Unheard Voices by Edward Kenyon (2019)
Submitted by Edd Sowder, with permission
Underrepresented. Disenfranchised. Underserved. These are words used to describe writers who, because of their races, genders, beliefs, life circumstances, or other factors, have to expend superhuman effort to be heard.
My first experience of being disenfranchised as an author happened several years ago. I was a member of a small West Texas writer’s guild. Due to my circumstances, I couldn’t attend the monthly meetings or other functions. My participation centered around reading the newsletters and entering guild-sponsored contests. I won “honorable mention,” then “third place” and finally “Second place” in consecutive annual contests. Since prize winners were congratulated in the newsletter, I thought I had proven my seriousness and dedication as a writer to fellow members. I decided to reach out to twelve of the 120 people who made up the guild. I introduced myself, was open and honest about my circumstances, and asked if they would be interested in corresponding with me and discussing all things writing.
I didn’t receive one single reply. Not one.
A couple of months later, the guild had a guest speaker attend one of the monthly meetings. The speaker was the acquisitions editors for a small SCI-FI magazine. She did freelance editing on the side. I contacted her and paid for a comprehensive edit of one of my stories. She did a good job. She complimented the story on the whole and pointed out strengths and weaknesses. I told her I agreed with her suggestions and would revise accordingly. I asked if I could submit the revised version to her magazine for publication consideration. I do not remember her exact reply, but the gist of it was something like: “Oh, no. We don’t, under any circumstances, publish works from prisoners. But I wish you luck in placing it elsewhere.”
You see I have been incarcerated for the better part of the last 23 years, in the Texas state prison system. That was just the beginning of my disenfranchisement as a writer and consequently society. I was not even writing back then. I have been here for more than two decades attempting to repay a debt that I know can never be fully paid.
Remorse… Guilt… I feel both daily. But they are just words in that they don’t change anything. Those words don’t allow me to go back and make things right. But those same feelings of remorse and guilt do serve to drive me forward t a better way of living.
In an unpublished memoir, I say: “Suicide, stagnation, and self-realization are the choices here (in prison). If a person doesn’t commit to the first choice and can keep from being sucked into the destructive sameness of the second, he can learn a lot about himself.”
And so I have. I quickly came to realize that even though this is no way to live, I was going to keep on living. Early on, I decided not to just do time, but instead do something with it. In 1999, I began taking college courses. After taking one class a semester for thirteen years, I ended up with three degrees: an associate of Arts (TVCC), and associates of Social Sciences (CTC), and a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Texas A&M, Central.
You see, here in prison, there is a dark, swirling whirlpool of negativity that constantly tried to pull you under. Buoyed only by the positive endeavors of furthering your education. I decided to something more. So, my new year’s Resolution for 2003 was to write a novel.
Over the years, I had read: Anne Rice, Michael Marshall Smith, Robert McCammon, Brian Lumley, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and countless other great writers in the genre of horror and/or dark suspense. Not to mention several great thriller authors to go along with that list. I decided to write the same kind of stories that I loved to read. I know that, for me, reading was a means of escaping. I soon learned that writing offered so much more. After years of drug-addled self-destruction, I fell in love with the art of creation from nothing.
Was it easy? Hell, no. I studied writing books and was overwhelmed, to say the least in terms like plotting, POV, setting, past perfect, first-person, transitions, pace, characterization, tone, third-person, voice, omniscient narrative, scenes, hooks, etc. And still, I planted my butt in the chair and I wrote.
I finished that first novel. It was one of the most enjoyable/harrowing, uplifting/scary, peaceful/chaotic, confidence-building/second-guessing, wonderfully draining experiences of my life.
Now, with five novels, several novellas, and numerous short-stories completed, writing has become a bigger part of my life than even this prison. I can get away from this place in my mind. But I can’t escape the call of the blank page, nor do I want to. I no longer think of myself as a prisoner who is trying to write. I am a writer who just happens to be in prison. So, I will keep writing and continue to struggle to be heard.
What does it mean for a writer to head? For me, it’s acceptance from my peers in the writing community. It’s having publishers offer me the same opportunity as other authors while giving my work an equal consideration. And finally, being heard means my stories are being read, and hopefully enjoyed by people reading them. It would be rather nice to have a fan-base as well although, that is not necessary.
Do I believe that my writing can change people’s lives? Not as drastically as it has changed mine but I do believe my writing can entertain, inspire, and offer an escape to those people who need it the most. And who knows, maybe there will come a day when I can look back and see that my journey, in some small way, helped pave the way for others who are struggling to speak with their own unheard voices.
Thank you for reading.
Note From Edd: Eddie and I have been pen pals for a few months to a couple of years now. He was an early submitter into Burning Willow Press’s Crossroads in the Dark anthology with his story, “Angel Truck.” His newest release from “Alexa’s World” in the upcoming Crossroads in the Dark V: Beyond the Borders will be available in April 2019. He asked if I would send this in for him to let others read, and I said, of course, I will. It is up to you as the reader to decide what to do with it. As a reader, a publisher, an author, and a friend… how could I say no to someone who needs help in this industry