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[GUEST POST] Zachary Jernigan Discusses the Challenges He Faced While Writing SHOWER OF STONES

zacharyjerniganZachary Jernigan spends his days working as a journalist in Arizona, a state famed for its awesome weather and absolute shit political decisions. In his spare time, he enjoys riding his bike, listening to music, playing Mario Kart, and watching sitcoms. He possesses a BA in religious studies from Northern Arizona University and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program.

His debut novel, No Return, is a science-fantasy story filled with sex, violence, religion, and muscular people in weird skintight costumes living on a world where god exists and is very upset. A hardcover edition came out from Night Shade Books in 2013, followed by a paperback edition the following year. The AV Club listed No Return as one of the best books of the year.

The sequel and conclusion to No Return, Shower of Stones, is forthcoming in July of 2015, in hardcover, also from Night Shade Books. Publishers Weekly praised the novel, saying in review, “Jernigan employs hard-hitting and unflinching prose that’s as concise as it is brutal.”

The author’s short fiction, which runs the gamut of sf and fantasy, has appeared in a variety of places, including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, Escape Pod, and various anthologies. He has been nominated for the Pushcart a couple times and shortlisted once for the Spectrum Award.

His first proper short story collection — title TBA — is forthcoming in the early spring of 2016 from Ragnarok Publications.

The Biggest Challenges I Had Writing Shower of Stones

by Zachary Jernigan

Challenges! It’s every writer’s favorite subject. Okay, maybe not, but it’s certainly mine. Discussing what’s difficult is a good way to get around the whole “obviously patting myself on the back” thing. I can focus on the negative, but really I’m focusing on the positive. I mean, if we’re talking about challenges after the fact, then I clearly overcame those challenges, right? Hi five to me!

Okay, to be serious: the life of a writer — assuming you’re not one of those horribly annoying individuals whose talent is so abundant that crafting stories comes as effortlessly as scratching your butt — is plagued by challenges that seem insurmountable at the time. It’s a very emo existence, filled with doubt about the current course.

How do I move this junk forward?! Seriously, what is this character even doing right now?! I’M SUCH A HACK.

Or, hell, it might be as simple a challenge as: This couch is so comfy right now, so I’m just gonna fall asleep.

While writing Shower of Stones, I often felt that I’d made the single least compatible career choice for myself. Not only do I often feel my talent and skill is insufficient to the task of writing good stories*, but I’ve never been comfortable with unfinished business. Why, I asked myself, am I writing the sequel to a book I had a really hard time writing? More than anything, this nagging voice of doubt about whether or not I was doing the Right Thing was the biggest challenge of writing the book.

Which is very dumb, I know. I’d committed to writing it. I’d even spent the first half of the advance. Now and then, when I got over the essential stupidity of doubting the rightness of a choice that I knew in my heart of hearts was the right choice — well, in those moments I felt both a clarity of purpose and a sense of freedom. Sometimes, I even had fun.

(Fun, sad though it may be to say, is not a word I typically use in the context of writing. Writing, for me, is more like sit-ups. I feel good when I’ve done a few, but don’t ask me to smile about it when I’m struggling to lift my ginormous head off the ground.)

Ultimately, however, though I don’t think it shows in the final product, writing Shower of Stones was an extremely difficult process for me. It often made me unhappy. This in itself became another challenge. Like everyone else, I want to feel good about what I’m doing. I want people to feel good when they’re reading my book — like, hey, this is a damn good book!

But how can a book make a reader feel that way when the author experienced so much worry over it, when he didn’t even enjoy it?

Easy. The answer is the inherent nature of a challenge. Does a parent always want to wake up in the middle of the night to deal with a kid who’s pooped their bed? No. No, they never do. It’s the middle of the night. And it’s poop. But they do, and it’s a challenge not to strangle the kid. And then, in the morning, when the kid smiles and laughs and tells you she loves you — wasn’t it worth it to wake up, to put up with all that shit? Of course it is.

I remember a conversation with my mother, years back. She asked me if I had any idea how difficult it was to let me drive myself to high school 20 miles away. Every morning, she had to let go of that urge to pull me back in the house, to keep me at home so that nothing bad would happen to me.

She had, in fact, been feeling that way ever since I was born. But, still, she let me leave, and do you know why she did it? Because I had to grow up and start making my own choices. The risk was worth it — was worth it for each of her four kids. She met the challenge of parenthood, letting her heart leave out that door every day, simply because her children could not meet their potential if she let her own fear dictate the course of events.

It’s not just parenthood. It’s everything that’s worth something to you. If writing matters to you like it does to me, at a certain point (or all the time) the challenge will be to shove that little whisper of doubt to the curb. I have a second book on the shelf with my name on it, and it’s only because I made myself get over myself a bit. I was brave in the face of my fear, if only briefly.

*Not to disillusion anyone, but this is also one of the challenges of the writing life — the very basic worry that, even after seeing your books published and hopefully well received, it’s all bullshit. I’ve talked to a lot of successful writers about this, and 75% of them fear Being No Good. (The 25% that are sure of their abilities are just awful to be around. Confidence does not come from surety. It comes from overcoming one’s fear, again and again, with humility.)

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