Saturday, April 04, 2009

Back Then

Back then I was hopeful, if nothing else. My dream of becoming a famous writer began at the tender age of 12. I may have touched on this subject before, but today I've got a new prospective. From the time I wrote the first draft of that sixth-grade story ... nothing thrilled me more than to put pencil to paper and scribble my fantasies into complete gut and heart-wrenching fiction. Fiction I just knew, without a doubt, would make any stone-cold heart bawl his or her eyes right out of his or her head.

Back then, I wrote a story the day before my Senior Prom. About a girl who gets trapped inside a cave with her boyfriend on the night of her what else? Senior Prom. Silly. But I was a romantic. Even back then. I wrote about life and love and meany teachers and giggly girlfriends. It was all I knew. Back then.

Back then I wanted to be a young Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell. I just knew I had it in me. Then the Vietnam War changed my prose and the Women's Movement did strange things to my protagonists. I wrote about anger and injustice. I wrote stories about Southerners who were cruel or drunk or stupid, and about Northerners who were arrogant or pushy or boastful. Stereotypes. For the most part, they were just stories to entertain nobody but me, as it seemed nobody else cared to read them.

Back then, I began to take heart and believe I just might be good enough to publish something. So I told my (at that time) young husband about a novel I wanted to write. About a white girl who grows up in Cleveland during the 60s and travels to Mississippi to march with her black pen-pal girlfriend she has never met. He laughed at me. But I ignored his discouraging remarks and enrolled in my first formal creative writing classes. It was the pre-computer 1980s. I typed and typed and typed some more on a noisy IBM Selectric, tucking pillows around it at night so not to wake my kids who were just in grade school.

But back then, each and every story I finished got shoved into a box. Or burned. Or lost in a move to a new apartment or another rented house.

I'm not pitying myself, I'm looking for a reason to keep going. I'm searching my pantries for writing fuel to nourish my nearly-starved published self.

Anyway, back then, I began to see the fruit of my labors come together. It was the 90s and after years and years of night classes, a doctor (a Urologist, to be exact) with whom I worked read one of my stories. A published author of some hot Vampire novels, this man took time out of his busy schedule to mentor, critique, and encourage. Something I desperately needed and until that day, had never received. It caused me to dig my heels into the dirt and write like a woman not quite wrapped right. A woman gone mad.

You see, back then, I was the victim of a broken home, a broken heart, a broken life. I had collected lots and lots to write about.

Not so far back I published my first book. I thought, yeah baby ... this is it, the beginning of a spectacular writing career. My precious and supportive new husband and I traveled hundreds of miles pushing, promoting, and marketing my hot-off-the-press book. Shoot, we plum wore out two cars. Back then.

As I spoke to groups and sold my collection of short stories, we were warmly received. In churches, at book fairs, civic organizations, and country clubs, everywhere we traveled, appearing at one sort of meeting or another, I was honored with several standing ovations and consistently invited back. Folks clamored for the next book, even followed us out to the car just to talk about my stories. It was just a glimpse into the world of being that famous author. Anyway, that first book did very well, thank you, and is still selling copies. But not like back then.

But then I began to pull together the pieces of a novel I'd been writing for fifteen years. A novel I believed would rival any masterpiece ever penned. As I ended a two-year book tour for my first book, I trusted I had built the platform for this new novel. Believed it so much that I would've staked my life on it. I worked non-stop. Literally. Spent two more years stapled to my chair and glued to my computer for 12-hour days, pouring over edits and chapters, words, paragraphs, scenes ... making it as perfect as I could. I lost my health over this book. Unfortunately.

Back then I was sure I'd receive at least a few rejections from my first query letters. Eventually, I thought, some lucky agent will fall in love with my manuscript after they've asked to read it in its entirety. They'll insist on representing it and sell my greatest-story-ever-told to the highest bidder so the world will have another Gone With The Wind. But alas, that dream is just about gone. With the wind.

Never give up, they say. Never give in. It's been drilled and screwed into me like toggle bolts on a washing machine. I can't say I'm even able to give up. But I'm sick of the publishing world and who and what they represent. I'm sick of their A lists and B lists. I despise the few who frighten and inject ridiculous statements into so many writers, making them think they should never, God forbid, self publish. I'm fried with writing groups and writing classes and writing conferences and know-it-all agents who pretend they can make or break you. I'm sick to death of blogs, Face Book pages, web site after web site that bores me to bloody tears. In fact, if there is one thing I've completely given up on, it's wasting my time on know-it-all agents/editors/writers/publishers and their smell-me web sites.

We know the publishing industry is in the toilet, along with the economy. We know that. We hear it over and over on the news. We know the big publishers are not interested in taking risks with new authors. But the toilet has not been flushed. The big dogs in New York need to find a way to pull themselves out of the porcelain tank and update the whole process of finding new authors. The hoops we writers have to jump through will probably never go away. But do the publishers need to set the hoops on fire? If so, writers are going to find other ways to publish. I'm sick of worrying about it. Frankly, once again, I as well as many of my colleagues, are sick to death of it.

All I want to do is to return to ... back then. And just write.

And never give a damn if anybody ever reads it. I'm a writer. Nothing this side of Heaven or Hell can ever, ever change that.

Blessings to you and yours.

1 comment:

Dena said...

At the risk of seeming not to honor what you've written here, this is an essay screaming to be published to a larger audience. It speaks to EVERYTHING so many of us feel. And every word here is the truth and heart of a real writer. I love now and will always love every bit of your work - published or not.