Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How it Started vs How it's Going

It's Insecure Writer's Support Group Day again, and for this first Wednesday of the month--the last one of the 2021 year--we have a reflection wrap-up post from the IWSG Dark Matter contest winner. Stephanie Espinoza Villamor shares her thoughts about the contest one year later and how far everything has come:

I can hardly believe it's been over a year and a half since I first started drafting "Artificial," the title story in Dark Matter: Artificial and contest winner for the Insecure Writer's Support Group 2020 science fiction anthology contest. I remember reading the prompt, "dark matter" with so much uncertainty. I remember opening up a Google Doc titled "Sci-Fi Short Story #1" in April 2020 after my then 10-month-old nursed to sleep. The document and the title changed over the course of several months before the content deadline. In May 2020 the story was going to be called "The Archive." In June 2020 it switched to "Sci-Fi Story - AI" (and then it really began to take off). In July 2020 my title ideas included "What an AI is For," or "Something Real" or "Building a Memory." Finally I was down to "Artificial Memory" and finally, "Artificial." I'm so glad I settled on this title when I submitted the story on August 11 to ensure receipt before the September 2 deadline. The publisher herself said my title fit with the main title very well so it was perfect as a subtitle.

I was just in shock to have actually won that honor.

This was how it started. As the year comes to an end and a new anthology gets ready to take our place with the Sweet Romance: First Love contest nearly complete, I can reflect on my entire contest experience from start to finish. Around this time last year I had only just found out I would be published in the anthology--my first major publication outside of some local magazine/short story collections. Though the news was still under wraps, I was starting to learn about contracts and get ideas for marketing. Soon I would get to virtually meet the other winning authors over email and through this blog. I was so excited for the day I received an advanced ebook copy so I could read their winning stories as well!

How has the contest changed me? I don't know if I feel less "insecure", but I am more likely to call myself a "published author." I think, more than anything, I do feel "secure" enough to write outside my comfort zone. Growing up writing fantasy and contemporary school stories,  I never thought I would be any good at science fiction. Now I've had two science fiction short stories published with ideas for several more. I even tried my hand at writing a supernatural story! I'm not typically a fan of "scary" stories, but suddenly I was willing to try a few ideas. While I didn't participate in the Sweet Romance: First Love contest, I've been thinking about ideas for sweet romances that are less common/mainstream, and certainly nothing I've ever written before. There's newfound confidence but also a willingness to take more risks with my writing before. Because they might pay off in ways I never thought possible.

I've now learned how to market through social media. I've presented at an international speculative fiction convention. I've submitted my work to more contests than I ever would have dared and I even applied for a creative activities award that's offered in my state. But even if these endeavors don't lead to publications, they motivate me to keep writing. To me that's the best part of all. You can't get your work out there if you don't have any work. You can't draft and edit if there's no draft. To be a writer the only real requirement is to write. And this contest experience has not only been a fun adventure but it's inspired me to continue the writing that I've always loved, even when life gets busy. Even when you have a baby (or one on the way...). It's worth it to keep writing in your life. When you have a full-time job, a family, and so many responsibilities, it's important to have at least one special thing that's just for yourself. Writing is that for me.

How is it going? Well, since 2021 led up to the publication of Dark Matter: Artificial in May, I've mostly been focused on marketing and spreading the word. I've been practicing using professional social media, organizing these blog posts, and trying to get some book signings in local stores. Unfortunately the pandemic affects us all and many potential in-person events were cancelled again when the COVID-19 Delta variant started surging in our area. But as this year comes to a close, my plan is to get back to writing more (at least until my second son arrives in January). I'm also awaiting the news of another anthology contest (I'm still in the running since I didn't receive the initial rejection email!) and the publication of a non-fiction book I co-wrote about my "day job", due out in June 2022 (Practical Marketing for the Academic Library)!

I also just found out on November 22 that I won the creative award I applied for! The award recognizes significant accomplishments that bring recognition to our local institutions in the state. I couldn't be more honored. It's such an exciting way to encapsulate this year and show how much my writing has grown.

I'm grateful to everyone who has been a part of this anthology experience. To publisher L. Diane Wolfe, IWSG founder Alex J. Cavanaugh, and all the judges for the 2020 science fiction anthology contest. To my fellow authors who are amazing writers that I am in awe to be published beside: C.D., Kim, Steph, Tara, Deniz, Charles, Olga, Elizabeth, and Mark. Thank you especially to Tara Tyler and Louise Barbour for their help with this wonderful blog process!

And a personal thank you to my writing group friends: Beth Schuck (published in the IWSG anthology Voyagers: The Third Ghost), Theri, Michelle, Abriana, Rebecca, and Jen who read my stories and are always been so supportive and helpful. If you can join a writing group to read and critique your work, I can't tell you how valuable that is in terms of improving what you write as well as lifting you up right when you need it.

Additional shout outs to my family: my parents, brothers, in-laws, husband, and son all inspire, help, and support me in ways that allow me to write and encourage me to keep going. And while I haven't met him yet, I'm excited for my current WIP: Baby #2!

I hope this post inspires others to continue their own writing journeys knowing that it is possible to meet your goals and that there can be payoff at any time, any step along the way. There is no "end" with being a writer--no one task that you have to accomplish to have officially "made it." You just keep going and keep enjoying your achievements--big and small--along the way.

How it started: April 2020, working from home during the pandemic
and writing while my 10-month-old sleeps (not always easy!)

How it's going: 2021, published with a 2-year-old! 
One book on the way (due June 2022)
and one baby on the way (due January 2022)!

If you still haven't checked out Dark Matter: Artificial and want to know what our authors have been talking about, we encourage you to pick up your copy today (and just in time for the holidays too if you're looking for a unique gift for the readers in your life)! The science fiction anthology is on sale on Amazon right now, and can be found through Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and our publisher: Dancing Lemur Press. Happy Writing and Happy Reading!