A Journey in Story
Here at Exeter Writers, we are busy reading all the entries for this year's short story competition and the results will be announced in June 2015. In the meantime, we were delighted to receive this article recently from one of last year's prize winners, Jim Kroepfl, telling us about his writing journey.
I always knew I’d write. But taking it seriously, making it your purpose, well that’s intimidating stuff. Eventually though, when you decide to take night courses on screenwriting and mythology instead of French cooking or how to brew your own beer; when you spend your vacation at a writers conference in Topeka instead of on the beach in Cozumel, and when you become so entranced writing your way into another world that you miss Downton Abbey, you realize you are a writer. This is nice, until you come to understand that no other occupation will ever be as satisfying.
Which leads to the first major impasse: calling yourself a writer. Don’t be fooled, it takes more courage than you’d expect. After writing part-time for five years, my wife and I started calling ourselves writers two years ago, and our life has changed completely. After twenty years in the city, we sold our house and moved to a town in the mountains so small it would be nearly impossible to do anything else. Which is kind of the point…because we’re writers. See what can happen?
We write together in a small cabin. In the summer, when the dog swims in the lake and every walk is a perfect walk, we each write short stories; and in the winter, when snow covers everything like a blank page, we write novels together. We’ve written three, haven’t sold any, but we’ve enjoyed every single day we worked on them. I feel like we know a little more about the world; I certainly know more about myself.
A novel is a nine-month chess game with ten or more characters at once. Brainstorming. Outlining. Writing. Outlining again. Re-writing. Re-writing again. Despair. Re-writing yet some more. The deep black emotional pit of facing a wasted year. Divine Inspiration. Re-writing. And finally, with unimaginable luck and relief, pulling it all together. With the novel, there is creativity every day, but there’s also the grindstone. A lot of the grindstone. A novel becomes an exhausting obsession, and I can’t wait to start the next one.
Short stories, though. They come out of nowhere. Usurping your thoughts at the strangest times, demanding to be written. And since it comes through you so quickly, you think it must be absurd. Blatantly shallow and lifeless. And then you spend months reaching deeper, carving your way to the truth of it, which is always how the character feels as he lives through the story. That is the part you have to get across—the part you have to get right.
Sometimes if you’re lucky, even though you put the words down yourself and have read them thirty to fifty times, it comes alive. You are somewhere else, watching the most implausible event occur in your mind and believing it sincerely. You feel the adrenalin, the shortness of breath and tightness in your stomach. You sense the thrill of survival, the ache of longing, or the bittersweet satisfaction of coming to know yourself. That’s when you know the story has evolved beyond you, when it makes you feel. And all this happens through this code we’ve devised—these artfully-arranged symbols on paper. Magic.
I send pieces all over the world, and I’m fascinated by the places that connect with my stories and the places that don’t. Portland, but not Seattle. San Francisco, but not New York. London and Exeter (wonderful Exeter), but nothing from Winchester. And Bridwell? Not a peep. Art touches everyone in a different way.
And then there’s the business part: querying, pitching, platform. You need a website, a Facebook page, something called Twitter, and new things all the time, which has nothing to do with writing a good book, of course, but a surprising lot to do with getting one published. Everything helps, but you can’t do everything, so you pick your strengths and do what you can, which is immense fun.
We have had three agents and worked with two independent editors: wonderfully smart and unique people with a love for books. Each one played their role in our development and moved on, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their help.
It’s February and we’re finishing a new novel. Our best work so far. Humor, pacing, character arc, the fine interweaving of tenses. It might sell. It might even get published. That would be spectacular, but my favorite memories of this novel will always be spending the winter writing it with Stephanie. After all, I’m a writer.
Thank you, Exeter Writers, for enjoying my stories. It’s a thrill and an honor to be recognized. And congratulations to Tracey Glasspool for “Dancing the Animals.” I was hypnotized.
Jim Kroepfl writes adventure and mystery stories and YA novels for boys from the rustic town of Grand Lake, Colorado. He shares a mountain cabin with his wife, Stephanie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Gage. Jim and Stephanie are Celtic mythology buffs and avid world travelers who seek out crop circles, obscure historical sites, and mysterious ruins. Jim has had numerous stories and articles published in both the United States and England. When he’s not writing, he is a songwriter and performer. Jim wants to see music, art, and story made available to every student in America. You can find more about Jim and Stephanie here.