Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

Fifteen Years.

2011 marks the fifteenth year that I have been in print.

I began writing short fiction and trying to sell it in my last year of High School, when I was eighteen. I managed to sell a short story to a role playing magazine, called Australian Realms, if I remember right, at the end of that year, the start of the next. I'm a little unsure of the timing, these days. It was never published, though: the magazine folded before it saw print, and was another year or so before I saw print in the fanzine run by Ron Clarke, The Mentor. There was no payment and it was photocopied pages stapled together, with a rather large letter column from people in the community, both authors and fans. I have no idea if the 'zine is still out there, but the internet keeps a lot of embarrassing things alive, so that actual issue is available. You can even see Trent Jamieson writing poetry (and then complaining about typos in the letter column!) and Kirstyn McDermott writing about gender. Later issues, I'm sure, have Sean Williams in the letters, and earlier issues have his early, early fiction, if I remember right.

Still, the truth is, I came to short fiction fairly late, and started writing it mostly as a way to build a reputation for myself to sell novels. I learned my love for it as I wrote it, not the other way around. A lot of people told me that was how you got a career for yourself, though these days, I would say otherwise. Most people who read novels don't care about short fiction, and while it can help you build your name, there's more than enough people out there with no, or barely any, short publications to their name who have published novels, made a name for themselves, and have houses in multiple countries. Still, it's fun stuff to write, it introduces you to a lot of people, and because novels can take so long to be read, to be rejected, to be bought, the short turn round in short fiction is a nice jolt, a small bite along the road. It doesn't compare to seeing your name on an actual book, though, one that you can call your own. That's a pretty sweet experience--but it helps you get there, no doubt about it.

But still, fifteen years.

I can look back at a lot of the work I've published and think how young I was, how naive, even. I'll be thirty-five this year, but that's at the end of the year, and a lot of my work is from those years where you can be angry and full of energy. Now, I reckon I'm a bit more restrained, but I can see the point where I began to form, change, and find my voice, and how important all those years was. My first story where I reckon everything started to come together for me was a short story called 'Cigarettes and Roses', and I remember returning to Black Sheep and deleting about forty thousand words out of it before I started writing it again. In my mind, that's a pretty flawed work, that book, and I don't know if I'm happy it got published, but I don't suppose it hurts that it was. The experience of it getting published was one that I learned a lot from, which is what you say about every experience that was not superb. 26Lies was a lot more of a positive experience, as has Above/Below been. Those books I standby as much as one can standby their own work.

When I wasn't writing fiction, I was doing other things. I tried my hand at reviewing, which I guess I'm not so cut out for, since it only really brought me hassle. Still, at the time, I thought it was worth while, and it was fun to see people all stirred up. I created the Urban Sprawl Project, which I wrote and took photos for, and which Naomi Hatchman laid out so beautifully. I wrote an autobiographical comic that the ever talented Anna Brown drew, even while having a baby. Somehow, I got a doctorate, and wrote what I think is my most ambitious and best book, but which has proved somewhat impossible to sell (which is kind of what I set out to do while doing the degree). I met some nice people, made some friends, lost some, the usual. And I created this blog, which introduced me to a lot of people, and which sees about three to five thousand unique hits a month.

Fifteen years is a lot time for this gig, though. In 2009, I got burned out and considered giving it up, and in 2010 I decided I'd approach it differently and direct my energies a bit more towards novels, which is where I always wanted to be, if I was being honest. I still write short stories, but I've pretty much given up on the non-fiction outside this blog (watch for me to do something that contradicts this next month, obviously), and I've got some plans to do another dialogue series through here, and perhaps a couple of other things, which are half formed in the back of my head.

Yet, you know, the truth is, I still feel very much as if I'm starting out. I've done enough, and a variety of things, really, that I'm pretty sure in who I am as an artist, and I don't need that justification that you do when you're starting out. Sure, I'm not a huge name, and a lot of the people who were asking for things from me two, three years ago, do not anymore, but you learn to live with it, and new people ask for things. People who don't know my bank balance think I'm doing pretty well. People who do know my bank balance just kind of chuckle. Yet, every day I get up, start work on my projects, and I do it as if it's all new, as if I'm starting at the start, and everything has to be sold, and audience has to be found, and that the sense of self, my goals, beliefs, identity, must be worked in the right fashion throughout the work. I never really thought of it until today, but that's a bit of a strange experience to have, fifteen years later.
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