Hi. I’m Bob Sojka. I’ll keep this focused on my writing and gloss over the rest.
I think I’ve wanted to be a writer from the first time I read a book. When I was a kid, books were not abundant in our household. My grandparents were immigrants from Poland, three of whom never learned to speak English, and one who only mastered it haltingly. My parents weren’t Grapes of Wrath “poor,” but there wasn’t a lot of money to spare, and buying books was considered a major luxury. And even the library fees and dues were considered “extras.” Kid time was expected to be occupied with school work and chores, and if you were seen reading a book (and heaven forbid if it was a comic book) you were usually considered available for the next chore.
But my mother was a believer in reading the kid to sleep at bedtime; she had a stack of “Little Golden Books” that were my entry to the reading life. Everything between then and high school was what I would call opportunistic reading. The only writing I did then was letter writing. And I loved that. I had a prolific exchange of letters among several friends and cousins. How I wish I still had copies of those letters. They were about as close to a diary as I ever managed in my life. But the letters and those relationships have all been scattered to the four winds.
In third grade we were all encouraged to write a short story for the local town newspaper. I wrote a story about a glacier burying an ancient civilization in Oklahoma. The story was called “The Red Planet.” Only at that age I didn’t know that the glaciers hadn’t made it that far south, so the story got a nice little rejection note and a page of suggested corrections (both of which I still have), but no prize. Bummer.
High school was a wonderful change. The school I attended had a mandatory reading list which I dove into with a passion. It changed my outlook on everything. Everything!
In college I eventually pursued an English major with the intent to do something writerly with the degree. Thing was, though, the Viet Nam war was going on. I was trying to stay in school, but the draft board and a few other speed bumps and side winds along the way changed the flow of my life. There were very few of the jobs in teaching or advertising that I had originally thought would be my career path and meal ticket upon completing my BA (they were all taken by the bazillion other English majors being churned out from the swollen ranks of student deferments).
In the mean time I got a job as a technician working in a soil and environmental sciences program. Upon graduation with my BA in English, I switched fields, went back to school and spent four years getting a PhD in soil and environmental sciences, as well as getting into a reserve unit, all of which set my career path for the next thirty five or so years.
Still, I never really forgot about the writing. I picked it up again after ten or twelve years as a side interest, attending many workshops and community college creative writing night classes to feed my muse and the flames of my motivation. And the science career wasn’t a total loss as far as writing went. I authored or co-authored over 270 scientific research papers, book chapters etc, and gained editorial experience over a twelve year span for some major journals in my field.
Among the writing workshops I’ve attended were one with Rachel McAlpine in New Zealand, the James Gunn workshop in science fiction at the University of Kansas (4 times!), the University of MT Yellow Bay workshop, the Coos Bay writers workshop, Clarion West 2003, Odyssey 2008, and in 2009 I took in TNEO (The Never Ending Odyssey…the annual Odyssey alum workshop), the Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith “Kris and Dean Show” weekend workshop, and finally their two week “Master Class” workshop in October, 2009.
Perhaps the two biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way is that at some point you have to make a commitment to do the writing and give up the B-movie image in your head of “being a writer.” If all you want is the image, you may never get settled down to the real task of writing and submitting. As the old hackneyed phrase goes, “a writer writes, always.” Too too true. The second is to focus on telling the story rather than writing the loveliest, raunchiest, zingiest (whatever) line by line prose. The story is the boss, and it is a writer’s job to let the story live on the page, as the story demands. My writing has changed a lot since finally surrendering to that realization.
I also learned that it’s hard to tell good stories until you have lived a little, and especially until you have experienced some defeat and some personal pain. Singularly happy faces and gleefully pleasant lives don’t produce very intersting stories.
I am now writing and submitting regularly and beginning to have some small successes. I’m confident that as long as I follow the lessons above (and apply the invaluable insights on writing craft and the nature of the publishing industry that I have been exposed to in the last several workshops) that sales and publication will follow.
Drop in on the blog from time to time for updates on things in my life, and whatever I choose to bloviate about on the days I set fingers to keyboard in that section of this website.