I’m attending two graduations this weekend: one for 500-some high-school students and the other for me, a 40-year-old white guy who decided, a little more than two years ago, that he wanted to write fiction.
It’s been a strange little trip thus far. After an eighteen-year break from writing any fiction I took seriously, I sat down in the summer of 2010 and banged out two short stories – Leaving Home and Cloud Nine from Outer Space. I revised Leaving Home into a shorter story called It Pays to Read the Safety Cards (which was published in March) and expanded it into a 98,000-word novel, also called Leaving Home, that I used to prove my worthiness for the master’s degree in fiction writing I’ll receive Saturday. Cloud Nine also became a shorter story, A Feeble Gleam of Stars, and has yet to find a home.
Along the way to Graduation City, I participated in The 24-Hour Novel Project, guest blogged a few times, and wrote eleven more short stories, including one (Gus Grissom and the Mercury Men) that seems slated for an anthology and a book-length sequel. (I also received my first review, which described me as “middle-aged.”) I started this blog, began building a Twitter platform, and got business cards.
Off the page, I joined the New Hampshire Writers Project and volunteered to be an organizer for its monthly Writers Night Out. I helped Katie Towler out with a reading from her book A God in the House and took on a marketing role with the Amoskeag Journal.
Then there’s the master’s degree. It entitles me to a raise (I teach high school) and opens the door to teaching college at the adjunct level. In getting the degree, I made new friends and got a lot of feedback on my writing. I studied literature and wrote critical analysis, much of which has shown up on this blog. I’m a better writer for all of that. However, likely the most valuable thing I got from the master’s process was the ability to give myself permission to write: “It’s OK to close the door and spend this time writing a story about road warriors and space ships, Rob. It’s homework. Go ahead.”
Hopefully, I’m deeply enough inside the “writing life” now, and have enough commitments and deadlines ahead, that I can continue to allow myself carve writing time into my life. The master’s program gave me a good, solid jumpstart. It’s up to me to keep the engine running.
Two years is not a long span, but it was time enough to make it from the parking lot, to the entrance ramp, to the slow lane. I don’t know what happens next. I have a novel, a master’s degree, a couple of prospects, and eleven short stories in my pocket – with plenty of gas in the tank. Let’s see where I can go with that.