I had this idea for a coming-of-age-in-the-80s story back in the 80s, of course. It had numerous titles and unfinished outtakes, one sort-of complete extremely rough draft, and countless attempts at restarts over the years that all ended up in the trunk. Then I posted a short memoir about that time of my life on my LiveJournal. Then I had an idea to write about the music of that era that I loved so much…which has been on the backburner and in the trunk for a good number of years now, even though I named my music blog after it.
And now, thanks to the imminent release of the movie Shoplifters of the World (a ‘one crazy night’ film based on city kids shocked by the breakup of the Smiths in late 1987) and my, shall we say, adverse reaction to the trailer (this is totally not how I remember the 80s being, at least in central Massachusetts at any rate), I’m contemplating reviving the idea AGAIN.
Considering that I’m already writing two novels, I’m not sure if I have the time or the brainspace for a third — although my brain is of course responding with ‘you never know until you try’. I’m not taking it too seriously right now, but I’m playing around with how I’d properly work on it so it’s a sustainable project and not just another moody roman à clef. I want it to be enjoyable and relatable. I want it to be funny as well as emotional. I want it to show that you can write a story about outsider kids in a small town finding and supporting each other without having to resort to the tired trope of drugs, sex and ennui. And of course I want it to have a killer soundtrack filled with all my favorite college rock favorites and some great obscurities!
It’s one of those ideas that keeps kicking at my shins and demanding attention even when I should be focusing on the other two projects I have going. I’ve already contemplated using the currently-neglected 750Words platform to plan it out (or alternately, going full lo-fi to set the mood by working it out with notebooks and index cards). And I’m even thinking of writing it in tandem with a fourth project: the long-delayed Walk in Silence music book itself. And more to the point, it’s an old project that I’ve always put aside mainly because I’d never quite figured out how to approach it. But now that I have the time and the inclination, it’s tempting me more than ever.
I’m not promising anything, but we’ll see where this takes me…
Back when I first started taking my writing seriously — I mean, as in thinking “Hey, I kinda like doing this, I could see myself doing it professionally” and setting out a goal to actually finish a full novel, way back before I actually knew how to do it — was in the mid to late 80s when I was in my mid-teens. Out of that came the Infamous War Book (basically a Red Dawn pastiche), which took me three years to finish, in between false starts, obsessive planning, revisions, homework, and hanging out with friends. On the one hand it was kind of expected I’d be a writer, considering my dad was a local reporter and historian, and well known in the area; many adults would not have been surprised if I followed in his footsteps. On the other hand, though, I was following a path I didn’t think any other kids my age would have followed. I knew a handful of kids who wrote stories alongside me, but I think their interest was more on what many nowadays would consider the fanfic level. A fun thing to do as a hobby, but their career paths lay elsewhere.
Around the same time, I’d discovered college radio (which I still go on about to this day, as you can tell from my other blog). After years of listening to commercial radio and being fed a cross section of classic rock and pop hits, the college radio thing hit me like a revelation: you don’t have to be commercial, you know. I was completely drawn to the DIY aspect of it all; they weren’t exactly writing and recording music for the fame, they were writing and recording because they wanted to. And I had a real respect for that. It was a real inspiration on multiple levels for me, from my clothes to the way I thought and acted. It also inspired my writing quite a bit — in the latter half of the IWN, you can really see a change to a much darker mood and style. I may not have been the leather-and-mohawk punk; I was more the Morrissey, hiding in my bedroom with my books and my music and writing the most brilliant things. I eventually grew out of the self-important lifestyle, but the thirst for creativity remained.
I was thinking about this the other day while listening to an 80’s-themed radio show (on a college radio station, natch). In the late 80s I had a huge burst of creativity that lasted from about 1987 to when I graduated in 1989. Having finished the IWN I quickly wrote a silly little screenplay (basically a John Hughes pastiche), taught myself how to play bass, started a band with a few friends and wrote many of the lyrics, started writing another novel and other small bits and pieces, and started writing a LOT of poetry. I knew a lot of it was going to be crap, and I totally understood that if I was going to release any of it, it would need a hell of a lot of revision and rewrites. But the most important thing was that I had a goal: I was going to get these things out into the wild, one way or another. My life’s career was going to be as a writer! The major goal was to try to get my writing released by a major publisher, but barring that, I could always go indie. I came to know about vanity publishers, small independents and print-on-demand, thanks to years of studying Writer’s Market and seeing all kinds of punk zines in record stores.
The decision to go DIY for the Mendaihu Universe stories was always there, it was just that I wanted to try my hand at the pros first. One of the reasons for that was to learn and understand how it works on that end of the business. I wanted to see what they accepted and how it went from manuscript to printed book. I’d even submitted it to a small number of agents and publishers over the years. But after finishing the trilogy and a few years of further revising and rewriting, I knew I was at the point that they were ready (or closer to that point than ever before), but did not feel that I wanted to spend even more years trying to sell it to an agent or a publisher. It was high time to put them out there before I ended up over-revising and ruining them. Going DIY meant that I was going to do a good chunk of the “backstage” work myself, and I was up for it.
I’m lucky in that this is a perfect time for it. There are legitimate self-publishing companies out there like Smashwords and BookBaby and CreateSpace, who do all the technical bits and bobs while you focus on the creative end of things. You can hire a cover artist (or buy a stock photo and fiddle with it on Photoshop if you have the ability and the inclination). You can hire an editor. You can even find a few authors you can hire to critique your work. And with the help of social media and the internet, you can even give yourself a bit of promotion. The only prerequisite is that you have an understanding of what you want and how you want to get there.
Every step so far for me has been DIY, from the story, to the editing (with the help of a few beta readers and a partial critique from a pro), to the cover, to the formatting and uploading to Smashwords, all the way up to this blog. Hell, even my picture in the About the Author link here was done using my nice camera set on a timer and a slight touch-up on Photoshop. The promotion will be a little trickier, because I’m still trying to find what works, but I’m taking the Indiana Jones approach on it (“I dunno, I’m just making it up as I go”) and remaining aware of any potential avenues that might pop up. It’s definitely been an interesting couple of months, but I’m having a hell of a fun time with it. I’m almost tempted to make this my primary avenue for my writing.
I’m certain that’s the alternageek in me saying that, reveling in the nonconformity of it all.