I didn’t start out to be an also-ran. Like hundreds of thousands of other writers, I began with every intention of becoming very rich and very famous. Life plays tricks like that, doesn’t it? Life sets up a goal or goals, organizes the competition, and then sends you out to combat the elements. While a few make it to the finish line, cross into the end-zone, reach the summit, or otherwise touch the metaphorical ending to their quest, there are many like me who celebrate success with a lower-case s.
The first story I published and was paid for came early in my career, though at the time, when I was 23, I didn’t think it early at all. I’d been writing since I was in grammar school, penning plays and stories of adventure and science fiction as well as deeply felt narratives about life and love and the usual adolescent concerns.
I published some in the “small magazines,” which paid nothing, but provided exposure. Supposedly, anyway. I still publish in online venues that pay nothing. I hope I’m getting the implied exposure.
At age 23, I sold a story to the type of publication I can politely describe as “a girly magazine” (when I was in the Air Force we had a more vulgar term for this kind of periodical). For the time (1968), the pay was pretty good: $85. That paid my rent for a month, bought 3 weeks’ worth of groceries (I didn’t eat very much or very well in those days), and still left a buck or two for some loose tobacco so I could roll cigarettes.
I figured I was set to go.
Wrong. I didn’t see another piece published for 10 more years. Looking back, I know what went wrong, what I should have done to correct the situation. That’s all hindsight, the 20-20 vision we have when we’re older and wiser and feeling foolish that we missed the chance when it was there to be taken.
I never did get discouraged though, continuing to write not only science fiction but stories of a more general nature, and plays, all of them dramas with only rare moments of humor. I wrote non-fiction as well, and found limited success. I wrote technical works and made a big splash, much like a fat diver cannon-balling into the swimming pool, with the water rising high in the air and then falling just as quickly.
Somehow, I found my way back to science fiction, with only an occasional foray into story genres of other blends. When I retired from my tech career I finally had the time to devout to writing. As much time as I wanted. No more getting up at 4AM to write until 6 and then get ready for work. No more sneaking in an hour or two of writing while pretending to be working on software documentation. No more thinking of story plotlines and jotting them down while coding a program module.
With this newfound time, I’ve achieved newfound success, albeit with that lower case s.
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