Dark Midmorning of the Soul

Farpoint 2014_MikeIt was 10:00, maybe 10:30. I was sitting across a big metal desk from my editor at Warner Books and for a seriously painful twenty minutes he kept calling me “kid.”

As in “That’s a great idea, but we’re going to be able to do any more books together, kid. You know how it is, don’cha, kid? That’s the way it goes sometimes, kid.”

He was about five years younger than I was. Something about that made the “kid” thing sound more than a little irritating, and would have done so even if this editor wasn’t using the term to fire my behind.

(Since then, only one person has called me “kid” repeatedly, and that’s my dentist. Usually during root canal. There’s a certain resonance there.)

Anyway, I had written four novels for Warner, a trilogy and a standalone. None of them had been promoted real well. The first one, which was by far the most important as far as my career was concerned, never showed up in one of the biggest book store chains in the country. At all. Ever.

Whoops. That happens sometimes, kid.

Hammer coverSo after four books’ worth of so-so sales, Warner was cutting me loose. Along with a bunch of other new and mid list authors, no doubt. Hey, publishing can be as cruel as any other business, sometimes more so, and nobody had told me I had to choose that way to make a living.

So it wasn’t a matter of my feeling sorry for myself. It was just so…what’s the opposite of  uplifting? It was that.

My first reaction was to beg. I could write better. I could take less money. I desperately didn’t want to stop being an author, especially so soon after I had begun.

Fortunately, I stopped short of the begging thing. Instead, I did something I never would have expected of myself. I got angry.

Screw you, I thought at the editor, though I didn’t say it out loud. Who are you to pass judgement on me? Because that’s the thing about writing: You can accept constructive criticism, sure, and you can actually learn something from pretty much anyone, but in the end the only one whose judgement counts is your own.

I’ve told my kids this a thousand times: Don’t let anyone else define you. That’s your job. Only you get the opportunity to tell yourself who you are.

So even before I walked out of that editor’s office, I was working on a very healthy anger. And it paid off. It helped me keep my head up through that long, grey subway ride home. And before terribly long, my agent called and asked me if I had ever thought about writing…well, Star Trek novels…which turned out to be a pretty good gig for me for a nice, long while.

Now, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some dark days in there, days when I cursed God and man. Times when it looked like my best days were behind me, and maybe I was lucky to have had even that little taste of success.

But in the end, I think those times made me a stronger person and a stronger writer. They made me appreciate what I had even more. And when the next dark time came along, I was able to cope with it a little better.

Because that’s the writer’s portion, folks. It ain’t all roses. But when it is…boy, do those suckers smell sweet. And they make up plenty for the bad times.

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