Thursday, January 19, 2012

Writing The Willow and the Stone

            Twenty-five years in the making, The Willow and the Stone is now less than two months from publication.  It all started with a dream … a really weird dream about vampires from outer space, of all things.  
            I’ve given up trying to analyze the bizarre things that show up in my nightmares.  Possibly fueled by my local bar’s free Friday night chicken wings and half-priced beer, I have a vague recollection of that wispy nocturnal fancy.  In this dream I was standing with a friend on a street corner when we caught sight of blue-skinned vampires heading our way.  I remember one sported a snow-white mohawk; apparently this was the punk rocker of the bunch.  He even had a black leather jacket. 
“It’s those aliens that landed,” my friend whispered to me.  “We’d better get out of here.”
            Pursued by these ridiculous yet terrible enemies, I found myself able to fly, or at least able to leap houses in a single bound.  It was this way that I escaped these creatures until I woke out of breath, desperate for coffee and Freud.
            That should have been the end of it.  This dream, admittedly stranger than most of what flits through my skull, should have been filed under the ‘I’m glad that’s over’ category and quickly forgotten.  But for some reason the idea of bloodsucking fiends from outer space preyed on my mind.  From that one little nugget sprouted the idea of enemy invaders who looked upon humans as cattle to feed upon.  The muse, a creature that nudged me lightly from time to time, pounced on me with merciless demand.  “Write it!” it growled, uncaring how ludicrous I found the premise.
            So I did.  And what I wrote was terrible.  No, actually ‘terrible’ would be a charitable description.  It was an abomination.
            But it was a start.  More importantly, it was the door I walked through that opened into the world of writing books and screenplays, which would become more of an obsession than a mere career choice. 
            Over the next nine years, my first real attempt to write a novel morphed into something that grew better with every re-write.  The humanoid vampire-esque aliens turned into insectile destroyers of worlds.  The two heroines, Carli and Renee, went from barely differentiated two-dimensional women to well-rounded and realized.  Renee became a badass chick, determined to survive.  Carli turned into a geeky telepath.  Other characters, helpful and villain alike, emerged from dim shadows to put their stamp on the story.
In 1996, I attended a writing conference and submitted The Willow and the Stone for critique and to compete in the Best Fiction and Best Overall Novel categories.  I doubted it would do anything in the competitions, and I cringed when I thought of the thorough bashing it would receive from the authors who would be weighing its merit.  I had the writing bug bad though, and I wanted to know once and for all if I was wasting my time or if it was worthwhile for me to pursue.
When I sat down with the published author who had been assigned to critique my story, I was a bundle of nerves.   But I smiled as friendly as I could, hoping for kindness.
She asked me, “Now which one are you?”
“Tamara Jock, ma’am.”
            Her slightly creased face grew more greatly creased with her smile.  “Oh, thank goodness.  I finally get to talk to someone who can write a decent story.”
            I could have screamed with joy.  I wasn’t the worst writer ever.
            There were problems in the novel to be worked out, of course.  She’d identified major lapses, technical flaws, and a serious issue with one of the main characters.  But she had a lot of good things to say, things that made me think I wasn’t on the wrong track at all.  Floating on her praise and eager to correct the mistakes I’d made in my manuscript, I left our meeting with a huge smile on my face.
            I attended the awards banquet, not so much hoping to win anything but simply to enjoy the camaraderie I’d discovered with my fellow aspiring authors.  We chatted and laughed.  A few people displayed nervous anticipation as the awards portion drew closer, praying their efforts had proven worthy of some acclamation.  
            I won’t bore you with anymore of that night except to tell you that The Willow and the Stone won prizes in both its categories.  I would have been over the moon to have received one Honorable Mention.  The night exceeded my hopes and proved to me that I was indeed a real writer.  I wasn’t wasting my time.
            In the subsequent 15 years since then, I’ve had to remind myself of that often.  I have lost count of the rejections from publishers that stated, “This is very good, but we’re going to pass on it for now.”  I’ve kept plugging along, polishing and re-writing Willow, writing other novels and screenplays that do well in contests, get accorded praise from professionals, but still never offered that elusive contract. 
At long last my firstborn, seeded by a bizarre dream that made no sense whatsoever, is finally going to be published.  I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that The Willow and the Stone will at last get its opportunity.

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