Unconventional: My Journey To A Publishing Contract

When I first decided to get serious about this story rolling around in my head for the last ten years, I didn’t really know what getting serious would entail. I fleshed out the idea in my mind, did some research to get me started, and I wrote.
I began like I did when I was fifteen, the first time this story showed up; I picked up a few Five Star five-subject notebooks and I started writing. Two months and a little over two notebooks later, I had handwriting that was completely illegible and a complete first draft. I didn’t know quite what to do then, so I got more notebooks and wrote the second book.
I got an adorable mini notebook computer for Christmas that year and so began the second draft. This one was actually something I wasn’t embarrassed to share with (a select few) others.
Now what?
It turns out writing a story, as difficult as that is, is the easiest part. No one knows what to do next. I signed up to sites online, bought some books on the next step, found a few publishers that didn’t require agents and studied how to write a query letter. I printed off my entire manuscript with a sinking feeling in my stomach about the futile death of those trees. I collected my first rejection letters. I expected that. I thought of it as a rite of passage, like falling off a horse.
But the more I researched how to send in a successful submission, the more it seemed like that was impossible. I would be better off with an agent, but they seemed to be at least as hard to find. All the advice was, frankly, not very helpful. I began to feel like having a story to publish was the least of my concerns when it came to actually finding a publisher. I understood why everything was set up the way it was, but it didn’t help my frustration much.
The more I researched, the more it seemed the only route left to me would be self publishing. So I continued writing and revising, having fun if nothing else, and only casually watching the publishing industry.

Until a fateful day when I decided to share the beginning of my book with several hundred strangers for the first time, hoping for some feedback. Two days later one of the commenters messaged me saying he owned a publishing company and they were interested in a larger sample of my work.
For those who haven’t spent the last several years trying to figure out the publishing industry, I can’t express to you how much this does not happen. There are a plethora of reasons it doesn’t happen, but sometimes maybe the fates intervene a little. It’s a strange mix of feelings to be so excited and so cautious while trying to keep both feelings in check to sort through the more mundane and reasonable parts of the whole thing. So I approached the next step with a strange mixture of excitement and diligence, trying to learn more about Rambunctious Ramblings Publishing Incorporated, RRPI.
The reason the story to my publishing contract is so unconventional is because the publisher is unconventional. They noticed the things aspiring authors come up against with the current publishing industry, and they decided to offer something different.
They’ve put a focus on writers and the individuality of the creative process. They actively look for stories to bring to readers. And, what I think is most important, they are willing to engage with everyone. They give every submission a chance and, regardless of their decision on a piece, will offer feedback. Simply knowing your submission will be given a fair chance is really validating for those of us who have a story and can’t figure out how to tell it.
I’ve been warned a new company is a bigger risk, but it’s more exciting, too. I like the idea of being part of something different. I have never been a conventional person, my path to becoming published shouldn’t be, either.

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Creation Simulator

This is a prompt from Writer’s Digest with a limit of 500 words.

PROMPT:

As you close your eyes you feel as if you’re being lifted. Yes, higher and higher until you decide to open your eyes. You see a vast world before, one new to your eyes. A voice booms out: “This is yours now, craft it well.” How do you shape this world? What inhabits it? Are there sentient species? Have a ball!
Swirling galaxies of darkness. A piercing beacon washing everything in light, an aura of brightness. A vault of blue, immense and glistening.

***                     ***                   ***

Magnificent, towering mountains, their tops lost to snow and clouds. Green, rolling hills giving way to lush valleys of abundance. Clear, cool streams pouring into azure pools of seas.

Vast, arid spaces of wind and dust. The rust and ochre land breeds strength.

Radiating heat and sharp cold. Humid warmth cut through with cool breezes.

Beautiful, elegant creatures. Creatures that swim. Creatures that fly. Big, swift creatures. Small, quiet creatures. Giant, lumbering creatures. Sleek, slithering creatures.

No one is given dominion. No forbidden knowledge to be stolen. It is fruitful.

The strong from the desert take over the soft from the plenty. The rains falter, the blooms fail. Creeping, secretive things spread among the beautiful creatures, afflicting them. Heavy clouds hide the light and steal the warmth. Dominion never given is taken instead.

Ravenous shadows forge pandemonium. Destruction.

The harshness of the desert contrasts the beauty of the valley. Weakness feeds strength. Even without knowledge to tempt, the hunger is still there.

The heavy clouds open up. Streams swell to torrents. Murky seas rise to swallow everything.

Fear, pain and anger are rinsed away. Abounding mountains fall into green meadows, roll into teeming seas. There are no barren spaces. No weakness. Everything is equal in beauty and strength.

Nothing is fruitful. Lushness and blossoms are devoured. Strength wastes away, elegant creatures wither. Beautiful creatures turn the bounty to vastness. Creeping, secretive things return.

The insatiable shadows arrive.

Wind whips dust across the emptiness.

***
I suck a sharp breath and open eyes.

The collection of possibility is waiting before me. My head is still resonating from the booming voice.

Craft it well.

I stare into the raw creation, waiting for my sense to return.

Craft it well.

The swirling mass sparks and shifts.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes again. I hold the breath until I feel myself sinking down and away. The opportunity lost.

It’s better to leave it all to possibility than any kind of design.

Law of the Jungle

Alex Webber nudged the edge of the curtain back, disturbing the fabric as little as possible. He tilted his head to peer through the film of scum on the window, trying to present a small target. It wasn’t something he expected he would ever have to consider—being a small target.

Ophthalmologists are boring. No one wants to hear they have glaucoma, but you don’t get death threats over it. Nine to five, weekends off and holidays, handing out lollipop and sticker rewards; there was nothing to keep anyone awake at night. It was nothing innocuous, nothing exciting.

The hot roll from Alex’s stomach to the back of his mouth suggested he had more than enough excitement for a lifetime now.

There—did that shadow move? Alex’s hand dropped from the curtain and he pressed himself flat against the wall. His pulse throbbed in his ears, acid scalded his throat. His eyes fell to the bolt and chain securing the door, to the knob beneath them.

Seconds ticked by on his wristwatch, fighting through the roar in his ears to resonate inside his skull. Nothing else happened except Alex’s insides continuing to eat themselves, bile and acid intent on gnawing their way out. It took him fifteen minutes to work up the courage to draw the edge of the curtain back again. The shadow was still there. Maybe it hadn’t moved. Maybe it was from the railing post.

Alex melted away from the wall, watery legs carrying him over to a bed that gave off a myriad of creaks as he sank down. The sound grated on his nerves and there wasn’t much to shave away. All night long the bed creaked, squeaked and groaned. It announced his slightest movement, vying with the rattle of the air conditioner for the most obnoxious object in the room.

How did people sleep in places like this? Alex wiped his hand self-consciously on his trousers. The cheap polyester of the bedspread made his palm feel grimy even before he thought about the black light footage of what was on motel blankets.

How did he end up sitting here in the stains of dozens of bodily fluids? Despair threatened again to devour Alex. He fought it back with a long chug of the antacid he kept on the nightstand, suppressing the urge to gag. Rather than slip down his throat, the taste of chalk and mint clung to the insides of his mouth, coating his cheeks and tongue.

Alex forced the last swallow down, waiting for the soothing slide down his esophagus to offer something to his nerves too. It was useless though. Alex’s nerves felt jittered and fried beyond recovery. He scrubbed his palms over his face hoping to rub some semblance of sense into his head. How could any of this be real life—his real life?

The attorney said there were few laws regulating cyber bullying. She said a recent Supreme Court ruling only weakened any recourse Alex might have. But, Alex wasn’t dealing with an angry ex venting on social media, someone firebombed his practice. People vandalized his home. Before Alex could whisk his family away to the cabin in Vermont, someone spray painted ‘death to murderers’ on his garage, dumped some kind of red liquid all over his driveway, and left animal parts strewn through his yard. His children stumbled out into that mess.

Alex’s personal information—the personal information of his family—was all over the internet. His father-in-law barely escaped an angry mob that set upon his Porsche—the car was not so lucky. The video of people—furious, rioting people—flipping the car and climbing on top of it went viral. Alex couldn’t get past the kind of rage on those faces, in the threats filling every corner of the internet.

The outrage followed him to Vermont. Alex realized it was safer for his family if he fled alone. But, people found him everywhere—he was tracked down at each hotel he checked into even after he stopped using anything but cash.

He had been chased into this proverbial hole in the wall, and what a hole it was. Alex doubted rats could compete with the roaches infesting the place. He thought it was just as well he couldn’t sleep at night as the roaches were so bold they might begin to feast on him. When he first walked in he’d hoped the stench of stale cigarette smoke would at least keep the vermin away. It did not.

Glancing around the room at the two double beds, outdated TV, and alarm clock flashing 12:00, Alex had the surreal feeling again—surely he was about to wake up. It wasn’t as though he shot some unarmed kid, he killed a lion. Lions were killed every day. For the whole history of mankind men killed lions. It was the classic struggle of man versus beast; the simplest, most pure illustration of man’s dominion over nature. Not long ago he would have been welcomed as a hero. He killed a ferocious, dangerous animal. He didn’t know it was some kind of beloved mascot, he didn’t know it had a name. Who names a lion?

How was Alex supposed to know there was anything illegal about the hunt? He paid guides to be familiar with local laws and regulations, to take care of the paperwork. Tam promised an exciting hunt with a hard grin. His weathered, creased face spoke to his experience. Alex used Tam back in 2008 to hunt African oxen. The man could always find the animals, he knew every favorite spot, every hiding place. He seemed to have intimate knowledge of the animals and land. Alex trusted him.

When he saw the strap of the collar buried in the lion’s mane, something sunk into the pit of Alex’s stomach. The outfitters all stood back and no one said anything. He could tell from the pinch of Tam’s face that it wasn’t good. But this? He was the most hated man in the world, it seemed. Over a lion. The entire internet was in an uproar over the lion killer. They wanted blood.

A rhythmic tap-tap-tap at the door threatened the security of Alex’s sphincter.

“Mr. Webber, it’s me.” His bodyguard called through the door.

Alex’s hands trembled as he undid the locks to let Dan in. “You were gone a while.”

“I think we better leave tonight. Saw some guys talking to the front desk. Think they’re looking for you.”

“How do these people keep finding me?”

Dan lifted one heavy shoulder and let it drop. “Internet. People can find out anything on there. It’s a whole new world. The new frontier, I guess.” He flipped the curtain back to glance out toward the office.

Alex watched over Dan’s shoulder as a small crowd outside the motel office grew from four people to ten. The new jungle, he thought.

Alchemist.

Since antiquity, people have been drawn to the idea of taking something common and creating something extraordinary. Whether it was a recipe for eternal youth, the transformation of lead into gold, or understanding the divine, people have looked at the things around them and thought there must be a way to create something more.

So I have fallen into a long tradition. As a storyteller, I take words and create something more. I forge worlds and give them emotion and life. I weave people out of letters and spaces. I shape a blank sheet of paper into a soul.

Like so many before me, I too often find myself seeking an elusive end. But the rare moments when all the words are just right are more valuable than gold, more immortal than eternal youth, and as close to understanding the divine as any of us can hope to reach.

I invite everyone to join me on this exploration of The Alchemy of Words.