Taking the Scenic Route
My journey to becoming a published author has been filled with detours, potholes, meandering side trips, self-doubt, and an amazing amount of naiveté. I’ve heard from some that my personal story inspires, while others have had a less positive response. One person indicated that I hadn’t quite suffered enough as a writer for my Writers of the Future win. But I cannot, and would not, alter my story. In the end, our story is all that we will carry with us.
Most children are easy creatives—their imaginations lead them to art, stories, and dance. While I lacked the gregariousness of many of my peers, I wrote and illustrated my first book as a Christmas present for my mother when I was seven. The covers were comprised of wrapping paper over cardboard, and green electrical tape was used along the spine to bind it all together. The story was eight pages long, and my main character was a cow. Truth be told, it would have benefitted from a good editor, but my mom loved it anyway.
By the time I hit puberty, I’d discovered speculative fiction. My first stories were inspired by my sibling’s Dungeon & Dragons campaigns, mythology, and comic books. I spent hours studying artists like George Perez, trying to replicate his work, and devoured works from Anne McCaffrey, Peter S. Beagle, and Meredith Ann Pierce. I was a quiet child, and the only person who read my work was my older brother. When he moved away, I lost my sole reader.
My Life Turned Upside Down
In my teens, my life went through a great upheaval. Relationships fractured, poverty ensued, and survival mode took over. I wrote morose poetry, some of which was eventually published in my high school creative writing club. The responses from more popular peers were cruel, though my teachers were supportive. By the time I was in my senior year, I had lost all focus. While I grew angry at the world, I disappeared into bottles, mosh pits, and parties. When that anger turned inward, my desire for self-destruction outweighed my need for creative release.
Back on Track
It took a long time to come back. Thirty years, to be exact.
In the meantime, I eventually got the help I needed. I married, graduated college, and started a family. My work in healthcare has brought me a full range of deeply moving stories that have haunted me. Occasionally, I would start to write a story, but it would sit unfinished amongst the pile of bills or get added to the half-read books that cluttered the dining room table.
When life morphed again, it brought new energy with it. Not the creative stuff you might expect. This energy demanded movement, so I started running. I ran a lot. Training for races and half marathons/marathons took most of my free time, and I was happy to give it. I was fortunate enough to have someone who supported my outlets.
I bet you are wondering, “Where is the writing? I thought you were a writer.”
Oh, readers, I am now. But after I was a writer and before I was again, I was a runner. In fact, I ran so much that I tore the labrum in my hip and had to have surgery (Finally, time to write? Nope). That brought me to my yoga practice, and I spent the next ten years teaching yoga and meditation.
I was good. My life was good, even if it was filled with constant movement.
The gifts we need are not always the ones we want, and it is often difficult to find gratitude in the midst of challenges. Only when we have made it through the storm, soaking wet and shivering in fear, do we appreciate the vibrant colors in the sky.
In 2019 I tore the labrum of my other hip. My surgery did not go smoothly, and I was left in significant pain while all movement stopped. The whirlwind of my life came to a screeching halt. For three months, I could not work, and all exercise that was not therapy related was eliminated.
The Unsolicited Gift
Readers, here is the unsolicited gift. Here is where I found my words again.
After exhausting every streaming service we had, rewatching all my favorite movies, and organizing my forty years of comic collecting, I started reading again. I plowed through the piles of speculative books that had been purchased and not read over many years. But I needed more. I needed to move with the stories. I wanted to drive the narrative, and, in my glorious naiveté, I decided to write a book. At around 70K words, I realized my gross error and stopped writing it.
That manuscript will never see the light of day. No one has ever, nor will ever, read it. Housed in those pages are painfully predictable tropes and metaphors that should not sully your precious minds.
However, that proved to be the catalyst pushing me toward becoming a better writer. I wanted to create something worthy of being shared. I signed up for a writers’ conference, but then the pandemic hit. Someone online recommended writing short fiction to improve my craft, and after a quick online search, I stumbled across a competition called the Writers of the Future.
It sounded interesting. After skulking around the forum anonymously for a few weeks, I decided that I needed more information. No part of me believed that I was good enough to submit to this, or any, contest. And the thought of letting some strangers read my work terrified me. Plus, I hadn’t successfully completed a story of any kind in nearly thirty years.
So, thanks once again to my naiveté, I did the only thing I knew to do—I wrote David Farland in December of 2019. I had seen his name on the forum and found his email. To my shame, I will remind you that I had not been reading regularly nor writing at all for nearly thirty years. I had no idea who was famous in speculative fiction, and it never occurred to me how bold this move was. But Dave, to his credit, wrote back the next day. His words were kind and encouraging and that was when I decided to enter.
Knowing that my writing was lacking, I submitted my first short story to the Contest just minutes before the deadline closed and waited for my rejection. It arrived three months later. But now, I had a goal and a deadline. Someday, far in the future, I planned to win this contest.
Over the next several months, I wrote many short stories. After taking the online course, I understood so much more about the art and craft of storytelling. I used my husband as my first reader and roped my brother and best friend into being beta readers. I learned to trust my words with the people whom I loved most and was rewarded in kind.
When my third entry brought my first Silver Honorable Mention, I was over the moon. People in the forum encouraged me to submit it to other markets. The two rejections that story received came with profound feedback from C.C. Finlay and Scott Andrews on how to improve it. The War Within was my first professional sale to Deep Magic and I will be forever grateful to Jeff Wheeler for his guidance and editing.
All my short stories were written with Writers of the Future in mind and as my skills improved, I began another novel. Trust me, readers, this one has been read by more than myself, though it still searches for a home.
Learning I Was a Natural Storyteller
When Dave’s 318R class opened, I hemmed and hawed. Being that I work in healthcare, and we were amid a pandemic, would I have the energy and time to devote to it? Once again, I emailed Dave and once again, he was wonderful and kind. I knew that this was the man I wanted to learn from because this was the type of mentor I hoped to be someday. When the class filled up before I could finish signing up, he created another spot to let me in.
That class changed me. It started in January of 2021 and ended in the summer. Once a week, I would sit down and learn something new and unexpected from Dave. We had to turn in three assignments over the course, but whatever you turned in could not be turned in to WOTF since all entries there are anonymous. The first assignment I turned in was the first chapter of a new manuscript that I was playing around with. The second was a former Honorable Mention which ended up selling after his critiques.
For the third assignment, I wrote a new story that was vastly different than anything I’d ever written. It had a bird-type creature inspired by the sirens and harpies of mythology. I had intended to change the name of the creature but decided to wait until after its critique. I honestly did not think it would be a good fit for WOTF. However, I had no other new stories to submit to the Contest, so at the last minute, I sent The Mystical Farrago to WOTF and sent Dave the first two chapters of my completed novel instead.
In one of his critiques, he told me that I was a ‛natural storyteller.’ Whenever I am sitting on my stack of rejections and trying to avoid negative reviews, I find solace in those words.
When I received my call from Joni in November of 2021, I was elated to hear that I was a finalist. Never ever, not even once, did I think that I would win. When she called me later in the week to tell me that my story had won third place, I was confused. I was not supposed to win for years to come, if ever. And who would I draft stories for now?
Readers, I argued with her until she convinced me that I actually won. That my story and my writing were good enough.
Even though the gala is behind us, there are days when it continues to feel like a dream. I write or edit daily. I have completed an epic historical fantasy, started another novel, and written a total of twelve new short stories since January.
My most recent success was written in tribute to David Farland for an anthology that will provide a scholarship for the Superstars Writing Seminars, of which he was a founding member. He passed away only a few short weeks before we were supposed to meet, but he will forever be the teacher who influenced my writing the most.
My journey continues, to what end I can only continue to dream and work toward. I have realized that, although I returned to writing later in life, I have so much to say.
Whatever happens with my stories, whether they find an audience or not, is okay. I have already achieved more than I ever expected. Someday, when our journey here has reached its end, all that will remain will be our stories.
I hope that we make them good ones.
N.V. Haskell is an award winner featured in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 38. She has previously been published in Deep Magic ezine and The Last Line. She writes speculative fiction and is usually reading about ancient history and mythology. Please feel free to visit her website http://nvhaskell.com, or follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NhHaskell.
N.V. can be found at Comic Cons or Renaissance Fairs donned in her favorite costumes, reading multiple books at a time, running badly, traveling, or teaching yoga. She lives in the Cincinnati area surrounded by old souls, a rescue dog with a large personality, an indignant cat, and too many squirrels. After many years in healthcare, N.V. continues to be stubbornly optimistic, believing that there is goodness in this world if we dare to look for it.
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