I wrote a lot of stuff in the beginning that was pretty terrible. The online community at CritiqueCircle was very good at tearing my work apart. Strangely, realizing I was a horrible writer turned out to be very helpful. It prompted me to begin searching for the idiosyncrasies that irritated readers, tear out the bad stuff by the roots, and finetune other aspects that went over well. Slowly but surely, the negative comments about my work grew more and more positive. The online strangers provided a great deal of insight I couldn’t get from cautious friends and family. Online strangers are not worried if they crush your soul, and my writing has improved because of it.
In 2012, my writing entered a new phase in which I created a garage-office by cannibalizing discarded yard sale furniture. I am not sure if Virginia Woolf would have been proud, but for me, it was the best place of my own I could find. I began scheduling time to write keeping to a tight schedule with mandatory daily word counts. By doing this, I was able to finish my first novel in 2015. Binding Program was a ninety-thousand-word story that was sort of a mix between Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. At nearly the same time of the book’s completion, I received word that a small sci fi magazine wanted to buy a short story of mine. “Remember the Sunflowers” became my first paid submission.
Getting a story published and finishing my first novel was a huge boost in confidence. I took this over-inflated ego to a writer’s conference in Irvine, California. Gathered in a Wyndham conference room near the John Wayne airport, I met hundreds of other hermetic introverts like myself. I had a blast meeting new people with similar interests. And aside from all the friends and critique partners I made at the conference, I was also able to glean lots of insight on how to break into the publishing world. One speaker in particular emphasized the need to create an online persona. She explained how important it was to treat your writer identity like a marketing tool. This got me thinking because I already had a career. At this point, I had been teaching seventh grade for seven years. I taught adolescents, but my writing was clearly targeted toward adults. While not explicit by most standards, it still isn’t kid friendly. So that’s why I created the pen name, K.C Aegis. The ironic thing is that soon after I created the pen name, some other writer, a dude named—you guessed it—Mark LaMonica published a book called Renaissance Porn Star. So even though I changed my name to avoid awkward questions about my work, fate stepped in and made it happen anyways.
After the contest, I used my online persona to seek out writing contests and potential markets for my work. I got organized, systematic, and stalkerish. I began following the online habits of potential agents. I paid attention to what they were looking for and drafted queries based on their interests and “wish lists.” At the same time, some of my new friends from the conference let me know about some writer contests on Twitter. Through these, I got a lot of practice pitching my work in short tweets. This got the attention of a few editors who offered help refining my query and suggested other places to pitch. This led to me discovering the small publishing house, Del Sol Press. They offered a First Novel competition in which the two finalists would win a trip to New York where they would get to meet a bunch of big-name editors in which to pitch their work. I figured, what the heck? I didn’t think I would actually win.
In addition to the incredible trip to New York, the contest judge offered to be my agent and began actively pitching my story. We got several bites and near misses. Several editors expressed interest, but said they could not build a consensus with the other editors in their publishing house. Things were not looking good for my first novel, but then an unusual thing happened. My agent informed me that an imprint of Penguin Random House was impressed enough by my writing that they wanted to know if I would be willing to flesh out an idea for them. What I really wanted was for them to publish my first book, but figured this might be the way to do it. Also, the money they were offering was very real and hard to turn down. Signing the contract meant I wouldn’t have to spend my summer slaving away in a poorly ventilated tool and die shop.
I had to drop out of the Master’s program to work on the book for them. I was thrilled and terrified. I received weekly encouragement and praise from the editor, but in the end, the project sort of fizzled into an empty void in which I lost a year’s worth of time. Everything about the book deal was strange, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when it ended strangely as well. My agent assures me that the failure wasn’t my fault, but I think it stands without question that if I had written a better book, or understood better what exactly the imprint wanted, then maybe they would have let me finish what I’d started.
In any case, the death of the book deal allowed me to get back to my original pursuits. I threw myself back into the Master’s program and the novel I had been working on for the Master’s project. I had finished the first half of it during the 2017-2018 semesters. Now, the prospect of finishing the thing was enough to distract me from the soul-crushing disappointment at having achieved and then lost the fabled book deal.
By the end of the Master’s program, I should have my next novel ready for query. I don’t know what will happen, and I am not holding my breath. All I know is that this writing journey I am on seems to be picking up speed. Whether the destination is just around the corner or somewhere far off beyond the horizon, I figure I won’t know until I get there.
Thanks for reading.