Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

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On Falconry and Fantasy

Lift Audiobook Cover

This week I head into the studio to record the audiobook version of Lift that some of you were so wonderful to support. I’m nervous and excited and oddly contemplative about this next step. It certainly isn’t that I expect the book to be incredibly successful in audio, it is more that I am realizing what this book has done to shape my life in the writing and after the publication. For a while I was so crushed by its small readership that I completely missed the force of good it had become in my life.

Jim Butcher (writer of the wonderful Harry Dresden series) wrote a fabulous post on his Live Journal about how writers kill their own dreams. And the subtext is that we somehow completely miss that we are living the dream. My God. How could I have missed that I leveled up? When people ask me, “Really, you have a book published?”  I usually fess up to having published 12 books, but then shrug and quickly add there is no money in it and it’s really no big deal. No big deal. IT’S A BIG FUCKING DEAL. Having a parrot guide that is considered a staple for parrot owners is a big deal. Having a romance novel that finalled for a best first book Holt Medallion is a big deal. Having a memoir that received a starred review in Publishers Weekly is a big fucking deal. I have leveled up over and over in the last twenty years. I’m living the dream and I forget and forget, but something happened this weekend that made that irrefutable.

Twenty years ago I was an undergrad in Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside. I had given up on my Avian Sciences degree because I believe that birds are myth and magic and all the science was killing that for me. I wanted to be a falconer and I didn’t need to take chemistry for that. I didn’t want to be a veterinarian. I wanted to be an author.  I spent the little money I had on falconry books, novels and comic books. It was the early 90s and the story-telling in comics was inspired. I loved the poetry of The Crow, the noir of Frank Miller and no one could tell me that Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman was not literature. I don’t remember, but I am told I held court between classes and gave a treatise so convincing on A Game of You that a friend of mine has given a copy of the graphic novel to every girl he has ever fallen in love with. I learned from Neil Gaiman to embrace that element of myth and magic that can flavor any piece of good writing and I wanted to be an author like him. Neil Gaiman surely would understand how I felt about birds. And fortunately, at UCR no one argued with me about my love of genre as well as literary writing. In fact the first story and poems I had published were in the university’s journal Mosaic -in an issue that included a piece by Ray Bradbury.

Birds & Words

I wasn’t idle about pursuing my dream of being like Neil Gaiman. I somehow wrangled an internship at Image Comics. These were the years when Image had really taken off, a new world order for comic books. I sent a letter offering to do anything necessary – dress like a comic character, bring donuts, wash Rob Liefield’s Dodge Viper. Suprisingly, they offered me an internship doing fan relations that turned into a part time position, but the real pay was in all the free comics and the people I met.  (Having a badge that said I was with Image at the San Diego Comic Con wasn’t bad either. Even if it didn’t get me a date with David Mack.). I read and I wrote and I didn’t break into comics, but I didn’t stop writing.

I also didn’t give up on the birds. I got my falconry license. I flew my first red-tailed hawk. I moved to Florida, trained and presented shows at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Toledo Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary in Australia and I kept writing. One day Susan Straight, my professor and mentor when I was an undergrad, handed me a stack of papers. I had just returned to UCR to do my Masters in creative writing. The papers were a story I had written in Florida ten years before and had sent to her hoping for notes. She had never gotten to it, but there was a note on it now. “This is a wonderful story. I can’t wait to read what you will write now.” What I wrote was Lift.

Now Lift is going to be an audiobook and this is a circular story too. You see, there wouldn’t be an audiobook if it wasn’t for Neil Gaiman. He is a force to be reckoned with on Twitter and generous with good information, life’s quirky moments and to fans. I learned about Kickstarter from him.  I discovered ACX because he mentioned it and is curating a collection of audiobooks through their program. I put the two together and funded the production of an audiobook that is not only dear to me, but will have distribution. This is the sort of mentorship that can only happen in the Internet age, but it is as warm and wonderful as the one I have cherished with Susan for all those same years. When you hear Neil speak, you are certain he is genuine in his affection for his fans. He has had generous mentors too. It’s not just this though, you see, every now and then Neil replies to one of my Tweets. We’ve tweeted a bit about my audiobook project. And a few days ago we tweeted about how I was attending his show with Amanda Palmer in San Francisco,  he invite me to meet him backstage afterward.  That’s how I ended up in front of him holding a copy of Lift.

“You found your way back,” he said and I opened my arms to offer a hug that he accepted and returned, a good hug, the kind you get from a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. All I could think was, I did. I did find my way back.  And when Neil introduced me as an author to Amanda Palmer, holding up his copy of Lift I nearly burst into tears.  Then he asked me, “If I read this, will I learn all about falconry?”

I had bagged-and-boarded issues of “Death: The High Cost of Living” in my purse to sign. I had my phone on and ready for photos, but finally talking to him in person I found that the hug was all I really wanted. So I didn’t ask for a signature or a photo. I didn’t say, “Your writing means so much to me.” I didn’t say much of anything at all. I just basked and smiled, thanked him. I thought to myself,  No really. This is a big fucking deal.

I haven’t become a best-selling author, but I believe Jim Butcher is right. Only you can kill your dream. I burn a stack of rejections every year, reading them one last time and explaining to the fire why they hurt me and then letting them go. I nurture the dream, but I’m going to stop diminishing the big part of it I already have. I’m going to stop doing that RIGHT NOW. And I hope you will all understand and forgive me for not acting like I was living it all along.

And now, back to work. You see, I have a parrot training book due December 1st, an audiobook to record starting next week and I have a biography/memoir/novella to write about my grandmother and whether or not my grandfather murdered her. The prologue is published over at The Rumpus if you are curious. And if you are wondering how things are going with Irony, the Cooper’s hawk I guess you’ll just have to wait a bit. I’ll get to that eventually too. I plan to do the work and I hope you’ll stick around to find out what another 20 years might bring.

And if it just so happens that you are writer who is getting started, don’t kill your dream. Fight for it. Trust me. You won’t know just how much until you’ve done it, but it is so SO worth the fight.

14 Comments

  1. Lizzy says:

    I think someday a budding writer will look back on their interactions with you in the same way you do with Neil – you are an amazing inspiration, and you have achieved so much. Well done, and here’s to the next 20 years. I can’t wait to see where they take you :) .

  2. rebecca says:

    Ah, Lizzy. You’re so sweet. Someday I hope I get to New Zealand and can visit with you.

    And if I am ever so lucky as to be an inspiration for a budding writer I hope that I will always be as gracious and kind as Neil was to me. :)

  3. Lauren says:

    Rebecca, you ARE an inspiration! What a fantastic, honest, and uplifting post. Thank you for sharing how things have come full cirle in your life – it does wonders for those of us finding our way.

  4. Cynthia says:

    Once again reading your blog has made me tear up at work. You are an inspiration as a human being as well as a wonderful writer.

  5. Chas Clifton says:

    To quote another writer friend of mine, you are on the verge after twenty years of being an overnight success. Thanks for the inspirational post!

  6. rebecca says:

    Lauren– You who have already done so many amazing things are going to be stunned when YOU look back at 40. Hugs!

    Cynthia – Whenever you tell me you teared up at work– I tear up. Thank you.

    Chas – Thank YOU for always being such a wonderful supportive friend. I hope I meet someday in person! I owe you many hugs and at least one bottle of good tequila.

  7. Michelle says:

    You, too, are an inspiration, lady. Don’t forget that.

    And when you write for your own heart, you’re writing for your most important reader. That shows, in LIFT.

  8. rebecca says:

    Thank you, Michelle! Your reaction to LIFT meant the world to me. You are another must-meet-IRL-with-tequila friend.

  9. Karen says:

    thank you, just thank you, this is exactly what I needed to read this morning

  10. This was extremely inspiring, and you are so very right about the dreams. You set a wonderful example. Thank you.

  11. Excellent post. I have received some lovely rejection letters, which actually helped me know I was doing something right, since they were apologizing since they didn’t know what to do with me.

    And then there was Playboy, who rejected me but somehow inexplicably sent me the magazine free for years, which I loved since I’m one of five men on the planet who do honestly, sincerely just read the thing for the articles. So, you know, fair enough. :)

  12. Laura says:

    “I believe that birds are myth and magic and the science… was killing that for me.”

    I just love that one line and what I imagine it betrays about your approach to falconry!

    Thanks for a great post.

  13. Alex says:

    I was glad to read that you’ve come to accept and appreciate what we, your readers, know from your work. That you’ve accomplished so much and your works are a BFD!! Your post has shown us that dreams can come true with hard work and, in your case, writing with honesty and from the heart. Looking forward to all the works in progress. Thank you.

  14. Scott McNeff says:

    This is a really wonderful little snippet. I really love the honesty and overall message that you’ve offered here. Thank you.
    And for what it’s worth… I really enjoyed reading Lift, but of course, I’m a falconer. My wife, on the other hand (who is not a falconer) LOVED reading it.

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