Thursday, November 24, 2016

My Biggest Early Influence, aka Navigating the Hurricane

This week's topic is talking about someone who was a good influence on you early in your writing career (aka, someone you're thankful for).  I'm going to cheat slightly here, and pull out a piece I wrote when I was asked to do a bio for one the guests of honor at ArmadilloCon, who coincidentally, is exactly that person in my life.  (Plus, it's the holidays, and I've got plenty on my plate, so I'm allowed a bit of a blog-cheat.)

I’m in a car in the middle of nowhere on a deep, deep back-country road. Flash floods and washed out roads have forced my journey home off the main highway, and then off the side road. I’m literally in a moment one plot-point away from being a horror movie cliché. But it’s cool, because I’m riding shotgun with Stina Leicht.
All right, here’s the sitch: We were both on panels at ComicPalooza in Houston, scheduled for a last-panel-of-the-con slot at 5pm on a Monday. My wife had to drive home early, so I asked Stina for a ride back to Austin, and she was happy to oblige. So we get into Locksley—her blue Miata—and hit the road. Problem: there’s been serious flooding in Austin, and the heavy storms are making their way to us. Our respective spouses are texting us, “You might want to stay in Houston” messages. But we’re both thinking A. the storm is coming to Houston, so that’s not a better choice and B. no, we want to get home. And this is Stina Leicht I’m with. She’s navigated the choppy waters of the publishing industry, including the implosion of her first publisher, and came through with two Campbell nods and brand new flintlock fantasy series hitting the shelves. Rain ain’t gonna stop her.
The first time I saw Stina was ten years ago at the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop, my first time attending it. I was sitting in the room, surrounded by strangers and feeling a bit intimidated, especially with that panel of professional and experts at the front of the room. And then this woman walks—nay, strides—into the room like a gothic warrior intent on conquering. But, you know, cheerfully. She walked right up to that panel of experts and said hello. And I thought, “I don’t know who this woman is, but she’s clearly the champion of this workshop.” I was right about that—she finished up the con weekend getting a manuscript request from the Editor Guest of Honor. That’s not something that happens very often. Actually, having been involved in the workshop in varying capacities for the last decade, I don’t think it’s happened since.
Stina took over coordinating the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop shortly after that, which is how I got to know her. In running the workshop, she repeatedly showed her dedication and commitment to learning as much as she could about her craft, and then turning right around and sharing what she learned.
So, back to riding through that storm (spoiler: WE LIVED)—we just about made it to LaGrange when our phones lit up with TORNADO WARNING SEEK SHELTER. Stina pulls us into a gas station for a few minutes while we check the radar. The worst of it is just ahead of us, and past that? Clear sailing. If we just get through it.
Stina’s car, Stina’s call: “Let’s wait for the rain to be less… horizontal.”
Fifteen minutes later, gravity starts behaving again. We push through the downpour and past the other side. The sun is setting ahead of us, filtered through a heavy blanket of orange clouds and lightning across the sky. It’s a gorgeous alien horizon, and we talk about Ray Bradbury’s All Summer In A Day.
Then everything stops dead. The highway is flooded, and the troopers tell us to turn around. When asked for the best route to Austin, we get a shrug. I go into navigation mode and find us an alternate path that, near as I can tell, is clear. Rural country highway, but it’ll get us there. There’s already been hell and highwater, so we press on.
See, that’s the thing about Stina. She charges full-tilt. She’s not fearless, but rather looks the fear in the eye and beats it. She stood at the Gates of Mordor—or rather, the gates of traditional publishing— and proved her worth. But then she turned around to those behind her and said, “Hey, look, it can be done. Come on!” That’s what she did running the Workshop for seven years. And after a couple years of reading my stuff, she said, “You don’t need to be taking this workshop anymore. You should help me run it.”
She knows that the real secret—the honest to goodness this-is-how-you-do-it secret to succeeding in this business—has nothing to do with special clubs or handshakes or having the right cousin. It’s about doing the best damn work you can do.
Take her first two books—Of Blood and Honey and And Blue Skies from Pain. She didn’t just say, “I’m going to write about Ireland in the Troubles, so I’ll watch In The Name of the Father and get to it.” No way. She did the work. She read primary sources. She emailed people who lived through it. She took classes in the Irish language. She did everything in her power to make those books right. That’s how she works. They don’t give two Campbell nods to just anyone.
So, our country highway was also washed out. I figure out a new route to get us around that, but we are going deep into Nowheresville with this detour. Now it is totally dark, and the cell reception is spotty. We’re a breakdown and castle away from Rocky Horror territory, which we comment on. Then we miss a turn, leading us to a dead end where we see a sign that makes us both burst out laughing.
We turn back around at get back on track, eventually getting to a clear part of the main highway and back to Austin. Three hours later than we originally had hoped, but no worse for wear. We had gone through the gallows humor phase of our trip by that time.
“I mean,” I said once we were in the clear, “If we had died together, it would have boosted our careers. Well, at least mine. I’d have been the Ritchie Valens to your Buddy Holly.”
Fortunately, you’ll have Stina Leicht around for some time to come. Even still, you might want to pick up Cold Iron and pre-order Blackthorne now. 

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