Birthdays of Three Seminal Influences

Today marks the third of three straight days of birthdays celebrated by seminal writing influences of mine.

Jeanne Cavelos, whose Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop turned my writing career around, celebrated her birthday on Wednesday. 

When I attended Odyssey in 2006, I was struggling mightily, more with confidence than anything else.  I’d enjoyed considerable success with my nonfiction, but my fiction was at a crossroads.  My stories weren’t selling–heck, I couldn’t give them away–and I suspected I just didn’t have what it took. 

Time after time, I had quit in frustration only to return, drawn back by the need to write even if so often it felt like I was just slamming my head against the wall.  I wondered aloud whether I was wasting my time. 

Working directly with Jeanne (as well as guest lecturers Robert J. Sawyer, Christopher Golden, and Jeff VanderMeer) convinced me that I had weaknesses I needed to work on but that, no, I wasn’t wasting my time. 

My mantra became the only one who can stop me is me.  In the year that followed, I wrote all 365 days.  What I’d needed even more than the technical advice was the belief that I should keep going. 

Jeanne will always be one of my most important influences.

Yesterday, Harlan Ellison celebrated his 76th birthday.  While he doesn’t know me from the proverbial hole in the wall, his stories sparked my interest in writing.  A friend loaned me a book of his short stories and Ellison blew me away with the power of his writing.

After my first dose of Harlan, I sat down and scrawled my first fictional paragraphs.  I felt as if, in a phrase Ellison has used, lightning was coming out of my fingertips.

I was hooked.  Hooked for life.

Finally, today marks my wife’s birthday.  Brenda has been a never-failing source of inspiration and encouragement for me, propping me up when her own self-interest should have pointed her in the opposite direction.  Allow me the latest example.

When I recently returned home after being away for ten days at a writing workshop, I found that she’d taken a room in our house and converted it into a writing office for me.  A new desk, rug, and filing cabinet.  Freshly painted walls. Bookcases neatly arrayed with my writing books.   Framed memorabilia, such as a personalized rejection from Esquire,  that I used for motivation. 

The most amazing writing office possible. 

While I’d been away, she’d gotten up as early as six in the morning and worked on that former train wreck of a room until after midnight.  For me.  Just amazing. 

Did I hit the lottery when I married Brenda or what?

Using a phrase I’ve borrowed from fellow writer and friend Cindie Geddes, I now call Brenda BWE: Best Wife Ever

So Happy Birthday to all three seminal influences.  But with all due respect to Jeanne and Harlan, I saved the best for last.


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