Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WMW Introduces Ray Wong

Ray Wong is the author of the award-winning novel, The Pacific Between (2006 IPPY Book Awards - Multicultural Adult Fiction). He's also been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Actors Ink, and Writers Post Journal.  As an actor, Ray's appeared on stage and in feature films and on TV shows such as Roommates, The Extra, and Sex and the City. Follow Ray on Twitter at _RaWo_, or read his blog at http://itheauthor.blogspot.com. You can contact him at www.raymondwong.com.

Defining Moments

Someone asked me the other day, "What was that defining moment when you knew you had to be a writer?"

That's an interesting question. I'm not sure if I actually had such a moment. My journey as a writer evolves over time, and it's still evolving. I've always written, and I always loved telling stories when I was much younger. I got my first piece published when I was 13. But I never thought of becoming a professional writer. When parents and teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, I always gave the standard answers: doctor, lawyer, engineer, fireman... Secretly, though, I think I've always wanted to become an artist, whether it's a composer, a painter or filmmaker. "Writing" just seems to be an essential part of it, not the main course.

Then life got in the way, and I stopped reading and writing. I still read, but only nonfiction and trade journals and news. I didn't read fiction for many, many years. Don't even mention writing.

I also wrote a short serial more than ten years ago, and that was really fun. I think that's when I rediscovered the joy of writing and having people (even though they were just friends) read my work. Still, it wasn't a "Eureka! I want to be a writer" moment. Writing was a hobby for me. I had fun doing it. I even took classes so I knew better what I was supposed to do.

There were two specific moments, however, that made me think I could make this writing thing into a career, or at least take it seriously. The first happened in 1997, when I was on a business trip in Atlanta. I was winding down after a long day by watching some TV, and I came upon a Nicholas Sparks' interview, and that piqued my interest. I had no idea who Sparks was, but his story fascinated me, how he stumbled into being a writer. I had that quintessential delusion of grandeur any aspiring writer could: "I could do that!" That was when I started to read more fiction and pay more attention to the craft and business of writing, and seriously think about a story idea I had.

A few years later, I decided to actually WRITE the book (yeah, it took me a few years... what can I say?). After writing the first chapter, I had this weird feeling that I could seriously do this. It's not a dream or some foo-foo notion anymore. I gave it to a colleague of mine, who was an avid reader, to read, and she liked it, and said it read like something she would find in the store. That gave me a tremendous confidence boost, and I decided I wanted to finish what I had started.

I finished the first draft about fourteen months later.

That same year, I started working on a job at Scholastics, and I thought it was a sign. "Maybe I'm meant to be a writer, after all." Just one thing after another and they all seem to point me to this direction. As if someone is sending me a message. And I should listen.

Again, this writer's journey has been a process for me. There wasn't any one defining moment where I just went, "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." In fact, I still don't know what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. It's always been like a discovery for me. Something new may come along. But I know I always want to tell stories, in one form or another, whether it's a novel or a movie or a song. I don't think that creative part of me would ever go away, or I would have to die first.

When I started writing the novel (The Pacific Between), I only wanted to finish it. I set a goal and told myself I had to finish it, no matter what it took and for how long. And when I achieved that goal (by the way, typing "THE END" is one of the most exhilarating things a writer can achieve), I told myself, "Hey, this isn't that bad. Maybe I can get it published." That was my next goal. What can I say? I'm always an overachiever. Delusion of grandeur. I had no idea what it took to get published, so I started to learn everything I could get my hands on. And I started to submit articles and short stories I'd written to test the water (while I edited the novel -- never throw your baby out without making sure it's ready), to see how the business worked. I couldn't believe I got some nibbles, and two pieces published by a local publisher. Again, that boosted my confidence and I thought, "Yeah, I can do this."

I sent out the first ten queries, and I got a full request the next week!  I thought, "How hard could this be?"  Well, I was wrong. It was hard. It was a long and mind-numbing process. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't get frustrated and dejected when the rejections kept coming.  The first few rejections were particularly hard to take:  you feel like you're the worst writer in the world and that's after you think everyone is madly in love with your novel, as they should be.  It's self-defeating but very human. You just need to tough that out. Take a break if you must, or look over your manuscript again to see if something is indeed wrong and it needs improve. But don't give up.

But like I said, I'm an overachiever, and when I set a goal, I intend to achieve it. So I kept going, despite all the setbacks. It got easier. The rejections became par for the course. I had to remember, "I only need one acceptance." I understood what perseverance meant, even when it seemed so pointless at times. I had to believe in my book; if I didn't, how could I ask someone else to have faith in it? Like another writer said, "Send it out until no one wants it."

Fortunately for me, after more than sixty rejections, two major rewrites, and ten more months, I got a contract. So, yeah, it took a while and plenty of "no thanks, not for us" to achieve what I set out to do.

Was it worth it?

I think so. Whether you regard my story as a success story or not (obviously, you've never heard of me so it's not like I'm on the New York Times list or have any movies made of my stories), it's the journey that is important to me. I feel that I've learned so much and I'm now a much better writer than I was a few years ago, and I know so much more about the publishing business. All is good. And that only makes the next step in my career better, if not necessarily easier. I'm a perpetual optimist and I believe in gleaning everything positive from any experience. Even rejections can teach us a lot, and I certainly have learned a lot. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything else (okay, maybe a 7-figure advance). I've enjoyed the trip -- yes, even the roadblocks and potholes. I have to believe, the efforts have to make the rewards so much sweeter. Don't you think? 
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Thank you for taking the time to share your post with us Ray.  We wish you the best with your continuing writing journey.  (And, heck, I'm even crossing my fingers for your big advance.  But can I have one too? lol)