Last Tuesday (7/20/2021) marked exactly ten years I’ve been a published writer. My first sold story, “Weird Tales,” appeared in the fourth issue of Shock Totem on July 20th, 2011. It’s a 600-word Lovecraft pastiche that utilizes one of the subgenre’s tiredest tropes, namely the “Old Gent” himself as a central character.
What can I say, I was a teenager.
It’s not much, but it got mild praise when read aloud to my high school English class the previous year, and not only was it my first sale, it was also my first pro sale. Shock Totem no longer exists (at least not in the same form; the last issue came out in 2019 and the website is no longer active), but for a brief time (from about 2010 to 2014 or thereabouts) it was one of the most exciting horror publications around. My story shared issue No. 4 with fiction by Weston Ochse, A. C. Wise, and Rennie Sparks (of Handsome Family fame), as well as an interview with Sparks and another with the godmother of 21st century horror herself, Kathe Koja. And not only was my name on the table of contents alongside these relative giants, it was on the cover!
Getting in that issue validated a dream I’d nurtured since early 2001, when I first read Brian Jacques and subsequently changed my intended adult profession from “paleontologist” to “author.” Now, twenty years after that, and about sixteen years after I started submitting my work, I’ve got one novella and a little over a dozen short stories published in various places, along with a small handful of essays, interviews, and articles.
It doesn’t seem like a whole hell of a lot, when I look at many of my similar-aged colleagues. That’s certainly the thought that runs on repeat in my head when I’m Ludovico-strapped with imposter syndrome. But it’s more than some, and in any case constantly comparing myself to others is not the healthiest way to go about writing or living.
In any case, there are at least a few accomplishments I feel truly and justifiably proud of.
I didn’t write or submit as often as I should have after that first sale, foolishly thinking I’d just opened some sort of floodgate of success I could coast from. My second story wasn’t published until 2015, but I’d like to think that gap was also due to my editorial role on the college lit journal in 2013 and 2014. And, in 2015, my third (semi-) published story, another pastiche called “The Terrible Grimoire,” was a finalist in a Lovecraftian fiction contest held by the Providence Journal. The newspaper of Lovecraft’s hometown published an abridged version (the full version was later printed in my chapbook, Nods to the Master), and I was invited to read my story in front of strangers in a strange town (which I did, and have done numerous times since in other towns). Also in 2015, my fourth story was published in Whispers from the Abyss 2 (01 Publishing, 2015), which reunited me on a ToC with A. C. Wise and put me in the new company of such awesome talents as John C. Foster, Orrin Grey, Cody Goodfellow, and contender for my Favorite Living Writer since roughly 2006, Laird Barron. The following year, I wrote a story inspired by the first season of True Detective (specifically that Handsome Family song used as the show’s theme) for an open call, and it became one of my most successful and rewarding.
Though horror is where I put down roots, I’ve branched out into other genres. In 2017 I sold a sword-and-sorcery story based on one of the very first things I ever wrote. The story was “Three Hundred Pieces” to Heroic Fantasy Short Stories (Flame Tree Publishing, 2017), and felt like a vindication of nine-year-old me. I also started writing and selling more straightforward crime fiction, having previously only written crime stories with overt horror elements.
Later that same year I sold my first novella, Nightbird (Unnerving, 2018). It was the first book with only my name on the byline, and probably my most significant . It led to my first real reviews, my first royalties, my first interviews and mentions on podcasts and various blogs. I even started appearing as a panelist at conventions, including one where I got to sit next to Stephen Graham Jones as though we were equally relevant.
In 2019, I sold what I consider my best story (“The 800-pound Gorilla in the Room”) to the Saturday Evening Post, the literary alma mater of personal gods like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s my first published story that I would classify primarily as science fiction (another vindication; most of the rejections I received in my teens were for science fiction stories). My second science fiction story, “Ahead of Dragons,” came out in Planet Scumm in 2020, and put me on a ToC with rising star Hailey Piper.
All in all, I think it’s been a reasonably successful ten years. Any regrets I have in relation to my writing career thus far are minor relative to the validation I’ve felt upon reaching each of these milestones. And, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s yet another on the horizon that I just can’t talk about publicly yet.
Once I can, you’ll be the first to know.