Baby Steps: From casual fanfic writer to published author

Baby Steps: From casual fanfic writer to published author

I’ve been writing since I was 7. In that first story—my memory of it is paradoxically both sharp and dim—Amazons in sherbert-colored chitons leapt about fighting off… something? All I remember is that they had gold cord belts.

My next writing memory is in the churn of my preteen years: I stood in front of the class and made up a story about a witch in a wood. I don’t remember the story I told, only that I shuffled blank sheets torn from a yellow legal pad as I pretended to read. I was caught, of course, and taken to the principal’s office, to face the ferocity of a tall, lean, black-robed nun named Sister Cynthia. Shame and terror ensued. At one point I clung to the leg of her desk, sobbing as I begged not to be sent back to my clasroom.

After this there were a number of whispered conversations, and a battery of tests ( well, it was still the 60s) and placement in some advanced classes, but other than class assignments I didn’t write again until my second year of college, when a business communication class introduced me to Peter Elbow’s Writing without Teachers and the concept of freewriting. (Thank you, Ms. Z!) The non-judgemental, write whatever you want aspect of freewriting made something inside of me break open, and a story began to pour out. After class I wrote non-stop for the next 26 hours.

And it wasn’t just that night. Stories kept coming. A prose poem about losing my virginity had a two-page spread in the school’s literary magazine. (It was Catholic women’s college: they were most definitely not my grade school’s nuns.) I was awarded a Creative Writing scholarship; I changed my major. The piece I brought to the first day of my first writing seminar was that 26-hour novella. (Did I mention that it was space opera? It was space opera.) The other students—and probably the teacher—thought I was weird, but to my amazement they didn’t kick me out of the program.

For the next few years I wrote hundreds of short stories, poems, plays, novellas, pastiches, and even a few pieces of parody fiction, but it never occurred to me to try to publish anything. Once I graduated in the mid-80s I got a Real Job (technical writing and usability testing for a software company). A few years later I married; a few years after that I had a child. There was no time for creative writing.

And then, somehow, in the early 00s, I got pulled into the world of online fandom, where, like many fans, I gradually fell into writing fanfiction. For me fanfiction was 100% comfort writing. Low pressure, it came with an enthusiastic and supportive community that gave me the freedom to experiment, although I still approached it as seriously (well, nearly as seriously)(most of the time) as I had my creative writing assignments in college. I wrote almost two hundred fanfics, from 100-word drabbles to a 167,000-word novel. Some were for myself; many were gifts, written to a recipient’s prompts. I continued doing it because it because it was fun. A cheap hobby. As more and more exchanges allowed people to request and offer original works, it allowed me to keep participating in fannish communities even as my interest in fannish content started to fade. I didn’t see posting these original pieces on Ao3 as a means to an end; I saw posting the stories as an end in itself.

(And, all right, I also found the prospect of trying to enter the market daunting. I’d heard over and over that not only was traditional publishing a steep climb, but that the glory days of self-publishing were long past. “The time to get on that train was 2014” was what I heard over and over.)

And then, in October 2020, I was invited to bring some of my original works to a new publishing group, Kalikoi, focusing on female friendship and lesbian romance. Entirely unexpected, this invitation gave me the courage, in my mid-sixties, to make the leap into self-publishing.

This blog is probably going to blather on about this leaping now and again; I hope you find it, if not useful, then at least amusing.