Wednesday, February 26, 2014

One Dark Secret About Wendy S. Russo

I didn’t publish my first book, but not for lack of trying. I boxed a trilogy, bound, with cute little labels on each of six parts, and mailed it to Bantam Spectra in 1999. I felt I owed it to my then-boyfriend to submit it after the two years I spent working on something that had ZERO chances of being picked up. It was, after all, Star Wars fan fiction.

Imagine my surprise when, ten months later, the mailman left the box at my doorstep with a  letter from Bantam Spectra praising my nerve and politely declining my submission. It impressed me so much that I sent them a thank you card because all that time, I honestly thought it was buried somewhere in a Staten Island landfill. Had I sent that box today, I am positive that it would be dropped in the trash unopened.

I didn’t publish my second book, a two volume epic fantasy, either. Or my third, a short contemporary novel. And I struggled for ten years on an epic fantasy that I worked into the fiction equivalent of meringue whipped way too long.

January Black is the first of my stories that I felt strongly enough about to research publication. It went through eight rounds of editing, endured dozens of rejections (mostly by non-response), and nearly missed an opportunity due to an interested acquiring editor having a serious family crisis. (A year later, she lost her sixteen-year-old son to cancer.) It was finally released by Crescent Moon Press on January 15, 2013, and since then, it has been enjoyed by people all over the world. It’s received high praise from Conservative Teachers of America, and won a silver medal at the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Awards.

Darkly Delicious YA asked me to talk about one dark secret. Today, I will admit to being very insecure. When I got that box back from Bantam Spectra, I shoved it in a corner of my closet because couldn’t bear to throw it away. It had somehow managed to avoid being tossed in the trash by people who had no reason to care, so how I could I, it's creator, be so flippant? At the same time, just looking at the box reminded me of what the letter from them said. I shoved it in the back of the closet so I wouldn’t be mortified by own audacity every time I saw it.

I am an author, and I am also a creature of doubt. I feel like I should be confident in my storytelling abilities, but I’m not. I feel like I should have being a published author figured out, but I don’t. I feel like I should have my first series in the bag and working on a second. So why am I struggling to progress on either series I’ve started since completing January Black in 2010?

Honestly, that book--despite the errors that readers have told me are on every page—is a tough act to follow. Readers have praised it highly. Conservative Teachers of America is hoping that I will continue writing novels that present traditional values in a way kids will absorb without realizing. And did I mention it won an award?! How in the f*@&  do I follow that but with a bigger award?

It’s a reality, for any author, that there will be a book that does not meet the readers’ expectations, one that just won’t be a good as the last one. It has to happen sooner or later. But, you know what thought creeps up on me while trying to beat Level 154 of Candy Crush? What if I never write anything that compares to my first novel? What if the readers who have enjoyed it are disappointed by everything else I put out? Can I change my genre? Can I start writing LGBT erotica or even open-door sex scenes without readers thinking I’ve sold out or lost my way. In twenty years, when I look at my backlist, will I think to myself, “Well that was a slow roll down hill?”

Of course, if I don’t publish another book, I won’t have a backlist for readers to have an opinion on one way or another. Instead, I’ll be a one-hit-wonder, without a hit, and I’m insecure about that as well.

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  1. I have a list of books I've written and will never sell. I think most writers do. And I don't think you're alone in your insecurity. I know I worry that my readers won't like my next book. But you put it best, you won't have a back list for readers to have an opinion if you don't publish another book.

  2. Wendy--You are not alone! Thank you for sharing such a wonderfully vulnerable post. I think most people who put themselves out there creatively feel this way--frequently. I think we just have to write the next book that is in us, regardless of the labels our last book collected along the way. I can see how it would feel like a struggle to write something more racy after being lauded by "conservative teachers." Many writers solve the "identity" issue by writing under multiple names. Either way, looking forward to your next wonderful creation!

  3. I've always heard you have to write about five novels before what you write is publishable. I've always considered my first non-publishable five my practice, my stepping-stones. Consider them your further back backlist. :p

  4. Wendy, thanks for sharing and saying things many of us feel. Writing is a lonely introspective business, giving us lots of time to doubt and feel insecure about our writing, ourselves and everything else, even without the myriad rejections. But you kept going. And January Black is an awesome novel with a well-deserved readers choice award. Keep writing, and let the insecurities fall where they may ;-)