statistic that people are reading less and less means less books are being published. Something really has to set someone’s intuition off to fight for a novel to be published. Then, like any art produced for mass consumption, the creators are given the responsibility of carrying the publishing house on their backs. Produce content, and you see pennies on the dollar if one is very very lucky. The publishing industry requires a very thick skin and perseverence to become an author of note.

Even then, it requires lightning to strike to get the chance to succeed or fail at that level.

The only advice I have ever seen from a Writer’s Advice book that I stand by wholeheartedly: “Keep writing and reading.” Like cinema, theater, and music, for the few names a person can recall as being celebrities of any particular artistic field, there are millions out there who are part of the toiling masses. Writers are writers because we write. In my case, the Greek muse Calliope rides me hard. I write series fiction, and those series are epic in size. The Dome Trilogy is perhaps 750,000 words in all three books. Possibly a million. It’s a big dystopian future series, and the second book, Nightmare Specters, is a book I am personally proud of. I like the story, despite it being dense. It’s not a fast read, but I don’t consider it having the mistakes of the first, especially the language. I tried too hard on the first book, and I am embarassed that (to look smart) it became a good story requiring a dictionary to get through. And a red pencil. Beneath a Sunless Sky, however, has a good story at its core. It’s burdened by the language in parts, though when the story is rolling and my writing voice isn’t muffled by a thesaurus. I love to read it, though, and others have said they enjoyed it, also.

The only advice, as a writer, I would give is that not one of us is owed a living at this. No one from one of the publishing houses is going to consult a tarot reader or Ouija board and learn that you have the next great novel waiting on paper in your closet, sitting on your hard drive at work or home, or–worst of all– sitting in your head. Write to entertain you, read what entertains you, and definitely live. That axiom of writing what you know is not, to me, literal as much as hypothetical. You’re a human being having human experiences we all have. It’s that empathy with the reader, that question of, “What would I do in this situation? What have others chosen? Would this character do this?” which guide that storytelling of the human exprience and draws a character from a superpowered “Mary Sue” or “Gary Lou” into a potentially believable person–even if that character is faced with unbelievable situations.

I am part of the anarchy that is independent publishing. I’m not sure if this is sacrilege to admit, but I really am not looking to be the next big name. In my head, it’s Walter Mitty meets J.D. Salinger in my personal writing experience. I am not comparing my writing style to J.D. Salinger but that he had a personal and emotional relationship with his characters, that he talked about them as if they were more real to him than most people. Like James Thurbur’s character, Walter Mitty, the vivid stories can be relentless. Is it avoidance of the frustration of real life? Possibly. However, instead of the daydreaming spinning off into nothingness, I write it down. I’ve written lot of books since 1991, when I kept writing a short story into maybe 100,000 words. My second book was for a summer creative writing college class. The next big leap was the Dome Trilogy, the first draft of which was written in November of 2003 for my first National Novel Writing Month. As of today, I have the three dome trilogy books written (Yes, even Solaray Dawn, which needs a little editing and a lot of proofreading), a twenty-six book series which is essentially a soap opera in this Pacific coast town (each book focuses on a personal growth challenge for one or two women who are from or who move to the town even as they deal with romances), and I have seven books of twelve written for a cryptozoology series. The new cryptozoology series is getting a rewrite like Remy (my shorthand for the Dome Trilogy, after the main character) did, to hold with themes.

The real work, for me, is not getting the story on paper. I can blurt out 100,000 words in one or two weeks. I have the worst time with chronology, timelines. With the written soap opera series, I taught myself to write in the dates of certain events because those books do overlap at times (and two overlap intentionally, a Gemini book, inspired by a series I learned about in, oh, 2004). It’s always been problematic. I am so obsessed with continuity at times that I will drop a series while editing it because the fun has been sucked out. Or worse, I will read the books instead of look at them with a proofreader’s or editor’s eye. Pain in the backside, but that’s how it goes for me. The most-heard lament I think I whine over is that I have no editor/proofreader to help me organize my thoughts and even say, “You know, this scene adds absolutely nothing to the story despite filling in backstory.” That I do, too, like notes for myself in the story. Sometimes I even tag mid-writing with reminders that I need to cut a scene or move it because it is just a big dollop of too much revelation in the middle and tends to get repeated later–when it’s actually useful for moving the story forward. Or, well, I forget until I read it and have to ask myself, “Do I really need this character re-hashing this revelation?” The answer only ever is yes when that’s part of the neurosis of the character, to repeat verbally this distress as if none of the other characters listened before. Then, the other characters need to respond differently than before.

Well, I’m not sure what else to write about writing. I do it because it’s so much a part of me, I can’t stop. I can either sit in the stories whipping through my head like maddened harpies, or I can get them outside of me. Do I want other people to read my work? Of course. It would be nice to hear someone say, “I really thought that story was great. I really liked those characters.” I would like to have someone be excited to have me sign a book for them, even if it’s a digital signature or on some memorabilia from the series. I have no idea. I write because I write, not to become rich or famous or any other delusion which people tend to attach to the arts. I write because the stories are in there, and they need to come out. I guess publishing them (once I edit and proofread them to at least keep the continuity from cover to cover then hopefully build enough continuity from start-to-finish of the series) is better than sitting on them and hoping someone will telepathically intuit that my books are sitting on disks and hard drives and in a stack of comb-bound books waiting for their chances.

You know, this is kind-of a stupid first entry to me. I definitely feel humbled because I don’t have that je ne sais quoi so many people seem to have about their ability as guides to the publishing industry or as advisors to how to be the next big published author. I’m not cutthroat, I’m not looking to make it big, I’m not looking to sweat out deadlines and pretend that my advance means I won’t end up bankrupt and owing the publishing house more than I’m worth. I write stories with laughter and tears and fears and arguments and forgiveness and just about everything that means something to me in the human condition. I write the happiness I sometimes wish for friends. I write about the choices I’ve made and let my mind wander down the paths I didn’t take. I write different genres, but I write about the things I and others experience indirectly. Same theme, different when, where, who, how, and sometimes why.

So, uh, keep reading. Keep writing. Definitely keep getting angry that something ended differently than you thought . . . then change it to suit yourself. Even what I put out there.

Happy New Year 2014.

4 thoughts on “Staring at the Blank Page”

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, John. I hope you enjoyed what you read, and I definitely hope you’ll stick around for the Cryptid Series now that the Dome Trilogy as at the light at the end of the tunnel.

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  1. I’m like you, Jessica. I’m a writer. Whether I earn any money at it or not, I have to write. I can’t wait to learn more about you and I’m very excited to find another place to chat about writing!

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  2. “Whether I earn any money at it or not, I have to write.”

    I completely agree with this in my own life as a writer. I don’t just do this; I am this.

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