When I was a kid, I wrote before I could actually make words. I had an ongoing mail correspondence with my grandfather that started when I was probably three or four years old. I wrote him a lot of squiggles, and then he replied with his own squiggles. I spent a lot of time with paper and pencils and crayons. I wasn’t always writing, but I was always creating. I was always telling stories. One time, I found myself very excited that my dad had just painted our long downstairs hallway white, and I just knew how proud of me he was going to be when he saw my masterpiece of large red and purple connected circles, a life-sized (well, toddler-sized) story I created just for our house as a surprise while he was watching TV. I clearly remember smiling from ear to ear as I gripped my most favorite and very fat crayons in my fist and did the biggest arm circles I could muster.
As is often the case with parents of artists, mine did not understand my artistic vision for our home, nor did they appreciate my bold storytelling on their walls.* My crayon license was suspended for what seemed like an eternity. My mom swears it was only a week. This, as I remember it, was the first rejection I received for my art. Definitely wasn’t the last.
I didn’t always know I’d be a writer, but I devoured books like it was my job as a kid (don’t tell, but I once read a book at one of the few World Series games the Cleveland Indians made it into) and absorbed authors’ stories like they were my own. I didn’t always know I’d be a writer, but one time, in fifth grade, I wrote a Haiku about the color green that my teacher and parents thought was pretty great, so great that it still hangs near my old bedroom in a frame. and really, from then on, storytelling became something more than just my little diary and my fake radio programs where I interviewed myself as different characters and recorded them on cassettes with my little brown Sony tape recorder. I didn’t recognize what a big piece of me writing was for a very long time because it was always a part of me. I always wrote, I just didn’t recognize it as something different from, say, my nose or eye problems, because, like those things, writing was just always there.
Fast-forward to now, and I am finding myself in a state of complete and utter shock. I am ecstatic. I am overwhelmed with excitement and joy and cannot believe this is really happening to me. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING TO ME RIGHT NOW. A few days ago, I received and accepted an offer for representation from an incredibly bright and talented literary agent, Sarah LaPolla, with Bradford Literary Agency, LLC for the novel I’ve been working on since 2008. That’s six years of working on (and off) the same novel.
I submitted my manuscript to many agents three different times, received a lot of rejections, did a ton of revision multiple times without direction, and I even put the book away for months at a time. There were some moments when I’d revised so much that I couldn’t even understand where I was in the text anymore--I felt like I couldn't understand the story any longer because I’d been so buried in all the changes and minutiae that I lost sight of the big picture.
When rejected and dejected, I told myself that it was okay, that not everyone’s first book gets published first--and sometimes it doesn’t get published at all. Some days I was pretty sure that I’d never get to see it in print, much less find an agent who would get it there. And last year, when I was a high school teacher, when I had no time to touch the manuscript at all, when all I wanted to do was fix the story in the way I was starting to understand that it needed to be fixed, it was then when I realized that I had to make this book my first. The story is just that important to me--and if you’re following author Nova Ren Suma’s blog posts lately (http://distraction99.com/2014/06/14/the-book-of-my-heart-imaginary-girls/ <--great stuff), I can confidently say that this book is the book of my heart.
When I announced to my students that I was leaving, telling them what I was leaving to do (work on my novel in the free time that my new job would afford me), I was overwhelmed by their responses. In one particular class when I announced my departure, the students groaned and complained and were generally unhappy (it wasn’t easy for me either!), one student, who I even believe reads this blog, said something that I will never, ever forget. He spoke up, quieting his classmates bemoaning my new for a moment, and said something along the lines of, “Yeah, but, guys, she’s a writer first, everything else second.” And he was so right--regardless of my unpublished status, regardless of the fact that I’d written nothing besides lesson plans and some blog posts for an entire year, regardless of the fact that I didn’t feel like I could even call myself a writer still, I was a writer first. I am a writer first. I’ve always been a writer first.
When I got the email to set up a phone call with my now-agent (I cannot believe I can say things like “my agent” now), I cried while I drove home from work--for the full hour of stop and go traffic. I cried because I hoped the phone call would be an offer for representation. I cried because it might not be, what if she just liked the book but was going to say “Eh, nevermind!” in the end? I cried because, more than anything, I really did believe it was going to be what it was--an offer for representation--and, more than that, because I was about to have a moment that would bring my dream to fruition, and, really, change everything for me. More than anything, though, I cried because I could not believe someone else thought this story is important, that the book should be read by more people than me and my parents, and that everything I’d worked toward for so long was about to start happening.
I tried to prepare myself, the night before the phone call, for every possible outcome of the situation, but I did not imagine how incredibly surreal it would be when the best possible outcomes occurred. I got the offer, I got incredible news about the state of the book, and had the shocking realization that it is entirely possible that my goal, the one of publishing (or, at least, having sold) a book before I’m 30 (in October), may actually happen. I don’t have words for what this is like.
I am so excited to have been welcomed with open arms into the community of writers I’ve been a bit shy about trying to join before this week (oh, but I’ve been reading you all on Twitter for months--I'm @EmAeEmEn). I cannot wait to see my work in print--I have no idea what that is going to be like, except I am pretty sure that I will be a blubbering mess. I am so humbled to think that at some point, the whole point of writing this book for me--to send the message of “You are not alone” to readers who can relate to my characters--that it will actually mean something to more than just me finally.
Thanks for supporting, and thanks for reading. And a big welcome to anyone who is new here at willitmatterwhenimdead.com.
As always, I will now ask the question that I used to start this blog in hopes that it would kind of keep my random content connected and focused: What about getting an agent and seeing a big dream come true? Will that matter when I’m dead?
*Just for clarification’s sake: my parents are and have always been very supportive of my artistic endeavors. They didn’t bat an eye when I decided to be an English major, and cheered me on when I went to get my MFA. They just didn’t appreciate my choice of canvas as a child.