200 Words or Less, Please

My new publishing house has tasked me with writing my author biography.

I’m thrilled. Tickled, even. I’ve been eagerly waiting for the professional need to write this. Huzzah! My book is getting published! But as I sit before the soft glowing screen staring at my fingers hovering above the keyboard, ready to sum my relationship with writing in 200 words or less (and in third person), I find myself lost.

I’ve been experimenting with different approaches.

There’s the historical approach:

Edmond Manning has been writing for many years, but his first works of fiction were simply atrocious. Seriously. Should you have been unfortunate enough to encounter any of the over-exclamation-pointed drivel, you would not purchase this book you’re currently considering. Which you should. Purchase it, that is, because those over-exclamated days are long over!!

The out-and-out bragging approach:

Edmond spent years studying literary masterpieces and more recently attended the renown University of Iowa’s Writing Program. He spent years analyzing the craft from granular sentence construction to the loftiest thematic structures by European greats, all in service to realizing potent, melodic paragraphs designed to make you weep openly, laugh heartily, and then go purchase a silk handkerchief for the mere purpose of throwing it at his feet like a true Victorian homeboy.

I dunno. It’s only 73 words.

Also, it lies. “Years studying literary masterpieces” means I spent my lonely teenage years reading every Charles Dickens book I could devour in my bedroom. I only attended a one-week summer seminar through the University of Iowa’s Writing Program, available to anyone with a checkbook, where I listened to estate lawyers sick of their profession argue about whether “good abs” was a character-defining trait.

I need a different approach.

I’ve been writing fiction for 20+ years and for most of that time, never took writing seriously. I felt objective enough to realize my material was high-end mediocre, certainly not publishable. (Ann, my awesome friend and all-time cheerleader, often disagreed. She is wonderful.) While I definitely wanted my writing to be amazing and even entertained fantasies of around-the-block lines for my book signings, I can’t say that I developed a serious plan to make any of that happen. (However, I did practice my fruity, author signature.)

I took a writing class here and there. Wrote 100 pages. Realized it was kinda crap. Repeated.

My former neighbor, Jenna, had similar aspirations but much to my surprise, she actually did something about it: she pursued a Creative Writing master degree from a prestigious university, and then launched a writing career. I didn’t know you could do that — make yourself better and go after what you wanted. She did. I’ve read her fiction and she did it: she won.

I watched her growing success with a detached curiosity and wondered why I did not have that same drive, that internal passion that said, “I want this more than anything.”

I took another writing class. Wrote another 100 pages.

Through it all, I enjoyed myself. I liked finding unusual stories, mapping conversations, and creating unique approaches to characters. But I didn’t see myself as a writer, not really. Where was the passion? Where was the drive that Jenna had?

In 2008, I wrote a short story about something not terribly important to me but important to a closeted 20-year-old I met online. He was sad and alone. I remembered those days well and decided he needed inspiration, so I wrote him a story and published it on a free website. This was my “It Gets Better” project before Dan Savage’s amazing It Gets Better project became a reality. I decided to try a few literary tricks, fuck with the point of view, throw in some masculine archetypes, some Joseph Campbell shit, because why the fuck not? Who cared? It was just a writing exercise.

Because I wasn’t writing SERIOUS FICTION and had dropped all expectations (i.e. literary pretensions), a curious thing happened. The story flowed through me, relaxed and intentional. Decades of sweeping out mediocre sentences paid off, transforming my writing with surprising grace into a Cinderella story, a lyrical, ball-gown construction resulting in Beautiful Sentences. I had written Beautiful Sentences. And I really, really liked what I wrote.

So I wrote a little more.

Emails from readers began pouring in. First dozens, then hundreds. Men and women from Europe, Africa, and quite a few from the USA. People mailed me gifts. Through this experience, I found an amazing editor who said ‘You should get published,’ and made several incredible friendships. I was shocked by the impact these stories created and how individuals attempted to integrate the fiction into their reality.

I have tried to describe the 2008 writing phenomenon to friends as one of those romantic comedies where the protagonist suddenly realizes he’s been in love with his best friend all these years, and so he races to break up her wedding before she can utter the words, “I do.” I’m not sure I could run to the church without ending up wheezing and huffing, hunched over, but still, it fits.

I love writing fiction.

I feel lucky to be in love with my best friend, and a little foolish when I consider how long it took me to arrive here, but still, happy and dazed. (One of the first things I did was to call Jenna and say, “I get it now. I want this more than anything.”) I had a fear of dying without knowing how I could serve a greater purpose in the world, how I could offer my unique flavor of love to a world that has loved me more than I deserve. I really wanted to uncover my big gift, the thing where my soul and spirit locked together and everything inside me sang, “I’m home.”

How about this:

Edmond Manning has always been fascinated by fiction: how ordinary words could be sculpted into heartfelt emotions, how heartfelt emotions could leave an imprint inside you stronger than the real world. Mr. Manning never felt worthy to tread down these hallowed halls as an author until recently, when he accidentally stumbled into his own writer’s voice that fit like his favorite skull-print, fuzzy jammies. He finally realized that he didn’t have to write like Dickens or Maupin, two author heroes, and that perhaps his own insignificant writing was perfect just because it was his true voice, so he looked around the scrappy word kingdom that he created for himself and shouted, “I’M HOME!” He is now a writer.

That’s 118 words.

It could work.

4 Responses to “200 Words or Less, Please”

  1. L.C. Says:

    Edmond, what a wonderful story about learning who, what, you loved all along. I’m beyond happy you found your way there. And yes, you sure as hell are an author! xo

    Love the blurb, too. :-)

  2. Tony Says:

    Yup, you are home!

  3. Michelle K Says:

    Love it! Am so thrilled that you’ve found your heart’s passion–and have accomplished such an enormous goal! :)

  4. Meg Says:

    I felt it click!

    I met you when you were probably halfway through your journey. Knowing now what roads you traced and retraced to find what your heart had inside it makes me appreciate you even more.

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