A proof of my novel, Life is But a Dream, is scheduled to arrive in the mail today. In case you missed the point—a copy of my book (smelling of fresh ink and full of crisp pages) will be in my hands today.
I started writing books at the age of seventeen. I was fresh out of high school and working in an office for an engineers’ union. I was the only one in the office and this was my first job. It consisted of taking calls from businesses that needed men to run heavy equipment (bulldozers, cranes, etc.), contacting men for those jobs, and then completing and filing the required paperwork for the union. As jobs go, it wasn’t exactly challenging and there was a lot of down time. There was only so much time I could spend cleaning the office and straightening the file cabinet, so, one day I decided to write a book. At the time I was a dreamy-eyed all legs and arms girl who owned two horses, so, of course, that book would be on horses. With visions of The Black Stallion and My Friend Flicka in my head, I began writing a reference book on horses—sort of an encyclopedia on everything to do with horses. Five years later, I finished it. I sent it immediately to Doubleday, because I had heard of them and they seemed like a pretty good publisher (I cringe at my naivete). Amazingly, I received a full-length letter from a very kind editor there, Ann Sleeper. She was very encouraging and suggested some revisions. At the time (I was only twenty-two), I had no idea that receiving such a letter on your first manuscript, on its first submission, is practically unheard of. I started revisions (on a typewriter!) and sent the manuscript back. I cannot remember how long those revisions took, maybe a couple of months, but I mailed my manuscript back to Ann (feeling as if we were surely on a first-name basis) and waited. For a couple of months. Eventually, my manuscript was mailed back to me along with a letter saying that Ann had moved to another publishing house. Period.
This was before Google or Facebook or even personal computers, so it wasn’t like I could just go to Ann’s Facebook page and message her. My hopes of publishing with Doubleday quickly faded. I spent the next few years submitting that manuscript, mailing it in a box inside of another box so that it could be returned to me, one publisher at a time. On average, it took two or three months to receive a reply, another couple of weeks for me to get up enough courage to mail it out again, and then another two or three month wait. Two years passed with only a few kind letters and some really nice rejections (I still have them). Somewhere along the way, I learned about literary agents and then started submitting to them. Again, mailing the manuscript to one at a time and waiting for months to hear anything. I did have some encouraging responses. I still remember the day I received a letter from an agent from New York informing me, “We had lunch with a publisher yesterday who is very interested in your book. With luck we could have simultaneous U.S. and British sales!” Two agents and a publisher were talking about my book over lunch in New York City! Just the thought of that was enough to sustain my writing dreams for the many years to come. Ultimately, I came close to getting that book published (making it into a publishing house who ultimately decided to go with another book on horses that year), but never did.
Through the years, life and marriage and babies wove their way between the pages of my writing, sometimes slowing the writing down, and sometimes inspiring it. Eventually, after going through a divorce, I gave up on the horse book, stored the box under my bed, and turned to novels. My first “novel” (and I use the term loosely) was about a writer who falls in love with a boxer. Probably inspired by the movie Rocky. I got about half way through before realizing it was really, really bad and quit writing it. I started another novel about a woman having her first baby. I finished that novel and sent it to several agents before realizing it was really bad. I started another novel about a woman who is standing in a bank lobby and is kidnapped. Probably about one hundred pages into it I realized it was bad. These are novels that were written, and rewritten in longhand in spiral-bound notebooks. After revising a few times, I would then type them (yes, on a typewriter) and then start revisions all over again.
Somewhere along the way I started working on a computer—a Commodore 64 that had Word Perfect on it! It was an amazing tool. No more carbon paper, no more erasing, and I could make my revisions on the fly! The world suddenly became larger and full of possibilites. Until one day when my daisy-wheel printer refused to cooperate. My ex-husband had taken the “good” printer and left me with the old daisy wheel. I was trying to print out a manuscript for submission and the stinkin’ thing just would not cooperate. Eventually, frustrated and angry (mostly because my ex had taken the good printer), I unplugged it, stomped to the front door of my mobile home, stepped out onto the deck, and threw it into the yard. To my dismay, it remained intact and sat in the yard looking smugly in my direction. Immediately, I retrieved a hammer from the mobile home and went out into the yard and proceeded to beat it into submission.
After replacing that printer and that ex-husband, and enrolling in college (at thirty) to major in creative writing and American literature, I began writing a novel about a woman who goes to a secluded lake cabin to redefine her life after a divorce. I wrote it, rewrote it, changed the storyline, added characters, removed characters, and changed it from third person to first person. I finished my degree and then went on to get a graduate degree. Eventually thousands of words written and thousands of words discarded, I honed my skills and my novel began to emerge and my characters found their voice. Sometimes I felt as if I was merely taking dictation and watching a scene between them, barely able to keep up with the action.
It is this novel, Life is But a Dream, that is now available as a Kindle book through Amazon and soon to be available as a paperback. It is this book, published through CreateSpace, that I will be holding as a “real” book composed of paper and ink, in my hands today. Already, I have received kind letters (from friends and strangers) about this novel. Words so kind and encouraging that I would be embarrassed to share them with you. Words that somehow validate all of those years of endless effort.
Well into his career, when John Steinbeck was a well-known, respected, and well-paid writer (he had already written The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men), he received a check for thirteen thousand dollars from his agent. He wrote back, “Many thanks for the $13,000. But remember the excitement when the North American Review actually paid $90 (on the Red Pony)? Such excitement will never come again.”
Today, I will hold my first novel in my hands. Such excitement will never come again.
What a day!