extribulum

My Story

My name is Sam Starbuck. Starbuck is actually my middle name; I use it as a pen name.

I currently live and work in Chicago, where by day I am an analyst in the research division of a large not-for-profit. I am also a writer of fanfiction and original works, a critic, and a former theatre professional. I come from fandom, sword waving, to invade the world of professional publishing.

In 1994, when I was fourteen, I read an article in OMNI magazine about The X-Files. The article mentioned, at the tail-end, a community of “fanfic” writers, who got together to share stories they’d written about the show. I was absolutely perplexed by this. Did they write scripts? Did they just bullshit about stuff they’d like to see? How did this thing work? I wanted to find out, because in my head were stories that I’d like to see that probably wouldn’t get on the air, so I investigated. I found that people were actually writing stories, short stories, novels, everything inbetween — about a TV show. Weird.

Considering I probably wasn’t going to convince one of them to write my story, I wrote it myself. I’ve basically been doing that ever since.

My first stories were bad. I was fourteen and had never had a formal class in grammar or in creative writing. I was fortunate that the internet was very small at the time, and people were willing to take me by the hand and help me. First I had friends who fixed my grammar, and then I had friends who fixed my characterisation, and then I had friends who helped me in the delicate process of tweaking everything else.

I had a natural knack for stories, once I’d polished things a bit, and for the next four years I did instinctively what most professional writers tell people to do consciously: I learned how to write by writing. I wanted to be a writer, but I knew that prospects of success are usually pretty slim in that field, so I went off to college thinking I could study psychology and that might help and would probably land me a pretty good job.

I hated psychology.

I did, however, love theatre.

I had stopped writing fanfic, but I continued to write as I changed my major over to Scenic Design; I designed and built sets, assembled props, painted more floors and walls than I care to think about, and kept writing. I kept diaries and wrote short stories during my internships, and I wrote scripts and novels for class assignments, using analytical methods to discover the underlying structures of historical works and then creating new adaptations of those works. I studied medieval mystery plays, Greek satyr plays, and documentary theatre. I minored in classical history, with an emphasis in the artistic life of the early Roman Empire.

I got my BA, went off to grad school, and was so lonely I didn’t know what to do with myself. I buried myself in Terry Pratchett books in my off-hours and began to think about writing fanfic again. I found out it was still around and thriving; I got a livejournal so I could post stories and keep an online diary, since until then they were just sitting around taking up space on my hard drive.

I lived two separate lives: grad student, teacher, and theatre professional on the one hand, fic writer and blogger on the other. By the time I left school with my MA, I had written an original novel, Felinecor’s Land, which was reasonably well-received by the thousand or so readers on my blog. I had also come to prominence as the writer of Stealing Harry, a Harry Potter fanfic set in an alternate universe. I was not unknown as a decent writer of erotica.

By September of 2005 I was living with my parents, unemployed, and growing more and more desperate about my prospects of ever working again. I decided I would write a book, because I needed some way to prove to myself that I was worth something.

It may be relevant to point out at this stage that I have clinical depression, and was in the middle of a major depressive episode that I wasn’t really paying attention to at the time. The book I wrote, entitled Nameless, gave me a function; the two hours I worked on it each evening were the highlight of my day, and once it was finished I was kept busy sending it to agents and publishers. But with no interest from the pro-publishing world, and eventually struggling out of that particular year of depression, I let it go.

I moved to Chicago. I got a job in theatre. I got another job in theatre. They both sucked. I applied for a job as an admin with a big not-for-profit, sold out, started earning more money than I ever had before, and got health insurance just in time for it to pay for the arm I broke that spring. I found I liked my job, and it gave me time to rewrite Nameless. And then I thought, well, nobody wants this. I’ll put it online.

Nameless, my first extribulum, changed my life. The criticism I received and the attention it drew when I posted it were enough to make me rewrite it again and publish it independently through Lulu, a print-on-demand press that allows anyone to upload a manuscript and sell it. Lulu takes a cut of the cost of each book for publishing fees, and the author sets the final price (and thus, their own profit margin).

I published Nameless. It sold about 300 copies. Another 100 copies were signed by me and sold as fundraisers for charity. Man, the post office loves me.

I’ve written other books since then, some incomplete, some published. I took the things I’d learned as an admin for my not-for-profit and turned them into Charitable Getting, a story about not-for-profits in Chicago. I made art books. I studied magical realism and wrote Trace. I got a couple of promotions.

I like where I am, now that I’m here. I’m not writing as much, but what I do write is better, I think.

So that is me. I enjoy learning, I try to value criticism, I love the internet, I believe in stories.

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