Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Pitch Wars, that Zen moment I’ve dreamed of, and why rock & roll?

The excitement around Pitch Wars has been bubbling, and I’ve been helping out with #menteeshelpingmentees. It’s strange (and wonderful) to be in a position to help, which is what I like doing best when I’m not writing fiction. All of it has me thinking, though.

So many people see Pitch Wars as a direct path to getting an agent. From personal experience, I can tell everyone this isn’t necessarily the case. I’m proof of that: I had plenty of requests in the agent round, but I’m still unagented. I haven’t given up hope, but the truth of my particular situation seems to be pointing to the big sign that says yes, you can write, you can tell a good story, but that one you had in Pitch Wars might not be the right one.

I’ve shelved manuscripts before. It’s never something I take lightly, and I’m not ready to give up on my Pitch Wars manuscript yet either. I still have fulls and partials out there and I would never pull it when it’s under consideration. But I have reached a very important milestone in my quest for representation.

I’m at that Zen point where getting rejections doesn’t bother me. I don’t take them personally. I sit here with serene confidence in myself and my writing abilities, and know that if I’m persistent enough and keep writing, I will write the manuscript that’s picked up. It might not be this one, and that’s okay.

This sounds like a lie I tell myself, but it’s not. Getting to this point has been a hard-fought battle, with plenty of frustration and tears and anger and disappointment thrusting up like spikes right into the soles of my writing boots all along the way. But every battle has its tipping point, and success can be described in many different ways. Getting to the point where I can shrug off a rejection from someone I queried six or eight months ago hasn’t been easy…but I’m there now. It’s a relief.

Of course I want to hear back from the agents who’ve requested pages. Of course there’s still a tiny tinge of disappointment. But I’m wearing my big-girl pants now, and understand this is only business. Despite the reminders of how subjective a business this is and the reassurances that the right agent will love my work, it’s still a business. Rejection is nothing personal. It’s a hiring decision, and so far my fun breezy behind-the-scenes rock & roll romance hasn’t applied for the right job.

In the meantime, I’ve written another book which is off being edited, and yesterday I started on a brand new one. That brings me to the second half of this post: why rock & roll?

I never set out to brand myself as a rock-&-roll-romance writer. The market is glutted with stories about hot tattooed bad-boy rock stars wishing for simpler quieter times with the shy but humble girl of their dreams.

I don’t write those.

Confession time, here’s what I’ve got: I used to roadie. I was lucky enough to see bits and pieces of this big beautiful industry from the inside out instead of the outside in. Did I go on the road with the Rolling Stones or anything like that? Hell no, ma’am or sir, but I worked with a variety of musicians in a variety of places, and did time with smaller bands. I worked everything from sound board to lighting console. I loaded and unloaded equipment. I climbed into cherry pickers to play with gels and lights. I stood security outside dressing rooms, kept fans from breaking into the backstage areas, cleared the front of house before and after shows… almost anything you can imagine. Met many famous people. Met many less famous people. I can’t say I never met a rock star I didn’t like, but I can say I never met a roadie who wasn’t secretly cool as f*ck.

The stories I write are the ones that take place behind the scenes. Honestly, how many people want to read a fictional version of a rock concert going smoothly? See, I didn’t think so. The small insights I had into life backstage were fascinating, though, and while I can’t write about rock & roll road life without everyone’s favorite tattooed super-rich bad boy rock star dreaming of simpler times (well, yes I can), I can focus on what makes all the people associated with this life into who they are. Focus on their drive, their passion, their skill, their abilities, and how it all blends together to make unique and unforgettable experiences once the lights go on and the show starts.

And as a bonus, I know just how much equipment and how many people can be crammed into an aging Ford Econoline van. (Note I didn’t say “safely.”)

That part of my life might be in the past, but my passion for it hasn’t diminished in the least. This is why I write what I write. I hope my love for it comes through on the page.

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Why I Write

There are so many explanations for why people write. The most common one is I write because I have to. For some people it’s a compulsion, a point of pride, a craving, a habit. I take no issue with that, or with my usual answer: I write because I have stories to tell.

That’s only part of the reason. If we didn’t have stories to tell, we wouldn’t be writing. As so often happens, though, we only see the outside of the shell, not the meaty inside portion. Here’s my story.

My sister is an author. We’re great friends; she’s two years older than I am. We went to the same high school and because we were both pretty darn good in English, had a lot of the same teachers. Our AP English teacher was one of those guys who you really wanted to study with. His reputation was excellent. He was warm and personable, supportive and more nontraditional than many of the other members of the department. He let us choose some of our own curriculum, always smiled, cracked a few jokes. He was the kind of teacher most students just loved.

I was one of his fans…until he pulled me aside one day, a creative writing assignment I’d turned in covered with red ink, and asked me the most painful question ever: “Why can’t you write like your sister?”

That’s not a question anyone should have to hear. I don’t care if my sister was the best writer the school had ever seen (she probably was, she’s wonderful): you never compare family members like that. He went on and on about how great she was with a turn of phrase, how lyrical her writing was, and so on. The upshot of it was that I would never be half the writer she was: just look at the mess I’d made of things. I don’t remember what I wrote or what it was about. What I do remember is that his comments made me feel about an inch tall. I don’t think I opened my mouth to answer a question or make a comment in his class the rest of the school year. I read my books, wrote my papers, finished the school year… and vowed never to try my hand at creative writing again.

My teacher’s one comment went a long way toward cementing my decision to major in elementary education at a college far from home. I wanted nothing to do with him or with anyone else from my high school. I wanted nothing to do with studying English or with writing. His comment was so devastating that it took me until halfway through my junior year at college to switch majors to English Lit (not writing! never writing) and it took me about three years after graduation before I dared to write stories again.

As a child, I escaped into stories. I wrote them all the time. I wrote with my sisters; I wrote alone. I wrote with friends. I wrote plays and poems and novels and short stories. With one disgusted sigh, my AP English teacher invalidated the one thing I’d loved best.

These days, I write because I want to. I write because all the stories that were erased that one day have crowded back in with a vengeance. I write because I see the world in stories and in opportunities for stories. I write because I’m still furious at the person who squashed my creativity. While it’s true that I can’t write like my sister and never wanted to write like my sister, I can sure as hell write like myself. That may be different, but it’s every bit as good.