GUEST POST – THE ROUTE TO PUBLICATION James Christie author of Dear Miss Landau on making the impossible come true
I am very happy on the first day of 2014 to turn my blog over to James Christie. His route to publishing Dear Miss Landau, his first book, was a long and strange journey – in the end it spun on writing a short story that he wanted to write, without considering whether there was a market for it. And then he did something — and when you do something, things happen. Everyone should have that motto pasted about their computer screen and etched into the cover of their Ipad – me included. It’s a good thought to start the new new year with and now I’m handing over to James…but be warned this post isn’t packed with cosy writing tips. His advice to fellow writers includes the phrase Get out there and disembowel somethingandgo to psychological hell and back
The Real Deal : How To Have Breakfast at Milliways
How did I come to be published?
Well, lesson the first (as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would say): truth really is stranger than fiction, or as a hairdresser from my first (and to date, only) book, Dear Miss Landau, said to me:
“Hollywood’s a strange place. It’s all smoke and mirrors. There just aren’t that many six foot four blonds around anywhere.”
“So,” I said, shaping my words carefully, “in the land of smoke and mirrors, I am the real deal?”
It has just been discovered that many people with autism, of whom I am one, possess something known as the Peter Pan gene.
We don’t grow old quickly.
So there I was. A six foot four blond Asperger who (like a certain Time Lord) apparently had the power to regenerate a bit. After fifteen fruitless years of work trying to write the Great Scottish Novel and many brutal rejections, I took a casual interest in Drusilla (a character from Buffy), wrote a story about that character for fun and sent said story (Drusilla’s Roses) to the actress who’d portrayed Dru, Juliet Rose Landau. She was “blown away” by the tale, we got into an email correspondence and at the same time, I suggested to the National Autistic Society Scotland (NAS) that I trek overland across America by Greyhound bus mainly to publicize autism but also maybe, just maybe, to meet Miss Landau…
That, amazingly enough, is what happened. At the age of forty-five I turned back time and took off across the continental Unites States like a man of twenty-five. James Doherty of the NAS then suggested I write a book about the trek and against all odds I managed to get it published to rave reviews (“it’s the best book I’ve read for ten years,” A Good Read, BBC Radio 4).
To reach that point, though, I had to go through twenty-two years of self-loathing, frustration and rejection before finally achieving the redemption (via publication) of which I’d dreamed.
The odds against this happening are incalculable. I tend to sum my story up as Rain Man meets Notting Hill via 84 Charing Cross Road. It’s the kind of tale you’d tell before going to Milliways (Douglas Adams’ restaurant at the end of the universe) after you’d done six impossible things that morning.
So how to make the impossible come true?
It’s the simplest and hardest thing in the world to do, but here is a personalized algorithm which probably won’t but then again just might help you do it. I’m on the same spectrum as those guys in The Big Bang Theory, and though I may not have the math I sure do think their way:
Be born with extraordinary writing ability – my Aspergers diagnosis confirmed my verbal IQ was in the top 1% of the population.
Accidentally get onto a creative writing course at college… Well, that’s what I did. Deliberately might be a better idea.
Develop your writing ability – an article called How To Be A Genius in New Scientist argued that “it seems you have to put in at least a decade of focused work to master something and bring greatness within reach.” That means thousands and thousands of hours of practice, and no question about it.
Be psychologically brutalized by a ruthless publisher who strips your self-esteem from you and throws you on the scrapheap (I was on a journalists’ training course, not knowing I had Aspergers’), have the maturity to accept the only way you can prove you’re not actually rubbish fit only to be thrown on said scrapheap is by doing the hardest thing in the world and being legitimately published. The horror and self-loathing you carry in your soul from this will also help you become the “mean, cantankerous, opinionated, moody, quarrelsome, unreasonable, nervous, flighty, irresponsible” person you need to be (as defined by John Steinbeck, whom I’ve just quoted) in order to become a good writer.
Get rejected a lot. This isn’t so much advice as a fact of writing life. It will happen, and if you don’t suck it up and face the slings and arrows of some very sharp-tongued criticism, you will never succeed.
Also, start rebelling. I never got anywhere until I got the hell in and started sticking it to my former profession in writing on The Good Library Blog. Writers are neither nice people nor yes-men. Get out there and disembowel something.
Fifteen years or so of self-loathing and practice later, you’re close. At this point get yourself seriously emotionally traumatised (the literary equivalent of getting punched in the head by Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, read about it in Dear Miss Landau), go to psychological hell and back and then…
Somehow (pray fate lends a hand because I can’t tell you where to look) find that one character who will draw the best out of you and finish your apprenticeship. Write that character and love her (in my case she was female) with all your heart and soul. With the knowledge, experience and hard-won ability you now have under your belt, you can probably make a good job of it. Put everything you’ve got from that psychological/emotional hell you went through into the story, at this point stuff what everyone else says, and maybe you’ll produce that once-in-a-lifetime gem. Then send it to the proper literary agent and start praying you don’t get rejected anyway – 99% of hopeful authors are.
Get lucky. Find a publisher who says “yes.” Which is the simplest and hardest thing in the world to do.
And when it’s all over, know that the only reason you made it was because you gave it everything you had and loved your character above all else. Acknowledge that mean old writing beast within you and listen to what it bids you do.
In my case, once Dear Miss Landau and related matters were complete, my creative process made it plain I had to cross the Arizona/California border at the town of Needles, find a coffee house when I got there, stuff what everyone else thought (again…) and do a bit more writing.
And that’s what I’ve done.
I don’t know what will happen next. I have a title – Cross at Needles – and some text. There are tales of Drusilla on my shelf, tales of my dear Miss Landau on Amazon.
The story never ends.
But I met my star one Sunday morning on Sunset, and that for me shall do.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau (Chaplin Books, 2012). He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.