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04/20/2022 08:30 AM

Rudy Vener: The Art of Perseverance

After four attempts, Rudy Vener finally won first place in the Connecticut-based Tassy Walden Awards children’s book writing competition last year. Leila, the tortoiseshell cat, functions as a “mews” when he writes. Photo by Gina Vener

The famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote in his advice to writers, “To fail is to give up. There is no failure unless one stops. Not to work is to cease, tighten up, become nervous and therefore destructive of the creative process.”

Bradbury, along with two other mid-20th century luminary science fiction authors, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, was a huge inspiration to North Haven resident Rudy Vener when he was growing up and reading the most popular writers of the genre at the time.

“My favorite writers were Bradbury, Clarke, and Asimov,” Rudy recalls, and he also read every issue of the then-popular science fiction and fantasy magazines he could get his hands on.

While Rudy dreamed of writing his own stories one day—to emulate his literary heroes—he didn’t begin writing in earnest until his retirement from a career as a software engineer for telephone companies like AT&T, Avaya, and Lucent Technologies.

“I’d been writing for years and years, on and off, and never being serious about it,” Rudy says.

His sister, Miriam Giskin, also an award recognized writer, attended the regular meetings of a local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and told Rudy how the meetings helped writers to improve.

“She kept telling me to attend one of these meetings,” Rudy says, and he kept declining her invitations.

He finally relented. Duly impressed by the professional quality of the SCBWI critiquing group, Rudy started writing his very first novel, Iceteroid.

“I worked on it very hard, and then I went to a critique group separate from the SCBWI group, run by Kathleen Kudlinski in Guilford,” Rudy recalls, and with regular input from this smaller group, he finished the novel.

He then entered the Iceteroid manuscript into the annual Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children’s Literature run by the Shoreline Arts Alliance. The manuscript failed to garner any attention.

Rudy proceeded to query literary agents, on his own, to see if they would be interested in reading the manuscript.

“I never heard a thing,” he says.

Rudy soon learned that because Iceteroid was his first novel “it was a piece of garbage,” he admits. “It was filled with all sorts of things that first novels suffer from, [like] tedious passages and awkward and stilted dialogue.”

“So, I put [the manuscript] in the closet and started my second novel,” Rudy recalls. “This one was Causeway, and it was a prequel to Iceteroid.”

Once completed, Rudy submitted the second novel to the Tassy Walden Awards and this time placed as a finalist.

“Wow!” he says of his first award recognition. “All of a sudden, I was excited, and started sending out query letters [to literary agents] about Causeway.”

Yet, he still couldn’t secure an agent.

“I wasn’t exactly discouraged, but if it was good enough to make finalist,” Rudy says, he was hoping an agent would take notice of his writing talent and represent him to book publishers.

Refusing to give up, Rudy says, “I started working on my third novel, called Eyes of Beholder,” which he says derives from a bit of his own background. “This one is about a blind boy who found a genetically enhanced dog that lets him see through her eyes.”

The personal background Rudy refers to is his own blindness, due to retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that caused Rudy to become legally blind by age 27 and totally blind by age 50.

Eyes of the Beholder also placed as a finalist at Tassy, and once again Rudy sent query letters to agents.

“This time I got an agent!” Rudy says. “I was so excited I danced and jumped up and down.”

After making further revisions to the story, the agent sent the manuscript to publishing houses, “But it never sold,” Rudy notes. “They gave me all sorts of reasons: wrong time, wrong place, wrong story. Including, they already had a dog story.”

After that, Rudy and his agent parted ways, which often happens with the publishing business as tastes and culture change. In this case, most of Rudy’s stories were in the science fiction genre, which was outside the agent’s purview.

“She was in love with the dog [in the story],” Rudy admits, but didn’t want to represent a science fiction writer.

Once again without an agent and a third novel that languished like the first two, “I wrote a fourth novel, Quantum Ghosts,” he says, adding, “I’m nothing if not persistent.”

Quantum Ghosts is an exploration into a scientific, rational explanation of what ghosts might be.

“I saw ghosts [with] intelligence and self-awareness as being a quantum phenomenon rather than something that’s purely biological,” Rudy explains.

The story earned yet another Tassy finalist recognition and got him a new literary agent.

At the behest of the new agent, more modifications were made to the story.

“And then suddenly the agent left the agency,” Rudy recalls. “I have no idea what happened to her.”

More novels ensued, one after another, eight in total to date. With each, his writing improved.

Each novel, intended for upper middle-grade and young adult readers covering ages 12 through 15, takes Rudy about a year to write, and he writes every day, aiming for at least 3,000 words of polished writing each week.

Part of the writing process—perhaps the biggest part—is the task of rewriting, and in Rudy’s case, he extensively revisited that first novel, Iceteroid, due to the encouragement of his three finalist awards and his unfading love for that first book manuscript.

He then entered the revised Iceteroid manuscript into the Tassy Walden Awards (for 2021) for a second time, and this time the story pushed past the competition to win first place in the Young Adult Novel category.

That first novel-length manuscript had come full circle. And now Rudy is revising all his other novels.

With a first-place award now under his belt, Rudy ventures on against the odds, remaining ever hopeful that he will find another agent who believes in his work and eventually scores a publishing deal.

“I started Iron Signet, my work-in-progress, on Jan. 10, and [I’m] up to about 49,000 words as of today,” Rudy says. “I expect the story to run about 52,000 words.”

Of all the fiction genres to write about, ask Rudy, why science fiction? His answer is, “It opens the realms of possibility that otherwise would not be there.”

Rudy’s advice to other writers just starting out is simple.

“Follow Ray Bradbury’s advice,” he urges. “You lose if you give up.”