Tahynain’s Enigma: My First Novel and First Epic Fail

Writing is not easy. Its a lot of bumpy roads, windy paths, and in my case, rickety plummets. My first novel was among the latter of these voyages. As a young writer, I had a lot to learn, and fortunately, I had the opportunity to do just that. But no matter how much we may learn from our mistakes, failures still feel like failures. However, I’ve recently been encouraged by the stories of others who failed many times before they ever succeeded.

Walt Disney, undoubtedly one of the most inspiring and imaginative entrepreneurs America has ever seen, was once fired from a newspaper who believed he lacked imagination. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr.Suess), who is one of the best selling children’s author in history, was rejected twenty-seven times before his first novel was published by Vanguard Press. Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s most well-remembered presidents, lost over a half dozen elections before he was nominated president of the United States in 1860. And let’s not forget Thomas Edison who, when asked about his failed attempts at inventing the electric light bulb, said this:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I conceived the idea for my first novel while I was a sophomore in high school. It was inspired by a short story I read in one of my English classes, written by Stephen Vincent Benét called “By the Waters of Babylon.”  It is a futuristic story chronicling a group of people living after the fall of a powerful civilization. I had never read a post-apocalyptic story before and I was immediately engrossed by the idea.

Its no new idea. For decades people have been anticipating the adverse implications advanced technology will have on our society. But, as a sixteen year old back in 2007— before the main stream post-apocalyptic craze was ushered in by young adult series like “The Maze Runner,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Divergent” series—the idea of an entire culture being entirely ignorant to its predecessors and their mistakes was wildly fascinating.

It wasn’t long after I read that short story by Benét that Tahynain came into being. It was a primitive, yet beautiful land tucked between mountains, hills, and river, thriving as a self-sustaining, secluded society. The story follows a group of multi-generational Rolmanons, people inhabiting the city of Rolmanon who believe they are the only society in all of Tahynain. One child, consumed by curiosity, journeys outside the city’s boundaries on multiple occasions where he finds desolate patches of land, black and copper snakes (power lines), a circular glass trinket with silvery wings (a watch), and heavy sheets of strange material (fallen plane debris). The older generation is forced to tell them the truth and reveals the dark world that came before Rolmanon.

Not long after, scouts find evidence of another city nearby. The leaders of Rolmanon journey to see the new city, Dovynthyre, which they discover carries on the old values from the Dark Ages before the wide-spread wars. Rolmanon leaders decide to go to war with Dovynthyre to preserve and ensure peace and innocence for their younger generation. After a gruesome battle, the Rolmanons overtake Dovythyre, but their victory is short-lived as something much more sinister, something beyond the Rolmanon’s wildest dreams, threatens their entire way of life.

What I left out of the above description, besides the riveting ending, are a number of elements that compromised my story’s potential. For starters, the elder generation once had superpowers, like comic book superpowers, which you see in a five chapter flashback. Flashbacks? Yikes. And once the lions are introduced in present time, to help defend and warn the Rolmanon’s (because yes, the lions talk) against the Corpsetters (zombie-like creatures), the younger generation start getting super powers as well. I forgot to mention in the flashback there’s also a flash-sideways. And no, I had never seen Lost at this point. I couldn’t decide on the narrative type, so my story implements two of them. And if talking animals, super-powers, and time jumps don’t do it for you, perhaps the cyborgs and radioactive canines will.

It would suffice to say I didn’t have much of a direction with my story. I bit off a lot, and I practically choked on it. But I still stand firm on a few things. I had a conviction, that small voice in a writer’s head that tells them there just may be something worth writing about. Warnings against our society’s imminent doom must have been mine. Looking back on it, I’ve actually grown fairly fond of some of the characters, creatures, and plot progressions. Unfortunately, no matter how enthralling the plot, or how believable the character, it’s nearly impossible to write a book that people will want to read without a clear understanding of two things: target audience and genre.

When I started writing this novel, I was moved by a big idea in an exciting world. I never stopped to ask questions. The language I used could be fitting for a young adult novel, but some of the content was not. Philosophical questions about the meaning of life, sinful nature, and the existence of God are probably not the most welcomed components in a young adult fantasy novel. While the post-apocalyptic genre would have been right on for young adults (which I take some mild pride on being among authors who were onto that genre before it went mainstream, however unaware I was of it at the time), I also incorporated some elements of science fiction and high fantasy. So, it got pretty messy.

Thankfully, I had some help.  My creative writing professor helped me work through my novel. He read the entirety of my 350 page manuscript, bless his heart, and responded by applauding me for my discipline in finishing it. It was all over the place and we both knew it. He helped me to better understanding readership. He helped me see there are genres for a reason. It helps people determine whether or not they want to be a part of something. But most importantly, it helps you gain your readers’ trust and keep it. Determining who you want to reach and how is just as important as determining what you want to say. It took me a novel to figure this out, but I’m grateful to have learned from my mistakes.  If you want more tips and advice on taking better care of your readers, check out this piece on genre by Kristen Lamb.

Writing within the confines of an audience and genre can actually be very liberating. This time around, I have chosen to focus on writing a young adult, high fantasy novel.  I’m finding my journey of writing and exploration to be much richer.  Boundaries can be a very healthy thing. So, I guess you could say I never really failed at writing a novel, I just found a few ways that didn’t work. Thanks Mr. Edison, you’re quite the inspiration.

Have any of you taken risks and failed at something?  What has it taught you, and where did you allow it to take you?  Please comment and share any thoughts or encouragement through your stories of growth.

Smoke, Mirrors, and Rage: What to Avoid on the Job Hunt

Rage might be a strong word, but today it was how I felt after I was duped.  I moved to Nashville with high hopes, hopes that are still intact.  But earlier today, well hope wasn’t among my sensibilities.

Two nights ago I applied to a few jobs online.  I wasn’t exceptionally excited about any of them.  The only one that did stand out was at a marketing firm as a marketing coordinator, but I figured I wouldn’t be considered because I have little experience in marketing.  The day after I applied I got a call.  They wanted to interview me!  I was elated.  I spent that night and following morning researching the company still a little unclear about what the job would actually entail.  I reviewed the job add online, perused their website and online resources, and decided I really wanted to work for the company.  Everything online made it appear to be an incredibly challenging and colorful way to use my writing and personal skills.

This morning I arrived at the interview more ready than I’d ever been for an interview.  I knew exactly how I was going to answer those difficult personal questions about my skills and how they’d be useful to the firm and their clients.  I knew a decent amount about the company—or so I thought—and I even knew a little bit about the president who was going to be interviewing me.

So what went wrong?

The interview went perfectly.  The president liked me so much I got an immediate second interview.  It wasn’t until an hour later at the very end of my second interview that I realized what the marketing company was actually about.  It wasn’t going to be a job where I sat down and shared my amazing ideas on how to apply the strategy and tactics campaign I had come up with.  It wasn’t going to be the type of office where the staff got together and sat down in the conference room to brainstorm on a whiteboard.

It wasn’t until the very last three minutes of my second interview that I learned that it was a position centered around sales.  Instead of coming up with marketing ideas and strategies for the clients, I would be responsible for selling their products as part of an outsourced, fast-paced business model with promotions based on performance.  The very last thing I remember hearing was something about owning my own business in less than a year.  The last red flag went whipping into the air, and I found myself forcing a smile.  This wasn’t a firm I wanted to invest in, it was a company which trained individuals to sell products for clients.

Why did it take until the end of the second interview for them to explain the business structure?  Why not just advertise it as a sales position?  During my second interview, I had watched a girl do a presentation, one I would be expected to repeat a dozen times a day in a high populated store.  There was very little marketing involved, just pitching a product.  Why hadn’t I realized it before?  Am I really that dense?  I had just been explaining to them how one of my greatest strengths is observation… guess I better rethink that one before I use it again.

Needless to say, after the second interview I felt completely deflated, like Edward Scissorhands had just ridden by me on a bike and popped my hopeful bubble with his sharp extremities.  Resolved to leave the smoke and mirrors behind me, I got in my car and blared metal the entire way home.  Oh Sleeper is always an amazing companion in times like these.

What to Avoid

I must be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve gone to an interview with this outcome.  I guess it’s time I learn a lesson from it.  If a job listing or the person calling to interview you won’t explain the job description in a direct manner, they’re probably withholding giving the whole scoop for a reason.  Employers know that revealing this information all at once might turn their potential job candidates away.  Also, if the job listing doesn’t include how much they’ll pay, and especially if they don’t list whether its hourly or salary, that can sometimes be a red flag. In this case, when I asked the girl over the phone what the pay was, she wouldn’t directly answer the question—the answer I later found to be minimum wage or commission, whichever was better—but instead threw out the potential of a large salary figure in the near future.

And lastly, if they call you within 24 hours of getting your resume it might be luck, or it might be one of these kind of jobs. And truly, I have nothing against these kinds of jobs, I just prefer to know what kind of job I’m actually being interviewed for.  Many desirable jobs will sell themselves by a simple listing which includes everything you need to know: job duties, job requirements, pay, and potential benefits.

I’m sure I’m not completely alone in this boat.  The one that’s swaying and thrashing along a merciless, twisting river straining not to capsize and be forgotten at the bottom of the water.  So far my boat hasn’t taken me to any desirable destination, but I’m hoping there are others out there navigating the same river who can relate with me on this endeavor.

If Only I Had Made My Home Among the Cattle

It’s day six of Nashville living, and I am still unemployed.  It’s no surprise since I spent two years looking for employment in the abstract field of writing—a major I literally created since my college didn’t offer it.  But, perhaps that’s why its so difficult.  Having a degree in writing doesn’t exactly prepare me for a job in journalism or teaching.  It’s one of those theoretical, hypothetical, abstract educations that may or may not land me somewhere relevant.

My best friend from Ohio has a degree in early childhood education and has been teaching at a private school since our graduation.  She just told me this morning that she got her dream job, a position as a creative arts program assistant, and is moving to Pittsburgh where she’ll be living near her boyfriend. I am sincerely thrilled for her…I think? Yet, I find a part of me is not so pleased.  And which part is that, you ask?  The selfish part that envies her for finding a job after a brief, one month hunt!

Today I was supposed to hit the ground running looking for jobs.  Unfortunately, that news wasn’t really the most encouraging start to my day.  But, determined to be happy for my friend and helpful to myself, I put on my best business-casual outfit and headed out the door to visit some local bookstores.  After three hours of drop-ins and putting myself out there, I found myself no closer to having a job.  The stores either weren’t hiring or they will be “reviewing” my resume, and by they they mean their paper shredder.

Who knows, maybe working at a bookstore isn’t what I’d really want anyways.  After all, with such an abstract degree with seemingly endless possibilities, I still have no clue what my dream job would even look like.  Maybe being among the livestock isn’t so bad.  Maybe I shouldn’t have individualized and made up my own major.  Maybe being herded along into a specific pen would have made my life a whole lot easier.  I can’t find it in me to regret my decision though.  I still have an unwavering, insatiable proclivity towards words, literature, and make-believe.  You can’t quite find that in nursing school, now can you?

The not-so-unfamiliar struggle of a not-quite professional artist

Being a writer is hard.  What’s even harder than being a writer is trying to be a writer.  Being a writer is about writing.  It’s that simple, isn’t it?  Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.  It seems like if you’re not getting published and putting your work out there than you’re not a writer, and certainly not an author. But I know published and self published authors alike who seem to feel no closer to being a “writer.” We constantly struggle to level the scales of our happiness and passions with that of money and survival. So, what is it in us human beings that makes us feel accomplished when—and sometimes only when—we have a wad of cash to level that balance?

So here I am, two years removed from college with little experience, and a whole heart full of ambition.  My creative writing professor in college taught me many things, my favorite among them is that to become a writer one has to write.  He used to make us write thousands of words a week just because.  He helped me see that just as farmers farm and musicians play instruments, writers write. We have to exercise our writing muscles.  There’s nothing more to it than allowing that sixth sense, that innate ability and love for stories and words, the space and freedom to exist.  When I get discouraged, I often think back on this principle, the simple discipline of just doing it, just going for it, and allow myself the space and courtesy to believe that I could—that I am—a writer.

Ohio had very little to offer my husband and I.  I searched for a job in publishing, journalism, technical writing, even employment in a bookstore.  Nothing.  My husband Drew has a degree in music production and has been doing freelance work producing and writing over the past few years.  We finally got to the point where we outgrew where we were.  We both have thirsted for more fulfilling and challenging artistic communities.  So, we’ve found ourselves in Nashville, Tennessee, bright-eyed and hopeful.

Our story is nothing new, but I hope that by writing it out I can see our progress, and hopefully in some way encourage others who are also struggling to make their passions a solid cornerstone of their lives.

Everything must have a beginning…

I have been wanting to start a blog for quite some time.  It is by sheer discipline that I’ve brought myself to actually create one.  Blogs seem strange to me, and maybe it’s because I haven’t spent all that much time reading others’ blogs, but I can’t help wonder why strangers would care to read about my life or my writing aspirations.  But, from what I can tell, more people than I could imagine are interested in the lives of others—hoping to learn something or to connect in some way to another brain.

So here’s to a new beginning, bringing honesty and thoughtful transparency to universal elements of life that I hope bring shared flashes of color and perspective.