When I got the phone call that Seal Press had bought our anthology Dancing at The Shame Prom, I was cautiously optimistic. When I got the email, I smiled…a little. When my agent sent the contract for review, I carefully read it over and asked the pertinent questions. And when my writing partner Amy called and said, in so many words, WHY AREN’T YOU OVER THE MOON? THIS IS GREAT NEWS! I, the girl who’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop said, “I’ll believe it when I have the signed contract in my hand.”
So…here it is. The signed contract. In my hand. And after I exhaled, I started to smile a little, then a lot, and finally decided to let myself celebrate this. My husband and I toasted, and I took this picture, wanting to remember the importance of the moment.
I lied in bed last night reflecting on the journey that led me here, and I realized that nothing happened as I had planned. It didn’t go the way the “How To” books said it would, nor the way I plotted it out in my head, and maybe that’s why I didn’t quite trust it. I wasn’t in control!
I had spent a grueling six years writing and rewriting my memoir Only Good Things, never intending to publish it. I wrote it because it was in me, and I was compelled to get it out. And then, for my birthday in 2009, I took an intensive writing workshop at the home of a writing hero, Joyce Maynard. A few weeks later she asked if she could share my work. I assumed she meant with future classes, and said of course.
Months later, I got an email from a literary agent in New York, saying she had read my work and wanted to read more. I ran around the house jumping and shouting, out of my mind with excitement. Never in a million years did I think anyone would be interested in reading what I wrote. It was just therapy for me. But now it looked as though my life was on the verge of a big change.
I took that as a cue: time for me to take the helm and chart out my course. I worked my butt off, writing every second my son was in preschool, never answering the phone, letting the dust bunnies take over the house. Back and forth the manuscript went for six months, and in the interim, I read all the "How To" books and queried a few other agents as well. But this agent, she was my DREAM agent. She was the one I had to have. She was part of my “plan”.
And then the plan….crashed.
I started this blog two years ago because of the crushing (but kind) rejection I finally got from that dream agent. (that blog is here:http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/2010/02/crushed.html) She liked the writing, the story, but she said that ultimately, it was just too tough in today’s market to sell a memoir without a “platform” (think Snooki, Bristol Palin…) and she couldn’t take that risk.
I was overwhelmed with feelings of failure and had nowhere to go with them. So I blogged for the first time, and sent it out into cyberspace. And this amazing woman who I had just connected with on She Writes, commented on my blog. This is what she said:
HOLLYE: never ever ever give up! i am actual proof of two agents saying no to my book, one to my face, and that was hard ... and then i got a fabulous agent, and then i got an amazing publisher ... and now my memoir is out in the world and it's so frickin' liberating and scary and writing memoirs is scary scary scary...so DON'T GIVE UP. WRITE. be brilliant. be bold. fuck 'em. something amazing will happen. love, Amy Ferris
I was wowed by this new friend who barely knew me, being so supportive, and not competitive. And so I bought her book Marrying George Clooney, which I devoured. Her writing was so honest and accessible, reading it felt like having a chat with your best friend. I added Amy on facebook, and discovered that we had the same birthday. Long story short, Amy Ferris and I became the best of friends after that. We would have long talks about life, and love and disappointments and courage. We started to write a few essays and blogs together, never competing, always championing one another. And one thing we agreed on – as writers we were going to be bold, be brave, and always tell the absolute truth. We challenged each other to write truthful essays about things we had tried to hide in the past. We’d agree to put a scary, revealing blog out on the same day….and WOW- the responses we’d get were overwhelming. Mostly private messages, people would reveal their innermost secrets to us, and it became clear that everyone was carrying some degree of hidden shame, and thought they were the only one. Now we had a mission. It wasn’t about making money or getting published. We had to keep writing in this vein to let others see they weren’t alone. And as we wrote these revealing pieces, other outlets started picking up our blogs. Before you knew it I had essays published and online webzines asking me to write for them. (And all I had ever wanted to do was to blog about my rejection!)
I diligently edited and reworked my memoir all year long. Meanwhile the phone conversations and blogs with Amy continued until we realized, after seeing one public persona after the next fall on his sword with shame, this was not just a year-long phone conversation that two women were having. This was a conversation that the whole world needed to be having. It needed to be a book. We knew amazing writers who could write brilliantly on this subject. And so, together Amy and I wrote a proposal, and the agent loved it, and the first publisher we went to – the one we really wanted- bought it! (and by the way, everyone told us it was impossible to sell an anthology in this market.)
Suddenly the memoir I had just spent eight years obsessing over was not the centerpiece of my life. The “plan” I made was scrapped, and in its place, something else popped up and tapped me on the shoulder. A calling, I guess you could say.
So what is the moral of my publishing story? When I was fixated on the ONE way my writing career was supposed to go, I almost missed something that was right in front of me, or in our case, something that was always inside of us. Amy said in that first blog comment “Be bold, be brave, something amazing will happen.” And something amazing did happen. I found an amazing friend, we’re writing an amazing book, we’re surrounded by amazing writers, and I have a fucking contract in my hand!
Now that is AMAZING!
I haven’t abandoned my memoir. I still believe it will find it’s way into the world, but I also believe the timing wasn’t right, and I couldn’t push it no matter how I tried. It was a hard lesson in “Surrender 101” for me. I now understand that I can’t push a flower to bloom, and likewise, my life path unfolds at it’s own pace, in it’s own unique way. I learned to write only what was true for me, no matter what the industry, or the books, or “they” said. I learned to stay true to myself, to keep writing in the face of rejection, and to do what felt right instinctually. I still don’t have a “platform”. Let’s face it, I’m never gonna be Snooki…and that’s a good thing.