You gotta work for it. I must have heard that phrase thousands of times growing up, applicable in any situation, and whispered in almost reverent tones. Work, hard work, was the answer to any question.
Those words rang true when I got my first job on the docks of Boston as a teenager in the 1970’s, earning the money I needed to afford beaten up old copies of Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Worlds of If, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Those stories were my escape, and I worked hard to earn them. Reading those tales of fantastic places, heroic characters saving the day or saving the universe, filled me so full of ideas I had to try and share those creations with others. My dream of becoming a writer had begun.
Struggling to Find My Voice
It didn’t go well at first. I played at it, struggling to find my voice and unwilling to invest myself. I swore I’d be a writer someday, but there was work to do. Hard work. I spent hot summer days deep in black mud that smelled of rot and decay, digging clams. Later, I worked in sweltering warehouses, factories, places where there wasn’t time to dream. I wrote a few stories, sometimes taking breaks of years between attempts, getting better, but never really getting serious.
One day, a friend talked me into submitting. I sent out my best work, receiving nothing but a pile of rejection letters. Those rejections crushed my fragile ego, ruining my confidence and pushing my dream of writing into the shadows. I continued to read and continued to talk about writing, but it never led very far—until my twin brother came up to me and told me he’d written a novel.
We’d always been competitive, my brother and I, but I’d assumed writing was my dream, not his. I’ll admit to a bout of petty envy when he handed me his manuscript. He’d done what I hadn’t, put in the work. I think it was then that I really started to take writing seriously.
My Introduction to Writers of the Future
That was 2009, the year I first entered L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest.
I’d read several of the anthologies, enjoying the stories, picking up new years when I came across them. But I’d never considered the contest as something I should enter. The anthologies were too polished, the writing too good. Clearly, it wasn’t for an unpublished amateur like me. Or was it? The ads encouraged non-professionals. There was no entry fee and no downside to submitting. So, I decided to do what I’d been raised to do and work for it.
I read every volume of Writers and Illustrators of the Future. I learned what the judges were looking for, but I also learned what made a great story. I saw hundreds of examples of exceptional science fiction and fantasy. I visited worlds more rich, detailed, and creative than many I’d read by professional writers. I lost myself in wonder, and it made me remember why I dreamed of sharing my own visions with the world.
Then I wrote. I took what I’d learned, and submitted my first story in the 3rd quarter of 2009, earning an honorable mention for “The Lemon Thief of Munjid Al Salam.” Rather than being discouraged, I felt as if I’d accomplished something important. I obviously wasn’t quite ready, but my efforts had been noticed. There’s no way to describe that feeling.
Hard Work Pays Off
“Vector Victoria” was my second attempt, submitted for the first quarter in 2010, and I remember being moved to tears when Joni Labaqui called me to tell me I’d won 2nd place for that quarter. I don’t think I could’ve been happier winning the lottery, although that’s exactly what I’d done. I’d be chosen for one of the greatest honors I could imagine. My work had paid off.
I’d been so focused on the writing that it came as a shock to me when Joni told me they’d be flying me out to Hollywood, expenses paid, to attend a week-long writing workshop and awards banquet. I had trouble believing it. I’m sure I made a nuisance of myself by asking her to repeat the news several times before I could fully comprehend.
We stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel, almost across the street from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The place had a classic old-world feel that only added to the mystique and adventure. I met the other winners on the first day. Everyone seemed dazed as if we all shared the same waking dream. I can’t describe the feeling of being in a room where everyone … understands. We had all gone through the same struggle, battled with the same doubts and fears, and put in the same hard work to get there.
The instructors, K.D. Wentworth and Tim Powers, were amazing. We hit the ground running, and I learned more in the first day than I could have at any other workshop. I loved reading the articles by L. Ron Hubbard. Although they were written decades ago, they were so insightful and well written they could’ve been penned by one of the contemporary masters of science fiction. “Magic out of a Hat” was my favorite article because it showed me everything and anything can be world-changing, pivotal, interesting.
I thought I might not be able to complete the 24-hour story challenge, especially since the item assigned to me was a rock, but the level of excitement and creativity surging through the workshop proved infectious. I used that rock as my story’s problem and its prize. I put the main character between a rock and a hard place and made the oppositional character as stubborn as a rock. I even named one of the characters Rox. I really rocked that story, and it made me feel as if I could write anything. The story was called, “Set in Stone” and I sold it to Plasma Frequency magazine in 2013.
Meeting the judges, all those famous writers who’d come to speak with us, made me feel as if this workshop was something different. Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Robert J. Sawyer, Eric Flint, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Tim Powers, K.D. Wentworth, and so many more I thought my head would explode.
I almost cried when they did the “Big Reveal,” and I got to see the illustration for my story. The emotional impact of seeing how someone else interpreted the random scribbling in my head was really powerful. It felt like magic. My words evoked a place, a character, an entire world that someone else could see and feel. The illustrator, Ryan Downing, really captured the main character’s fear, while still keeping the feel of who she was, the walking billboard, the Shimmy girl, the intentional/unintentional Vector.
We got to meet some of the winners from recent years: Eric James Stone, Ken Scholes, Laurie Tom, Jordan Lapp, and several others. All had exciting writing projects in the works, and every one of them treated me like an equal. I felt I could accomplish anything.
Then came the awards ceremony. I had my reservations about getting on stage, I think we all did, but everyone was so professional that they got us through it—and we looked good. I remember waiting for my turn to be called up. I was so nervous I could barely concentrate. Any little thing would send me over the edge. Then the button popped off my tux. I held it together, though, making an offhand remark about how well they’d been feeding us.
The book signing was surreal. I got to sign books right beside Larry Niven. LARRY NIVEN! His stories were a major inspiration to me. He was my idol, someone so much larger than life—and there we were, signing the same volume of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume XXVII together.
It was difficult for me to feel as if I really deserved all this, but from the very beginning, everyone at Author Services and Galaxy Press treated me like I belonged here, like I was the important one.
Writers and Illustrators of the Future was my very first sale. It gave me the confidence to start submitting again, and I sold a story titled, “Trick of Memory” to Daily Science Fiction in that same year. I sold four stories the year after, and more than a dozen in 2013. I passed my 20th sale in 2014. It was 2014 when my story, “Bittersweet” was chosen as one of the top 10 stories of the year by the Critters P&E Annual Readers Poll.
2015—The Year that Almost Wasn’t
2015 was a difficult year for me. I collapsed sometime around midnight on the 6th of February, unable to breathe. My aortic valve had split open. Blood pooled into the sack surrounding my heart, crushing the life out of me. I spent a long time in the hospital. Then, three days after returning home, I had a heart attack. A week later, and they found blood clots in both my legs.
Something seriously tried to kill me that month, and it took me a long time to recover and get back on track.
Recovery with a Vengeance
My twin brother was the one who got me going again. In 2016 we wrote a story together titled, “One Slow Trigger Day,” and it was published by Electric Spec magazine. The sale pulled me back from a dark place. I started writing again. It was also my brother’s first story sale. He’d been trying since he’d first shocked me into action years earlier, but with less success. He submits to the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest, frequently receiving honorable mentions, but he’s still waiting to break into the winner’s circle.
I sold my first stories to audio markets in 2016. It was absolutely thrilling and somewhat weird to hear someone else speaking my words. It reminded me of the power of seeing that first illustration for my Writers and Illustrators of the Future winning story, “Vector Victoria.” There’s something deep and transcendent when you feel someone’s been inside your thoughts. I think it’s the reason I keep trying to draw interest in a shared universe project. I’ve opened my ideas up to other writers more than once, but haven’t been able to gain much traction.
One of these shared worlds was a gigantic bridge within the unimaginable vastness of a Dyson Sphere, destroyed thousands of years in the past, but peopled with rich and varied cultures. My story, “A Game of Balances” that came out in Phantaxis magazine in 2017, was set in this universe, and I still have the 28-foot-long map I created.
My second attempt at sharing my worlds was with fantasy, a universe where each of the elements has unique and special properties, and these magical qualities could be accessed only by certain adepts. We had our own periodic table, and a chart showing combinations of elements. MYTHIC magazine has just published the story I wrote for this, “The Certainty of Echoes.” It was a really fun story to write. I like to add levels beneath the surface arcs of my stories, and I wanted to be playful with “The Certainty of Echoes” to counter the dark fantasy tone of the main action. So, I went a little 7 dwarves on this piece. If you squint, you can see where I gave (I hope subtly) each of the characters specific qualities reminiscent of the beloved fairytale creatures. It’s not something you need to know to enjoy the story. Just a fun fact, and maybe a little insight into the disturbed glob of goo that is my brain.
My story, “The ‘aiei of Snow” was published by Electric Spec magazine in 2017. It was the first story I’ve written to elicit fan mail, and reading how my words could affect someone so profoundly almost made me want to cry.
Also, in 2017, I self-published a collection of my previously sold stories called, Through Starlight, Dying. I followed it up with a horror-slanted volume titled, These, My Apocalypse, a science-fiction only collection titled, A Breath of Space, and a book of flash stories titled, A Million Tiny Worlds. They’re all available through Amazon, and I’ll happily autograph and ship a copy to anyone who purchases a book from my website.
I won the Write Well award that year for my story, “The Lemon Thief of Munjid Al Salam,” my original Writers and Illustrators of the Future entry. It’s a touching piece of loss, and hope … and time travel. It also closed a loop for me. Selling that story meant I’d sold every piece even remotely connected with the Contest. I’d sold my winning story, of course, and shortly after sold my one-day story, written while at the Writers and Illustrators of the Future workshop. I’d even sold the story I wrote on the plane coming home, “A Single Soft Step” to Slink Chunk Press in 2016.
Life Is Good!
I got married in 2017 to a wonderful woman named Julie who encourages my writing career and pushes me whenever she sees that I’m not putting in the work. She knows the value of hard work and has been both my harshest critic and my strongest supporter.
In 2018, I got involved with New England Speculative Writers, and sold a story to their anthology, The Final Summons. My story, “The Redemption of GRE-334b” was about loneliness and isolation, and it helped me to realize I come back to that subject often in my work. Working with a group who’ve published so many novel-length pieces has also helped me realize where I should go next.
I’ve enjoyed the gratification of completing shorter pieces, but I’ve always longed to publish something more substantial. It drove me to write a novel version of my Writers and Illustrators of the Future winning story, but I’m convinced it lacks some subtle element that made the original a success. So, it sits on my desk waiting for the final spark that will bring it to life. That project taught me how stories and novels are two very different animals. I learned quite a bit from doing the work, and I’m currently completing the first book in a space opera series titled, Relics of Empire based on a short story by the same name I sold to MYTHIC magazine in 2017. It’s a rags-to-riches arc that I like to think of as Cinderella meets The Foundation Trilogy.
I’ve sold, in total, 70 stories to various magazines over the almost 10 years since that first sale to Writers and Illustrators of the Future in 2010, and I expect to sell much more in the coming years. I owe a lot to the Contest and the people who run it. They recognized my strength before I did, and the confidence I gained from entering the Contest pushed me to become better.
In the end, I’d accomplished what I set out to do. I became a writer. I believe talent plays a part, but the truth is, if you really want to win, you gotta work for it.
D. A. D’Amico is an enigma wrapped in confusion and stuffed head-first into a fish-flavored paper bag. His writing style is Jackson Pollock meets Scanners, a surreal exploding-head mess of genres and styles where almost anything is likely. He’s had more than seventy works published in the last nine years in venues such as Daily Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Shock Totem … among others. He’s a winner of L. Ron Hubbard’s prestigious Writers of the Future award, volume XXVII, as well as the 2017 Write Well award.
Collections of his work, links to anthologies and magazines he’s been in can be found on Amazon at:
His website is: http://www.dadamico.com.