If you manage to find your name on my blog, Mr. Keyes, I would like you to know how much your book, The Writer’s Book of Hope, means to me. I often joke about the Writer’s Disease and its ailments, yet there are some serious psychological effects to being a struggling writer. You really hit it on the nose when you described, in your book, AFD Syndrome. For most of my life, I wondered whether I was the only one who felt this mix of anxiety, fear and despair. Since none of my family or friends write, at least with the intent to publish, none of them can relate to what I am going through. I often wondered whether I was the only one, whether I was simply too sensitive, too weak to handle rejection, too feeble emotionally to be a writer. Now I know that I am not alone. It’s like being diagnosed with a mental disorder, like OCD, then taking comfort in knowing others have gone through it. Your book is now my lifeline, my go-to guide for when despair rears its monstrous head. For decades, questions about writing and writers have plagued my mind, and you’ve provided the answers. You’ve demystified the world of agents and publishers for me, taken them down from that pedestal where they sat like gods with the power to destroy me with a few cruel criticisms. Intellectually, I’ve always known they were just people, but imagination is a powerful thing, especially when you write, and when so much of your life is invested in a response to a query letter, a letter from a person you’ve never even seen or heard, it’s hard not to succumb to dread. What if they hate my writing? What if they tell me I’m no good, that I’ll never make it? Now I know that editors and agents pass on novels that become classics, that they often choose what appeals to them (which is only natural) and that a rejection of my book is not a rejection of me as a writer. The other great thing you’ve done for me, Mr. Keyes, is to give me a good ass kicking. For years, I’ve worried that I can’t be a successful writer, because I have so little time, because I work in a restaurant and have bills and a family. But by the examples you’ve given, of writers who’ve managed to succeed despite life’s many hardships, you’ve allowed me no excuse for not writing.
And so, Mr. Ralph Keyes, if you’re out there, this is to say thank you. Though we’ve never met, I’ll think of you as my encourager, and I’ll be sure to add your name to the acknowledgments page of my next novel.
One textbook from my USF days was the 1992 edition of Flash Fiction, featuring 72 short stories under 1000 words. Although I didn’t give it much thought at the time, since I was only interested in writing novels, I have since found really short stories ideal for the attention-deficit, information-saturated internet age. And so let me introduce a new segment to the Writer’s Disease: FLASH FICTION, fiction under 1000 words, starting with The Protagonist.
I went to my parent’s house last week to interview my father for his biography, and I ended up rummaging through the attic again to find a real treasure, the Writer’s Market 1991. It was from my first real stab at publication. I sent four query letters for my first novella, Dynotus Adventures, the story of a Greek demigod from an alternative Earth. It went something like this: After the gods of all the world’s pantheons duke it out for supremacy, only Zeus and Thor remain. In a titanic battle, the two gods kill each other off, and a child is born from Zeus and Amaterasu Omikami (of the Japanese Shinto religion). Their offspring, Zor, inherits Thor’s hammer and becomes the supreme god of the universe. As is the tradition of all Greek heroes, Zor has his way with a mortal woman, and she gives birth to Dynotus. Did I mention I was a weird 14 year old? Needless to say, this masterpiece of literature was never accepted by the four publishers I queried. But deep down, I knew my writing wasn’t quite ready for the world, so I set my dreams aside to further hone my skills. As for the Writer’s Market, it lay forgotten until last week. In back of the cover, I found this inscription:
|“To my favorite author, whose imagination will never die and whose spirit will remain Forever Free.”|
And that brought back memories of Dean Ristich. I am almost ashamed to admit that The Secret Life of Nick Alimonos makes no mention of him, but I can honestly say that without his encouragement, I would not have kept going all these years. Dean was a pizza cook at my father’s restaurant, and he was as different from my family as could be. He was calm, maintained the innocence of youth despite being in his thirties, and he valued imagination above all else. It was easy for him to become a father figure to me when my actual father was too busy with work. At the time, I was too young to comprehend labels like hippie, which is what many people considered him, but that was for the best, because I was able to judge him without any preconceived notions. Dean always took the time to listen to me, to read my stories, to entertain my crazy ideas. While my parent’s pursued money, he taught me how to appreciate the natural world, to truly wonder at all the plants and animals in the woods behind Country Pizza Inn. Much of his world-view made an indelible impression on me, and he ultimately inspired the character of Xandr’s mentor, QuasiI, from Ages of Aenya. Together we used to read my Masters of the Universe mini-comics, discussed endlessly how to make a time machine, and spent an entire summer building a raft out of a bed frame and three oil drums. In 1980, Thanksgiving Day, when I was five years old, he took me on the back of his dirt bike to the theater to watch The Empire Strikes Back.
One day, Dean had to go back home to Illinois. He was, after all, a drifter. Everything he owned was in his van. It was one of the most devastating things to happen to me. I remember telling him that he was my life-line; after all, I was a neglected child. But he had to go. We kept in touch for years over the telephone, and when I was 13 he sent me the Writer’s Market, because he believed in my writing potential when no one else did.
I owe much to Dean Ristich. If you’re out there, Dean, this post is for you.