Monday, October 14, 2013

On a Serious Note

            On my last post of The Zealot, I took you through my first night with the fiction workshop group.  This time I am going to do something that is very difficult for me, I will talk about it again, as well as the next few critiques I received, but in a serious way.  Yeah, not easy for me.

            First, at the risk of beating a dead horse into sawdust, let me set the stage.  If this bores you, I’m sorry.  Just skip over it.  In the grand scheme of things, it's important.  I had been suffering from a form of migraines twenty-four hours a day since 1987.  In addition, I was battling depression since 1994, related to the pain.  So, when I joined the Indiana Writer’s Center in 2007, I had been dealing with this all for quite some time.  I was angry, depressed, and in a tremendous amount of pain.

            This should give you a good reference for the type of person I was back then.  This project, the pen and paper, became my escape each day, even though the pounding in my temples never left.  When I look back on things now, I am amazed that I even began the novel.

            So, in 2007, I submitted my first two chapters to the group.  I showed up, not knowing what to expect.  I had no patience, and believe me, I had no tolerance for criticism.  As they went around the table, the words varied with the personalities.  That is a huge key if you have never been in a group before.  You have to get to know who is critiquing you.  Just like anything else, some people are better at things than others.  Some people are better at some genres and some people may be BS-ing you. 

            When I walked out the door that night, I went straight to the taxi.  I was furious.  Rage filled me.  I controlled it enough so I didn’t lash out at anyone in the group.  I knew they were trying to help me, but my brain wasn’t working that way.  I went home and my wonderful wife who put up with my horrible personality for years said, “How did it go?”  I plopped down in my chair and looked at her and replied, “They hated it.”  We went back and forth for thirty minutes as I got madder and madder.  She finally dropped it, saying, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t go back if it was that bad.”

            I did go back.  Weeks went by.  The same things kept happening.  I would pop three Tylenol down before I would walk in the door and put three more in my pocket so I could take more during the meeting.  They hated my female lead character. She wasn’t deep and wasn’t real.  They loved my killer.  They kept telling me they could see I got into writing about him.  They were right.  Because of my pain and anger I WAS HIM.  They kept ripping me and I kept learning about them. I kept learning about the basic concepts of creative writing.

            Each time I got home I would be furious and Lana and I would have that same conversation.  “Why are you putting yourself through that?”  I wouldn’t answer or I would snap at her and would regret it.  Deep down I knew I needed to be there.

            I kept going until we were about half way through the novel.  I had been condensing pretty well as we were going along.  I was beginning to see things I hadn't seen before.  In every crowd there is always one person you’re not going to get along with.  That is simply life.  You do the best you can during the meeting and move on.  With my “condition” I had done pretty well for quite some time.  On this one particular night I had reached my limit.  This one woman, when she critiqued me, did so in her normal arrogant way, but on this night, she exceeded even her standards.  She knew I had no writing experience and seemed to enjoy stomping on me.  I took it, said nothing in response, and left the meeting as I always did, in rage.

            There was one difference to the end of this meeting to all the others.  It would be six months before I would return.  Thin skin and pain don’t match.


  1. So glad you chose to come back, Keith.

    I had my own issues to deal with around the time I discovered Mr. David Hassler and joined the Writers group. The main reason was loneliness, both socially and artistically. I was a complete science geek, and work came in second, third, and fourth place of importance in my life (my partner was number one!). My only friends were work friends; part-time friends, in many ways. I also felt all alone in my writing craft. I had no one in my family whom I could share my love of writing or my short stories without the usual, "Uh…sure. Okay. Sure.” Even my partner (sports geek and Mr. Uh…sure. Okay. Sure.) had trouble relating to my historical fiction. I don’t blame him. I had trouble relating to his baseball stats and basketball rankings.

    I wonder if David was aware how lonely I was when I took his Fiction Technique course. He might have guessed by my morose writing and down in the dumps demeanor that I was far removed from the serious world of writing...and humans, for that matter. I tried to hide my loneliness…even tried to talk myself out of going back to the meetings!

    It’s good we both returned, Keith. It truly is.

  2. I am so sorry Randy, that you went through times like that. Down the road, as I get to the end of the Zealot saga, I will write more about this, but the Writer's Center and the Group have made such a difference in my life. This novel saved me in a way. the Center and David and all of you became my friends and so much more for me. As we go through this, read into the words. You guys not only taught me about writing, you GOT to me. I was a tough guy to get to. No one ever got to know me, but you guys did. Writing is the vehicle.

  3. I'm so glad both of you have stuck with your writing and with the workshop. These tangential connections are always surprising and often rewarding.