Hello, all. I’m M. Edward McNally, but typically go by “Ed” online as I am an extremely lazy typist, which is an admirable quality as a writer. I’m the newbie on the IU staff, which means I get fed last in the mess hall.
Let’s see, a little about me. Well, I guess I can write a sort of “writer’s bio,” which will pretty much be my regular bio, but with less police involvement. Somewhat less.
I moved around a lot growing up, North Carolina to Chicago to California to Chicago (again) to Kansas to Iowa to Minnesota, and I always read quite a bit, as books were good friends I could take with me. Around third grade, in Kansas, a teacher sent a poem I’d written in class to the Kansas City Star, and the paper ran it. I believe it was about a garter snake. Anyway, seeing my name in print was it for me, and a realization that there were actually people somewhere behind all those books I loved. I was hooked on the idea of being a writer early on, at least for a while.
I went into the grad program in creative writing at Iowa State, which was grand. Nothing like having to generate stories on a regular basis to keep up your GPA and cushie TA job to impart writing discipline. I had a lot of great profs there, one of whom actually let me touch her Pulitzer once (not a euphemism), and started getting some short stories published in literary journals. Literary journals were these things called “magazines” that used to be around…very popular with dinosaurs, and pretty much went extinct about the same time. I completed a novel there along with a degree, and started the glorious process of shopping it around. To give you an idea of how that went, I quit writing fiction shortly thereafter for a period of about ten years.
Now, it wasn’t the experience with the novel that really soured me on the idea of making a living at writing, a lot of it had to do with being around “established” writers on a daily basis for a couple of years, going to conferences and events, etc., etc. Not that they were bad people, far from it. I love hanging out with writers, as that is definitely my “tribe.” However, doing so does tend to destroy any romantic, utopian view of a writer’s life. Let’s face it, we all want to sell enough books to earn a living from writing alone, and the gods’ honest truth is that statistically-speaking, no one does.
Of course, some few do, but I’m saying it is such a small number as to be statistically meaningless. Every prof I had in grad school was a well-established, award-winning novelist; with contracts, agents, the whole nine yards. They were, in short, all successful writers, and they were all still teaching college for a living. Planning on winning the lottery is a more viable financial strategy.
Depressed? Yeah, so was I. This would have been about 1997, so I was in my mid-twenties and realizing that basically I was training to be a college professor, when I thought I’d been training to be a writer, as that was all I had ever wanted to do. Also, I was at a point that I was realizing I was going to need to get some scratch together to get the whole family/dog/white-picket-fence thing going. I could have continued on the course I’d fallen in to, and maybe gone ahead and taught “creative writing” at a collegiate level. However, the other thing seven years of college and TAing freshman English courses had convinced me was that writing really can’t be taught. If you can write, you can get better at it, and people can help you. But if you can’t write, ain’t no teacher gonna make a difference.
Wow, this is already getting long…this must be why I can’t write a novel under 100K words to save my life. Anyway, long story slightly shorter: I quit writing, moved to a different state and school (Arizona State), and went back into another grad program, that one in History (on the theory that History can be taught, and if I was going to wind-up teaching, I should at least be teaching something which I believed could be taught). And for the next ten years, I wrote no fiction, per se. What I did do, totally by accident, was develop a hobby that combined my love of creative writing, history, and even some nerdly Dungeons & Dragons days of my youth. Over the course of a decade, I built a world. Just for kicks. Started with an invented landscape and primitive tribes, and sort of played-out around fourteen hundred years of cultural, economic, political, and technological evolution in a made-up world, where magic just happened to work, the gods answered prayers, and humanity was only one among the sort of classic fantasy “races.” In short, I created a fantasy setting, but not one that was stagnant and invented whole-cloth, all at once. Stuff happened and things developed, and I never knew where it was all going from day to day.
A few years back, some people of my world started poking at the back of my awareness. Mostly a young woman named Tilda Lanai, who had a story that she wanted me to tell. I started writing again, for her.
I never had any intention of going through the rigmarole of seeking a publisher again, as I knew what I was writing was a bit different, and different is exactly what agents and publishers don’t want to see. Traditional publishing is a business, and a business succeeds by giving people what they want, and what people want is what they are buying at the moment. So any book that tends to get “picked up” at any given moment is the one that looks most like what is selling at the moment. Thing is, tomorrow people might want something different, and I humbly submit that the fact you can never really plan for that as part of a business model may be part of the reason why trad publishing as a “business” has always been a lurching behemoth. Writers write books, and publishers turn them into commodities, knowing full well that the majority will never sell more than 100 copies. But the few that do hit “big” will let everybody keep working, and that’s just business.
Wow, this is verging toward manifesto territory, let me see if I can’t steer it back on to the biographic rails. The thing that brought me back to getting my writing “out there” again, was the “Indie” revolution, which I became aware of only recently. I had no idea it was even going on, as I am a guy who has always loved the feel of a book in my hands, and never had any interest in an e-reader until getting one for Christmas, just a little over a year ago. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it changed my life, as within about a month I was aware that people, honest-to-Betsy writers, were putting their own stuff up. And it wasn’t all crap by people who “couldn’t get published,” though of course there was some of that. Actually, kind of a lot of that. But there was an absolute ton of great writing being made directly available to consumers as well, and lo and behold, some discerning readers were able to tell the wheat from the chaff without somebody in an office somewhere telling them whether it was good or bad. Of course, there’s some complaining and kvetching and longing for “the good old days” going on, as if everything trad publishing ever produced was The Iliad compared to what some un-credentialed civilian could compose, but to me that only made the whole thing more interesting, more vibrant, and often hilarious. Where but “Indie World” could you actually see people who claim to love to read complaining that they have too many choices of what to read?
So, here I am, and here I have been for ten months now. Finding my way by a circuitous route to where I thought I was going thirty years ago, when the Kansas City Star ran a poem about a garter snake. And it feels like coming home. I look forward to sharing the adventure with you all. Go Indies, Unlimited. 😉
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M. Edward McNally has been writing for twenty of the last thirty years. Ten year spell of writer’s block in the middle, not recommended. He is a contributor at Indies Unlimited and tilts at his own windmills over at http://sablecity.wordpress.com/