When I was in the third grade, we had career day at school. My classmates wore doctors’ coats or firefighter costumes or athletic gear. I wore my regular school uniform because I couldn’t figure out what else to do, and brought in some books, a large pencil, and a pair of glasses. I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know what writers wore. I didn’t know how writers dressed. I knew only that I must become one and that I would figure out the rest as I went along.
I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since.
I promised myself that when my first book was going to be published, I would write about my journey, how I got here, as I had read so many blogs by so many other writers that helped me along the way when I was feeling lost or stuck or wanted to give up.
In 8th grade, I moved on from career day and instead, had to write a career report. Again, I wrote about being a writer. I wrote about how I would use the money from my books to pay for college (which is adorably ignorant on many levels). I scribbled acknowledgment pages in the back of my notebooks. To my eighth-grade teacher, I wrote, who always believed in me.
In high school I wrote for the yearbook and the school newspaper and the literary magazine. I read Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby and Brave New World and I was so awake and so alert and so infatuated that I decided I was going to become an English teacher and write on the side…. because I wanted to share books with the world. This was all I knew. That I wanted others to feel what I felt, know what I knew, when I was reading those books.
I went to college. I indeed became an English teacher. I minored in Creative Writing and took a few acting classes. I fell in love with theater. I almost went to graduate school for theater, but at the last minute, abandoned ship, switched course, went back to my roots, and instead, went to graduate school for writing and received my MFA.
In 2008, I wrote most of an adult novel as my graduate school thesis, and then completed it a few years later, after graduation. That first novel was useless in a sense, in that it would never see the light of day. It was derivative; it was all Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf, my icons at the time, their voices stuck in my head, their styles stuck in my fingers. And it was too autobiographical. It was too true to make a good story. But it taught me how to write a book.
In 2012 I put that novel away and wrote a young adult book about a student in Catholic school. In 2015, one year after my daughter was born, I queried many, many agents with that book and received many, many rejections, but ultimately did get an agent with that novel. I remember bursting into my rehearsal for Doubt, telling my cast about my agent, shouting it from the rooftops. I was going to be published now. It was a sure thing. I would have a book deal for Christmas.
That novel didn’t sell. Rejections, rejections, rejections.
In 2016 I finished another novel.
It didn’t sell. Rejections, rejections, rejections.
In 2018 I finished another novel.
It didn’t sell. Rejections, rejections, rejections.
Four novels. Many, many, rejections. This is not an atypical experience by any means, but that didn’t make it sting any less.
In the beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic, my agent left agenting. I was again, just a writer, no representation, no book deal, just me, alone. Again.
I stopped writing. Had a second baby. Stayed inside for a global pandemic. Had no childcare, two children, and a day job. There wasn’t time to write. It wasn’t even an option.
Fall 2021, my children could go back to school and to daycare. I had the freedom to peek out, to start again. I queried more agents. Received more rejections. I queried small presses instead, which are traditional publishing houses that sometimes don’t require an agent to submit to them.
And a small press said yes.
And here I am. 13 years after receiving my MFA, I have a book deal. A note to my third-grade self: Writers? It turns out that they look like me. They dress like me.
And so, if you’re here, reading this, as I was reading other blogs for all of those years, know this: if it’s in you, if you believe you can, then you must persist. Be Sisyphus, pushing that rock up the hill. Never, never, never give up. The only reason I’m here is because there was a small voice inside me that said you can. You will. Listen to that voice.
In THE RAVENS, which will release in September of this year, one of the main characters, seventeen-year-old Charley, says, “This is the year we rise.” I’ll introduce you to the story of THE RAVENS in the coming months, give you a little look at the plot, the three main characters, the cover. But for now, for right now, I’m holding onto Charley’s words, “This is the year we rise.” May it be so for all of us.
Cheers to 2022.
6 thoughts on ““This is the year we rise.””
To live authentically we must pursue that which compels us.
Looking forward to your continued success!
Yes… even when it’s enormously difficult! And thank you.
So incredibly proud of you and proud to know you. And I can’t wait to read your novel.
Thank you, J. I feel the same way about you.
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Awesome. Gatsby & I are so proud.