Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Complete and Utter Fraud

My guest today is debut author, Jessa Slade. She discusses the changes that come with going from unpublished to published. The feelings of disbelief and the need to pinch yourself because you can't believe it's no longer a dream but reality. The checking to see if what is felt is excitement or terror--perhaps both?

Thanks so much, Sia, for giving me a chance to blog with you. I’m especially happy to be here because sometimes I still feel like it’s impossible that I am here.

Last month, I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference in Washington DC. Although I’ve been to writers’ conferences before, this was my first time as a published author. I was so excited to be going since I got to wear a First Sale ribbon, which I’d longingly admired on new authors over the many, many years of my writing apprenticeship. I donned the name badge with eager pride. The ribbon—shiny and pink—fluttered at the bottom like a challenge to a very small, somewhat effeminate bull.

Bull, as in bullsh!t.

The Bull of BS has long been my nemesis. I picture it like the red bull from Peter S. Beagle’s THE LAST UNICORN. The Bull rears its pointy-horned head whenever I clamber over the fence that divides me from my dreams, when I take a few steps outside my comfort zone, when I start to think maybe—finally—I know where I’m going, and maybe—finally—I have the right to be there. The Bull of BS has an unerring eye for uncertainty, scents fraudulence on the breeze at one part per billion, and eats eager pride for breakfast.

And the Bull of BS had me in its crosshairs.

I’m not ashamed to say I ran. (Okay, I’m a little ashamed, but eager pride goeth before a poking in the backside by the Bull of BS.) I ran back to the bar, back to the safety of my writing friends because I knew they’d understand.

Fellow paranormal romance author Annette McCleave whose first book DRAWN IN DARKNESS comes out in September, drank a spiked hot chocolate with me and captured the sentiment best: "I'd been unpublished a long time. I was good at it. Now [after selling a book] I feel like I fell off a cliff. I'm starting over." She included a dramatic hand gesture, which mimed a Wyle E. Coyote-style 90-degree plummet over a precipice.

Selling a book doesn’t make you a master; it makes you the apprentice, back at the bottom again.

During the conference, fellow writers congratulated me on the first sale, and inevitably they added, “You must be so excited!” Hmm, let me check... Elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, breathlessness, sleeplessness... That’s either excitement, or terror!

Maybe both as I hop the fence into the field of dreams, into the fray of being a debut novelist. From my first big outing as a published author, I learned a few things that maybe someday will boost me from apprentice (again) to journeyman:

  • There’s always something more to learn, and in the learning comes confidence. Going to workshops and talking to other writers—and this time, talking to my editor and agent—I realized I have indeed learned a few things since the days when I accidentally told parts of my story from the dog’s point of view. That’s progress equivalent, for example, to an apprentice blacksmith not nailing his pants to a horse’s hoof. Yay me! Except there’s always something more to learn so I imagine I’ll never quite get to the end no matter how many times I get to The End.

  • It’s not as serious as I thought. Seriously. I can’t play the wise and thoughtful writer. Not even on TV. Nobody’d believe it, what with the Bull of BS drooling over my shoulder. Taking my writing seriously but not myself so much has eased some of the pressure. This flies in the face of confidence-building how-to articles that tell you to fake it ‘til you make it, but every time I admit to someone that I secretly suspect I am making this all up, they completely understand. And most feel the same! Turns out, there are a lot of us sneaking along the Bull’s fence, wanting to take the risk. Turns out, a lot of us have jumped the fence only to slip in a cowpie. Talk about instant friendships...

  • I might have to hear it, but I don’t have to listen to the voice of doubt. This seems simple and obvious, I know, but with the Bull looming right there it’s really hard to meditate on those positive affirmations. Usually the best I can do is pretend, but that counts for a lot because I’m a fiction writer, and we make things up all the time.

Of course, I’m excited to finally have a story I can share with others. I’m also happy, grateful and determined. And terrified. Selling a book didn’t make me a faster writer (sadly), or more self-assured or less introverted. I didn’t suddenly become the brave and graceful toreador, meeting the Bull’s charge with my crimson cape flying. Nope, I only have a pink ribbon. And that’ll have to be enough.

Well, that and a cup of spiked hot chocolate and writing friends.

Has there ever been a time when you thought everybody could see right through your fa├žade? How did you deal? Afterward, did the experience give you more confidence to pursue your dreams?


Jessa Slade has always adored doggerel verse, overwrought imagery and hyper-extended metaphors. She tries desperately (and often hopelessly) to rein in these dangerous impulses.On the plus side, she only rarely writes about herself in the third person.She lives in Portland, Oregon, with a musician who feeds her, a shelter dog who walks her, and a pair of nocturnal geckos that keep her company during the wee writing hours.

You can visit Jessa:


Jessa Slade said...

Hi, Sia. Glad to be here first thing (12:07 a.m.) on a Wednesday morning. I'm working on revisions for Book 2 which should be innoculation against doubt, right? I mean, it's good there IS a Book 2.

I think that should have been point 4 in my list above, and probably the best advice: Just. Keep. Writing.

Tonya Kappes said...

Wow Jessa, I love how you look at your success. I would start all over with the pink ribbon on my side!! LOL. As an aspiring writer-I love to hear published author's stories about their first sale. It continues to give me light and hope!!

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Good morning.

Jessa, your post was great. It made me laugh and hope. Hope that you'll get that Bull off your back and hope that I'll have that situation to deal with one day.

I used to sing for a living. At least 5 nights a week, I would get up on that stage and belt out the tunes. I did this for about 10 years. I know I can sing but I always wondered if I was good enough. I faked my confidence most of the time. Your Bull didn't allow me to pursue my dream to its fullest. I wanted to get a record deal but I never went for it.

I hope that despite your Bull, you continue going for it and I hope that with this dream and I can ease past him too.

Barb writing as Elle J Rossi

~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome Jessa. After I posted your article, blogger went through fits, and wouldn't let me back on. Sheesh.

Lessee, I have coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. *rummaging through the fridge, I have two kinds of juices...butter for the muffins...maralade, honey, Jams, hmmm...oh yah, cream cheese...

Homemade muffins, check
Fresh scones, check
Bagels, check
utencils, check
Coffee Bar set and ready to go, check

I think we're ready...

~Sia McKye~ said...

Btw, I love the tough, good looking guy on your cover. hmmm, you think we can have him stop by later?

I like the point you made: "Selling a book doesn’t make you a master; it makes you the apprentice, back at the bottom again."

I've had other friends who have gotten contracts this past year and I've seen that point reaffirmed more than a few times.

Judi Fennell said...

Man, Jessa, you nailed it! You. Are. Not. Alone.! :)

Great meeting you at National and seeing you around the loops! Now to see you on the lists!

Kat Sheridan said...

Jessa, nice to meet you, and loved the way you told your story! Still aspiring here, but I'm becoming a master at it! And yes, I've been there with the BS thing. I used to be a VP of an IT department. I'd be there leading a meeting full of high level folks, and all the while thinking "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" I mean, me? Doing that? It helped to think they were probably thinking the same thing about themselves! Congrats on the book, and good luck!

Sia, coffee and a bagel with a schmear, will ya, sweetie?

Jessa Slade said...

Tonya, that light of hope is definitely pink tinted :)

Elle, that wondering if we're good enough is just... hard. You sang for ten years, I've been seriously writing about that long, and still, that worm of doubt. We hear about it so much, it must have adaptive benefits; some how our ancestors needed that trait to survive. But at the cost of our dreams? I wish my neocortex could overcome that primitive old fear.

Judi, no WAY do you still feel like a fraud! Not with the new trilogy. C'mon, you're supposed to tell us that at SOME point we know we rock. Well, I'll say it then -- you rock!!!

Kat, "VPIT" sounds like a super-secret organization of some kind :) And actually "Master of Aspiration" is an even better title.

Sia, I'm having cinnamon-sugar toast, so your coffee bar is much appreciated.

jraff11 said...

Jessa, insightful discussion. I think we all have fears when we cross bridges into new realms, but before you know it you're considered an expert. Congratulations on getting that first book published. You're clearly doing the right stuff. I hope I get to have the experience you are describing soon and will be able to compare notes with you.

James Rafferty

Jessa Slade said...

James, comparing notes now is good too :) A lot of what changes after "The Call" is merely ("merely," ha!) the source of the pressure. After you sell, more people are depending on you to do your work. Before you sell, your DREAMS are depending on you.

Now that you say bridges, I'm picturing the rickety nightmare from the original Land of The Lost; you know, that swaying rope walkway over an endless abyss. And off we go!

Sheila Deeth said...

Hi Jessa! So nice to see you in blogspace after meeting you at Rose City. I love the article. And oh how I want one of those ribbons - but the bulls are scary...

Sheila Deeth said...

By the way, Sia. I hope you don't mind but I got a Heartfelt Blogger Award and thought your blog deserved one too.

Delilah Marvelle said...

Hey Jessa!
Great post! You nailed every point beautifully (as always). I don't think it matters where you are in your career, terror and excitement go hand in hand. I am finding that terror is actually a good thing. It holds me accountable for my writing. Excitement is also a good thing as it will balance the terror from consuming every aspect of my writing and give me those brilliant moments of actually enjoying myself. Rather than
sh!tting myself. Though I do make sure to keep toilet paper by my desk at all times...

terripatrick said...

Love the BULL metaphor. So true!
Since I read a few (multi-pub, best-seller) author blogs, I've heard the BULL never really leaves. It's often looking over your shoulder, making sure you're putting forth the best effort. That's where the friends and support helps the most. Even the Journeyman needs to know others appreciate his craftsmanship.

So I guess writing truly is a continuing journey, and each stage is a new precipice. But you've got that first layer of wings now, in pink.

Jessa Slade said...

Sheila, you get the pink ribbon at nationals, and then you get a white rose from the local chapter. I'm imagining we could use them as some sort of whip-and-chair against the Bull...

Ms. Marvelle, you -- like Judi -- are supposed to tell us newbies that it gets sooo much easier. But I know your latest sale(saleS!) to HQN was every bit the rollercoaster. Oh well, doesn't terror have some sort of scouring effect on our arteries? Sure feels like it.

Hi, Terri! I think the first pink wings are moth sized :) Eventually we move up to monarch butterfly sized. Then parakeet. Finally, someday, I think we get our albatross wings when we get to stay aloft for days without effort. Hey, we can dream!

Jessa Slade said...

Wait, I want to revise that last comment. I want pterodactyl wings!

Ha, me swooping down on pterodactyl wings... That'd get the Bull running!

Anonymous said...

Great blog! In our quest for publication, we often fail to see the other side. Before publication all we can see is the goal: getting that first book published. I've heard other writers say that after publication comes the fear that they can't do it again. As Jessa said: it's like starting all over at the bottom again. I'd like to experience that someday. :)

Love the bull of B.S.! How very apt.

Julie Zimmer George

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful sharing of your feelings, doubts and triumphs! May there be many more of the latter in your future!

Glenda A Bixler

Jessa Slade said...

Julie, every day is a new blank page. (Um, unless I didn't finish yesterday's page, and then it's a half blank page, but you know what I mean.) It's funny how that's both liberating and agonizing.

Glenda, more triumphs for all! And maybe just enough doubt to keep us honest :)

Hmm, which makes me wonder: How else do our doubts serve us? They can't be all bad. (Because there is no true black or white in my world.)

VA said...

When I play the fraud it certainly doesn't make me any stronger, intelligent, or increase any of my skills for a prolonged period of time. Really, it lasts as long as the act of imitating. But...the acting does get easier. Personally I hate the "my heart is going to explode" feeling though no one can see it. Hope they treat the corpse nicely enough and that's all.

Jessa I do want to thank you for allowing me to enjoy and perhaps stay in my mist of illusion. The fairytale land of writing, but not publishing. The idea of climbing the next ladder is not that enticing.

Congratulations on your book. May it bring you much joy, and hopefully less terror for #2.

Jessa Slade said...

Hope they treat the corpse nicely enough
LOL, VA. We're writers, so I think we at least get to write our own epitaphs!

As a total aside, I am currently covered in magenta toner from a printer cartridge mishap (okay, I admit it, I was trying to bypass OEM sunset restrictions using a push pin, a piece of strapping tape, and a Dove chocolate) at my day job. Must be my pink day!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Jessa, magenta looks mahvalous on you dahling, lol! hmmm Dove chocolate. Now THAT makes you look even better.

Doubts, as least for me, act as goad. I'm not the type to let doubts overwhelm me. I have to conquer them. I think if you can vision something you can accomplish it, but you have to be looking for the path and have a positive attitude. Writing friends help with that as well as surrounding yourself with positive people.

Plus I have these nifty leather boots with heels, and a whip. I beat the doubt demons into submission. Down side? I HATE demon blood on my boots--messes up the shine.

Here's my card, Doubt Demons? Have stiletto boots, will travel. I'll slay them, you get rid of the mess. May I suggest Denny's clean up Service. :-)

aries18 said...

Hi Jessa, Nice to meet you here at Sia's blog. Your gift for words, masterful. I laughed at your Bull of BS and I recognize him from my own life.

I've heard the same sort of worry "someone will recognize I'm a fraud" from a lot of different people, mostly those in the arts, actors, writers, painters, etc. No worries for you, I can see your talent at a glance.I'll be on the lookout for your book Jessa.

Sia, you have given us another inspirational blog guest. Always the best of the best from you.

Thanks. Have a sunny day both of you.

Jessa Slade said...

Sia, you're so funny! Ferris Archer, the demon-slaying hero in my book, has a 24-hour cleaning service that has started locking its doors when he comes around. I'll give him your card instead!

Aries, I have a lot of musician and painter friends, and you're right; many of them suffer the same doubts. I wonder, are we just more neurotic than the general public? I find that hard (or maybe just don't want) to believe! Maybe it's because it's so hard to be empirically sure you're "right" when it comes to a story, song or picture.

If you're a plumber, you know you have it right when the water runs clear. If you're a mechanic, you know you have it right when the engine purrs. But a story... maybe it shouldn't be clear, but dark; maybe it shouldn't purr, but roar. How do you know, other than completely immersing yourself? And then how do you know which way is up!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Just got your Arc Jessa--Well Yesterday, I think. Haven't had the chance to start it but I will soon. Thank you for the bookmark, at least I get to see your hot hero.

This must be a pink day, lol!

ptbertram said...

I've learned one unexpected thing while learning to write, promote, create an online persona -- If you present yourself as the person you want to be, after a while the facade becomes the real you, more real, perhaps, than the real you. And that builds confidence.

Jessa Slade said...

Hi, Pat! I follow your FB writing symposia. Lots of great discussion there.

Creating the facade is a good way to hide from the Bull :) Srsly tho, I agree that projecting -- flashlight style -- does give us a path to follow.

Sia, glad you got the ARC. Sorry, I forgot to warn you about the very pink cover.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lol! No problem. I've received a lot of ARCs. Amazing the differences from publisher to publisher. :-)

Other Lisa said...

@Jessa - After you sell, more people are depending on you to do your work. Before you sell, your DREAMS are depending on you.

Oh, man. This is exactly what I've been going through (I recently made my first sale). It just feels...rather weighty when you realize you're no longer the only person with something at stake in your writing.

Jessa Slade said...

Weighty... Yes, that explains the tension around my shoulders.

BTW, congrats on your first sale, Lisa! Isn't it exciting? ;)

Other Lisa said...

I have to say, this is one of those experiences that pretty much lives up to all the good stuff I ever fantasized about it. Well, except for the six figure advance that had a prominent role in my fantasies! Otherwise, it's been pretty dang awesome all around.

In fact I think Sia is posting my take on getting published in the very near future. Maybe even tomorrow.

Other Lisa said...

Oops, not tomorrow. I forget when. Soon.