My 20th anniversary as a “professional writer.”

So, it was on or about this day in 1998 – give or take a day here and there, depending on your book retailer of choice – that my first ever professional piece of fiction was published.

Those of you who’ve been following this program for any length of time know how this origin tale goes, but for those of you new to the scene, that story was “Reflections,” published in the first ever snw1Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology.

Strange New Worlds was what resulted from the first of what would end up being eleven (so far?) contests. Edited by veteran writer and editor Dean Wesley Smith along with John Ordover (at the time one of the Star Trek editors at Pocket Books) and Paula Block (at the time working for CBS Consumer Products), was a way for fans to do something cool: write a Star Trek story, have it published, get paid for it, and feel like they were contributing – even in some small way – to the ever-expanding universe of stories they loved so much.

Prior to the first contest’s announcement in 1997, I never had written anything with an eye toward professional publication. I wrote stories that were included in fanzines, or might still be buried somewhere in an online archive, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine, Deb Simpson, essentially dared me to submit a story to the contest. So, I took a story I’d written before, and reworked it. Then, I printed it, stuck it in an envelope, and mailed it to Pocket Books in New York, because that’s how you did this kind of thing back in those days. Once that was done, I went on with life, because I knew it would be months before any results were announced.

For the first year’s results, contest editor Dean Wesley Smith and Pocket Books Star Trek editor John Ordover revealed the winners in a chat room on America Online, back when America Online was a service to which you connected via your computer modem. Dean and John announced 18 names, and I punched the air when I saw “Dayton Ward, ‘Reflections’” pop up on the chat screen.

In the days to come, I’d receive my first-ever publishing contract in the mail. I’d get my story sent back to me with a few marks and notes intended to tighten up the thing. I still have the cover flat I received in the months before the book’s publication, and even the bound galleys of the entire book, printed up on 8.5″ x 11″ paper, landscape-style, in which we newbies got our first look at what our stories looked like in a “real book.”

Then, finally, the book started showing up in stores, and I just had to go see for myself. Though I still get a thrill from seeing a new title of mine on a store shelf, nothing has quite equaled that first time.

And of course, you know what happened after that.

Since then? What an odd, yet so very rewarding journey it’s been.

First among the many positives which have come in the wake of that first short story sale is my friendship with Kevin Dilmore. We likely never would’ve met if not for the way Fate saw fit to have him interviewing the first batch of SNW winners for the Star Trek Communicator magazine. Fate also had him decide to ask me to meet him for a beer after work so that he could conduct his interview in person because we lived within 45 minutes of each other. He could’ve just as easily eMailed the interview questions to me, as he did with the other 17 winners, and that might well have been that.

(Sometimes, I have to wonder if Kevin regrets that choice 😉 )

Anyway, Fate’s a funny lady, sometimes.

Along the way, I’ve made numerous friends, be they fans, other writers, artists, or other publishing professionals. I’ve enjoyed several very rewarding opportunities, and had more than a few “Holy shit! Did that really just happen?” moments bestowed upon me. It’s been tremendous fun — more than I likely deserve — and every day I do my best to remember and appreciate the good fortune that’s come my way.

Of course, most if not all of that good fortune can be credited to Dean, John, and Paula, who put me on this path. Then there are the people who came after them, expending time and even money to read the stories I’ve written since “Reflections.” Maybe that’s you, reader of this blog posting. To you, and all of the editors, publishers, and readers who at some point have taken a chance on me, I thank you.

Here’s to the next 20.

Advertisements

I think I might be addicted to writing journals.

My thinking on this started the other day, when I decided I had to have this, a ruled-paper journal published by Insight Editions and recreating the cover of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased as seen in the film Beetlejuice.

Yep. Had to have it.

I’m probably not going to actually write in it, you understand. That’d just be silly! Who does that?

(What? That’s the whole point of these things? Oh. Well, then.)

There are all kinds of writing journals out there, ranging from your ordinary, everyday, unexciting book of blank or ruled pages to those featuring writing prompts and other exercises that (supposedly) get the muse’s blood pumping when it’s acting like a whiny little shit. Then there are the ones aimed at kids, from your basic diary (complete with lock!) to stuff like Wreck This Journal, which I have to confess is a damned brilliant idea. My kids love those. I mean, where was this kind of thing when *I* was a kid?

Thinking on it, my flirtation with “writing journals” of one sort of another likely goes back to my military days, where we used these green “log books” to write down just about anything and everything. In the days before “day planners” and fancy calendars from places like Franklin Covey (which are so ridiculous that my company literally sent us to an actual class on how to “properly” use one. Not even kidding.), there was the log book.

These green weenies were the lifeblood of a young Marine of your acquaintance. My whole life was in an ever-growing collection of these little bastards. Everything from phone numbers to notes from meetings and orders from officers to software installation and hardware configuration procedures to hand-drawn diagrams for making our own printer cables and whatnot. Hey, this was before the internet, where we had to figure out all of that crazy shit for ourselves.

Anyway, it was inevitable that I’d start using the things to jot down stories and whatever. Even way back then, I was a budding writer wannabe. I still have a couple of the log books containing those oh-so very awful stories and whatever. A recent stint working on a government contract brought me back into the world of these things, which are still around and still kicking ass and taking names.

Now, as a writer and despite living in the Electronic Age, I still do a lot of scribbling, idea-spinning, and general dabbling via pen and paper. However, I’ve never really been one for needing to be seen with a fancy writing journal. Instead, I’m happy with such stalwart helpers as your general purpose legal pad, spiral notebook, or the champion of low-cost journaling: the Composition book.

I buy these things a half dozen at a time, and there’s always one in my backpack or messenger bag. They’re perfect for working out story ideas and other short-burn type writing, but I’ve been known to write entire scenes or chapters in them, depending on the situation. When I travel on vacation, I’m usually loathe to take a laptop with me, so a couple of Composition books are handy if the writing itch strikes.

However, I’m certainly not immune to the siren’s call of a fancy writer’s journal. It’s happened, and upon reflection it’s happened more times than I care to admit. After all, somebody has to be buying those “moleskin” journals that make you look all erudite and hipster when sitting at the bookstore cafe pretending to write while you’re really just reading Facebook or Twitter, or writing pithy blog posts like this one in order to avoid actual, productive writing, right? Not just me?

Then there are the journals that make me laugh when I see them in the store. Like the aforementioned Handbook for the Recently Deceased, other treasures have been encountered at various bookstores, demanding that I take them home with me. For example:

These are so me, right?

Of course, I can’t be a writer of Star Trek stuff without Star Trek being represented:

And finally, not because they’re actually useful as writing journals, but rather just because they look cool sitting on the desk:

I think this might really be a sickness.

But, when it’s all said and done, my trusty Composition book remains my weapon of choice. They’re inexpensive, I don’t care if they get damaged, and they’re just the “right” size for spewing words out of a pen onto paper.

What say you? If you are the sort to write longhand for any length of time, do you have a personal preference or favorite, or dependable standby that’s always there when you need it? Fess up, writer types!

ReWard: The 7 Phases of Almost Any Writing Project.

Every once in a while, my little blog here strives to be something more than a platform for the shameless whoring of myself and my various scribblings. There are the infrequent reminiscences and ruminations about favorite books, films, or TV shows. On rare occasions, I might see fit to delve into a current events topic. Rarer still are those entries where I try to offer meaningful writing advice, or at least a pithy anecdote gleaned from my time in “the trenches” of writing for a so-called living.

This is one of those pieces.

A couple of years ago, while faced with a deadline to have a post ready for the Novel Spaces writing blog along with being caught up in the grips of a Writing Project That Would Not Die, I came up with a list of things that seem able to confront any writing project regardless of size or scope.

The result made for a handy Novel Spaces column, and now seems like a nice thing throw into this space as a “ReWard” piece, in a desperate bid to make this site look like it’s generating fresh content on a more or less regular schedule.

So, from January 2016, I offer the following:

Continue reading “ReWard: The 7 Phases of Almost Any Writing Project.”

Wait…I’ve been doing this writing thing for how long?

It hit me today while reading a Facebook thread featuring comments from one of the responsible parties: I’ve been doing this writing thing….well, the “paid for my writing” thing…for twenty years, now.

Twenty. Years.

Holy. Shit.

snw1Okay, okay. In truth, I’d been writing for a few years at that point, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1997 that somebody actually decided for the first time – after reading a story I’d submitted to their writing contest, of their own free will and without the assistance of mood altering substances – to pay me for my writing. That someone was editor John Ordover at Pocket Books, and the story was “Reflections,” which I’d sent to be considered for inclusion in the very first Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology.

Most of you know what happened after that. Secret origin story. Never-ending battles. Truth, justice, and the American Way and so on and so forth. Blah blah bah.

Twenty. Years.

Holy Shit.

Of course, the anthology which was the result of that first contest wouldn’t be published until the following summer, but I mark the letter I received from John as the starting point for what has become my “writing career.” He, along with editor Dean Wesley Smith and Paula Block (who at the time was working for Star Trek‘s licensing department), put me on the path I continue to walk to this day.

(Oddly, the letter is undated, and I find myself unable to recall the date the first contest’s winners were announced. All I remember for sure is “fall 1997,” so I guess a ballpark guess will just have to do. Sucks getting old(er), amirite?)

honor-coverThis is something of a retcon on my part, as back then I had no real aspirations of being “a writer.” It wasn’t a path I’d remotely considered, as at the time I was neck deep in my career as a software developer, having made the transition from military service to the private sector just a year previously. That feeling didn’t change during the next two years, as I submitted stories to the next two SNW contests (and earned a place in the table of contents for the resulting anthologies). Only when John called me and asked if I wanted to write a full-blown Star Trek novel for him did start to wonder – just a bit – if there was something to this whole writing thing.

To be honest, I still wonder that, pretty much all the time, all these years later. And yet, here we are, twenty years later, and I think there’s a chance I might stick with it.

So, yeah: Twenty years. I’m not a “big name” or anything. I’m not one of those writers who will ever be recognized or remembered in passing. There won’t be any big movie or TV deals waiting in the wings for anything I write, but none of that really matters. I’m having fun, and I have a readership who makes up for their modest numbers with their unrelenting enthusiasm and support. I’m totally good with that.

The biggest thing to come out of that first contest was my meeting Kevin Dilmore. What began with him interviewing me as one of the contest’s eighteen winners has become an enduring friendship that I treasure. Indeed, he’s ‘ohana; a member of my family. There a many, many other people I’ve met and befriended since then; people I’d never know if not for this rather odd adventure, which began with that first short story.

I’ve benefitted from several opportunities which I’d otherwise never have received, including a handful of genuine, “Are you kidding me? That that just happen?” moments. There have been a bunch of novels and other short stories during these past twenty years, and there are countless people to thank for this journey I’ve undertaken, so many of whom have expended time, energy, and money in some manner on my behalf. Most important among that group: the readers who’ve accepted the invitation to travel with me every time there’s a new story with my name on the by-line. To anyone who at some point took a chance on me, you have my heartfelt thanks.

Then there’s my wife, Michi, of course. She’s been with me every step of the way, my biggest supporter and loudest, most enthusiastic cheerleader. I literally couldn’t have done any of this without her in my corner.

What will the next twenty years bring? Damifino. Guess we’ll just have to see what we see.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish reviewing this latest novel manuscript.

#AmWriting
#NoReally

“5 Questions” with me, @ Ninetoes Loves Books!

I don’t know how I managed to overlook yammering about this earlier in the week, but it seems I did. Chalk it up to trying to knock out a few pending projects and clear the decks for some new stuff getting ladled onto my plate during the coming week.

Anyway, I was contacted a month or so ago by Darren Perdue, who writes and maintains the blog Ninetoes Loves Books, which is devoted to exactly the topic its name implies. One of the blog’s recurring features is “5 Questions,” which Darren poses to various authors. My responses to his five queries were posted on September 11th, and I completely forgot to mention anything about it before now, because…well…because I’m a bonehead, or something.

Anyway, for those interested in seeing my answers to Darren’s “5 Questions” feature, you can mosey on over and check them out here:

Ninetoes Loves Books: 5 Questions With Dayton Ward

Many thanks to Darren for opting to feature me in his space and for giving me a chance to babble for a bit!

18893076_10155414358483270_747114380365486877_n

ReWard: Writing for “Exposure?” We’re Still On That?

While culling through this morning’s batch of e-Mail, I came across not one but two — count ’em, TWO — “invitations” to write for someone or something. No payment was offered, of course, and the language of the e-Mails themselves suggested none would be forthcoming. Indeed, perhaps my even wondering about such things might be viewed as a crime against the purity of the written word, blah blah blah.

Yep, you guessed it: I’d been offered the chance to write “for the exposure.”

Setting aside my initial thought that I’d never heard of a) the people sending the e-Mail or b) the publishing endeavor they claimed to represent, I next reaction was, “Are you fucking kidding me? We’re still doing that?”

Of course we are.

A couple of years ago during my stint writing for the Novel Spaces blog, I wrote about the long debated “writing for exposure” chestnut. Rather than regurgitate the gist of that earlier column, I figured I’d just make a few updates and tweaks before regurgitating it in full right here! Read on:

Continue reading “ReWard: Writing for “Exposure?” We’re Still On That?”