5.08.2012

Allison M. Dickson Interviews Herself from 3 Years Ago

After putting the finishing touches on my manuscript for The Last Supper and mailing it off to a publisher yesterday, I sat back and I contemplated the personal enormity of what I'd accomplished. I've blogged about this before, but I don't think I've ever quite put my finger on why finally going back and completing this book has been such a gargantuan mindfuck for me.

The darker part of my mind believes I might be experiencing a bit of a grief process, because opening this book was like revisiting a part of myself that appears to have died, and finishing the book was like saying goodbye to that person forever. I don't really want to believe that, but I can't deny that's how it feels.

So I decided that the only way I was going to be able to get to the bottom of this turgid bucket of emotional turmoil was to climb into my personal Wayback Machine and venture back to the spring of 2009 so I could talk to the burgeoning wannabe author who was just in the thick of writing The Last Supper and believing unequivocally that she was on the verge of accomplishing something enormous. Luckily, that version of me (whom I will dub Allie '09 from here on out) was willing to speak to me at length--something that doesn't appear to have changed in the last 3 years. Here is the transcript: 

Allie '12: Thank you for having me, Allie '09. I sure miss that writing desk you have there. 

Allie '09: Oh yeah? Where are you writing now? 

Allie '12: Long story. So, let's get into this story you're working on. 

Allie '09 (face lights up): The Last Supper? Oh yeah, it's going to be huge! 

Allie '12: You think so, huh? 

Allie '09 (frowns): Well, doesn't it? I mean, you're coming to me from three years in the future. Tell me you sold it.

Allie '12: I wish I could tell you that, but I can't. I only just finished it yesterday. 

Allie '09: Are you freakin' kidding me? What the hell happened? 

Allie '12: A lot of things. Too many to list.

Allie '09: At least tell me I'm still writing in 2012.

Allie '12: Oh, you are. You definitely are. You will go on to write a few other novels, and you've also written a ton of short stories and managed to gain have a good number of readers and fans through self-publishing ebooks on Amazon.

Allie '09: Ebooks? Really? Those things actually caught on? 

Allie '12: They sure have. Big things are slowly unfolding for you. 

Allie '09: That's great! So... why don't you look happy? 

Allie '12: Because I've forgotten you. I've forgotten what makes you tick. You're still so fresh and raw, and completely unafraid to get in there and tell whatever story you want however you want it. And I guess I needed to be reminded of what that was like.

Allie '09: That's funny. I never thought that way about myself. I just do what I do, and I guess always thought things would just get easier from there. I thought I would be even better.

Allie '12: In a lot of ways, you are. But I think too much now. Remember when you wrote that first novella draft of Last Supper in a day and a half? 16000 words? Remember when you wrote Aria and a bunch of other short stories one after the other? At this point in your life, it takes you about three hours to write a 6000 word short story. Your work is too long rather than too short. 

Allie '09: Yeah, it's like my fingers can't move fast enough. I always compared it to creative rocket fuel. You don't do that anymore? 

Allie '12: Not even close. It takes me at least five days to write a single short story anymore. Turnaround time for novels is all over the place. I wrote one novel called The Stargazers in a month, though, so at least there's that. But it was during NaNoWriMo, and it wasn't a very long book. None of my stuff is very long anymore. If anything, it always needs more.

Allie '09: Hmmm. So, what happened? What slowed you down?

Allie '12: I think I let the few small successes I've had turn me into an even bigger perfectionist than you think you are now. I've taken every piece of criticism I've ever received to heart, and it's made me afraid to trust myself. Afraid to let go. You're going to ask for a lot of help with your writing over the years, and you're going to get it, but you're also going to start thinking you don't have what it takes to do things on your own, either. It's going to stifle you. It's going to hold you back. It's going to kill your motivation to finish some really great stories. And when you do finish them, and people love them, you're never going to know how to own that accomplishment. 

Allie '09: Ugh. I don't like the sound of this at all. I already have trouble owning my accomplishments.

Allie '12: Well, it's going to get worse. But maybe if you can remind me what it is that keeps you going, it can get better in the future. Why is The Last Supper is in many ways better than anything I'm writing right now? 

Allie '09: ..... I guess it's because I don't think about whether or not I'm going to be rejected. I just don't care. The story is awesome and I'm having a blast writing it and imagining all the possibilities. I figure there has to be someone out there who will love it as much as I do. Don't you feel that way anymore when you write?

Allie '12: Not as much. All I can think of anymore is not getting rejected again. And self-publishing because I'm afraid of rejection, or not pushing myself because I'm afraid of rejection. Or because I think the publishing industry doesn't have any room for me. I've become cynical and jaded. 

Allie '09: I'm sorry, but that's just stupid. Maybe the difference between us is that I haven't really thought at all about the industry. I'm just writing because I feel awesome when I do it and I don't care about anything else. Reading depressing things about the writing industry is just a bad idea. I think only rejected writers read or write that stuff to make themselves feel better about being rejected.

Allie '12 (sits in silence for a few minutes): You know... you're right about that. So very right. Thank you, '09. You've helped a lot. 

Allie '09: I'm glad to help. For both of our sakes.

Allie '12: Can we keep in touch now and then? I really need that. 

Allie '09: Sure thing. Just lighten up a little, would you? You always make things harder than they need to be. I had hoped that would get easier in the future, but I guess you're still working on it. 

Allie '12: I don't know if the work will ever stop, but I guess a little perspective switch now and then is a good thing.

I get up and give '09's desk another wistful look. I miss that glass and chrome monstrosity, and the corner it used to sit in, where the lighting was perfect and the future felt almost too big and bright to hold itself in. I turn to go, but '09 has one last thing to say. 

"So you say I wrote a few other novels since then. Can you tell me about one?" 

I think about it for a minute and then say, "Salad-tossing vampires.