Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sensible Career vs. Dream Career

Calcaterra '99

By Garrett Calcaterra '99 

When my creative writing instructors at Pacific University explained to me that making a successful career as a writer was extremely difficult, I happily disregarded their warnings. 

I took my minor in creative writing and went off to California to get my MFA in fiction writing where I heard more of the same from my new professors: it takes years, usually decades, of persistence and honing your craft to make it as a writer. No twenty year old wants to hear their dream could be decades away, so again, I happily ignored those warning and went about my business.

My instructors were all right, of course, but if I’d heeded their warnings and taken on a sensible career I don’t know that I would have had the heart to stick with writing for so long. As it was, I kept at it, working whatever jobs necessary to make ends meet and writing, writing, writing. 

There were a lot of small successes along the way—short stories, essays, and articles that got published here and there—but an author judges his or her success with books. The explosion of small independent publishers over the last several years gave me the opportunity to publish two books of novellas, but I was still hunting for that first publication of a full fledged novel.

Fourteen years after graduating from Pacific, it’s finally happened. Dreamwielder isn’t the first novel I’ve written, but it’s the first of mine to be published, and it’s my favorite. 

The soundest advice I received from my writing instructors was to write what you love to read, and so that’s what Dreamwielder is—high fantasy adventure, very much in the vein of Tolkien and Le Guin and contemporary fantasy writers like George R.R. Martin. 

It’s rooted in this fantasy tradition I grew up loving, but not derivative of it. Instead, I made a huge effort to make Dreamwielder very much an American fantasy novel and also challenge the stereotypical gender roles of popular fiction. Certainly, it’s a book I’m very proud of, and I hope it speaks to readers.

In the meantime, it’s more of the same for me. I’m writing like a maniac and have even taken on the role of a writing teacher. When young writers ask me what it takes to make it as a writer, I tell them the same thing my instructors told me: it takes years of hard work and honing your craft, and if you’re crazy enough to stick with it, then you have exactly what it takes to be an author. 

Calcaterra ’99 was an applied science major with a minor in creative writing at Pacific University. He teaches writing at Chapman University and the Orange County School of the Arts. His new novel, Dreamwielder, is available in e-book format at all major retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

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