I left home for college in the fall of 1986, and I was not ready. I was emotionally immature and psychologically damaged; I’d spent far too much of my high school tenure in self-hating isolation; and my lack of success in both the academic and social fields felt absolute. Predictably, I experienced a wretched first year that resulted in academic suspension. Read the rest of this entry »
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I’m gonna write while the rest of the family is at a second grade birthday party. Now, there are definitely some pluses to skipping the second grade birthday party, primarily the fact that hanging around and making chitchat with other parents for 2+ hours is a pretty good match for my personal description of hell, being the deeply introverted, socially maladjusted individual I am. But I’m also missing out on things like the jubilant expression on the 2.42 year old’s face as he pings around inside a bouncy house, or the deep satisfaction on the 7.67 year old’s face as she scores her first slice of cake. I’m doing it anyway, because I want this career, and I intend to have it. But the sacrifice is real, and it’s not easy; it’s never easy.
I’m pretty sure it was sometime around this day in 2010 when Arthur A. Levine sent me a Facebook friend request. It’s probably easy to imagine working with Arthur as a very “yes Arthur, whatever you say, Arthur” kind of scenario if you don’t actually know him as a person – his gargantuan editorial achievements and place in publishing history are impossible to dispute, after all, and viewing him solely through the lens of those things undoubtedly results in a highly distorted, non-reality-based image. It’s easier to be intimidated or awestruck by an archetypical construct of a Legendary New York Editor than by the editor as a real person, you know what I mean?
Lucky for me I actually got to know Arthur as the genuine, wonderful human being he is first. I much prefer to see him through the lens of his humanity – it’s a more accurate way to perceive anyone, and personally I prefer working with a real, live human being to working with a fantasy person built from assorted shards of reputation, fandom, and media coverage. It’s true that I have no basis for comparison – I’ve only published one book, and while I’ve worked with other editors on short pieces, novels are a whole different can of hungry caterpillars. But it’s hard to imagine working with an editor who I trust more than I trust Arthur.
After lunch on Sunday Miranda and the 3.33 year old both took a nap, at which point the 7.59 year old plucked at my sleeve, pointed at the couch, and said “Da-da, cuddle!” So we grabbed our books (THE HERO AND THE CROWN for me, ANIMORPHS for her) and settled ourselves in the couch (me with my feet on the ottoman, her with her feet on the far armrest and her head on my stomach) for a solid hour and a half of naptime reading.
She made one or two comments about the comfortable squishiness of my belly; I said something about the increasing lankiness of her legs; and I secretly paused to listen every time she giggled or drew in a sharp breath over something she’d just read. I also paused regularly to stroke her hair and kiss her on the top of the head, and every so often she’d reach for my arm and clasp it a little more firmly across her midriff.
It was a very quiet 90 minute stretch. Quiet, contemplative, and utterly glorious. Spontaneously bursting into flames of happiness wouldn’t have surprised me at all.
This morning as I got ready for work I walked past the kids’ bedroom, where the 3.23 year old was putting on his favorite stripey shirt while unselfconsciously singing his current favorite song, “You’ve Got a Friend.” I paused to listen to his soft, high-pitched voice, with its unmodulated breathiness and its blurry imprecision on the fricatives, and it occurred to me that some people might perceive such a moment as thoroughly mundane – banal, even, if viewed through a lens of uninvolvement – but of course I’m as far from uninvolved as can be. Hearing my son sing about friendship is among the simplest of pleasures, but it’s also one of the most profoundly moving experiences I can imagine having, and I stood there for a minute or two, listening, feeling my love for him fill me up, astonished by my good fortune at having this amazing boy in my life.
I’m paraphrasing, but Michelangelo described the process of sculpting in marble as seeing an already existing work of art within an uncarved block and subsequently freeing it. I’m not comparing myself to Michelangelo (calm yourself, I’m not that deluded), but I occasionally grant myself a pompous moment to apply his description to the process of writing a novel. Of course I tend to get wrapped up in the metaphorical marble removal part of things – when the words are pouring forth easily, it’s like “holy crap, I possess the DIAMOND-EDGED CHAINSAW OF THE GODS” with marble chips fountaining in all directions to the sound of cherubic harmonizing, and when the words come more reluctantly it’s like morosely clawing at the stone with a bent spork. Today I managed to drag myself out of the procedural weeds and assess my progress, however, and you know what, I can see the book in there. It looks like a good book, worthy of all the chipping away and lungfuls of dust and metaphorical sporks. I think I’ll be proud to have my name on it.
I first met Ruth McNally Barshaw at the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference. We’d been acquainted virtually for some months by virtue of my signing with Ammi-Joan Paquette the previous year, but that conference was where we met in person for the first time. In the digital realm Ruth (accurately) comes across as very wise, compassionate, and big-hearted, so I was very happy about meeting her. Like everyone, Ruth turned out to have dimensions that didn’t make their way into her online presence. For example, I was entertained to discover that she’s not just wise and soulful, but also hugely sarcastic and funny. She’s a sly and sharp observer of the foibles of humankind, is our Ruth.
We talked, and she invited me to join a group that was heading over to the food court across the street from the conference hotel. Ruth and I ended up strolling over there by ourselves, amusing ourselves with an elaborate, impromptu, totally fake story about Lisa Schulman running off to Malibu with a morally questionable hotel management professional. We sat together at dinner, and I admired her ability to partake in the slash-and-parry of conversation while simultaneously drawing everyone at the table in her sketchpad.
We’ve been friends ever since. Two and a half years after that first meeting, I find it impossible to imagine a life without Ruth’s friendship, which I’ve come to value beyond measure. That was a happy day.
I had a recent conversation with some friends about being perceived as a clique, which is a real paradigm-rattling kind of conversation for me. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life perceiving myself as an outsider, and of course the worst time (which is also the time when I think cliquish behavior was more of a genuine reality in my life than any other) was during high school. So I’m sensitive – possibly oversensitive – to such concerns, and am rather shocked to think that someone else could feel that kind of apprehension about me. It’s never been part of my self-perception.
As a person who’s never truly escaped those feelings of exclusion I understand it all the way down to the core of my bones, and feel empathy for anyone who might be struggling with it. I also tend to suspect it’s a struggle rooted far more in old wounds and damaged self-opinion than in truly active exclusion, although I should probably speak for myself. It often, maybe even usually has been that way for me, which is not to say that cliquish, exclusionary behavior doesn’t exist in post-adolescence. It sure as hell does, so that perception is sometimes accurate. I know that the circles I move in these days aren’t like that, however. I suppose it’s entirely possible that they are and I’m just too blind to see it, but I don’t think so. I’m lucky to count an increasing number of astonishingly good people among my friends.
I hate the idea of being perceived as cliquish, even as I’m convinced that it’s a misperception, but I love my friends enormously, and I’m astounded by the knowledge that the world contains these groups of people who I trust so much and feel so safe with. It still feels shocking and new; I’m not used to it, and I hope I never take it for granted. So I think I’ll continue to take the risk of being perceived as someone who engages in cliquish behavior and hope that perception will somehow be tempered by the reality of my emotional experience, which includes a great deal of love, a towering amount of gratitude, and more than a dollop of surprise.
It’s always entertaining and interesting to see the occasional blip of online conversation about writers talking (or, to be more precise, not talking) about the desire to make money. Maybe they’re more than blips and I’m just not tuned in, I don’t know. I certainly do want to make money from my writing – if I didn’t want that I don’t know that I’d bother to pursue publication. There are multiple reasons why I pursue publication, of course, and the prospect of earning some money is definitely one of them.
If it was my only reason to pursue publication I sure as hell wouldn’t keep it up, because I could do it easier in other ways, but all the stuff about creativity, community, exploration of self, readership, etc. can’t be separated from the money part – they kind of all go together for me, at least in terms of pursuing publication.
OTOH, if it was purely a matter of wanting to engage in the creative process of writing and nothing else I don’t know that I’d write novels, since writing novels is a colossal pain in the ass. I’d probably just blog or babble on and on here on Facebook. The carrot of publication is what keeps me working on the novels.
Are we tacitly prohibited from saying we’d like to pull down some cash for our writing? I mean, I definitely want to. I think sometimes it’s hard not to think OH $&@%, I’M NOT ACTUALLY MAKING SQUAT and focus on the other stuff in order to avoid falling into an abyss of discouragement, but I’m feeling okay about wanting the money. We live in the real world, after all.
Thoughts on publication: I didn’t sell a new book in 2013 (or in 2012 for that matter), and I can’t lie, it’s been frustrating. This business moves soooooooo slowly. I’m clearly not one of the authors who perpetuate the “book a year” mythology, mostly because, well, I’m just not a very fast writer. What I AM is impatient and generally twitchy. But I think it’s important to note that at no point during that time have I experienced any hopelessness about my PROSPECTS to publish more books.
A new book deal hasn’t happened over the past two years, but a new book deal has always felt eminently possible. Probable, even. It still does. I know not everyone feels that optimistic; a lot of friends and colleagues are struggling with that particularly terrible brand of doubt. I’m not. So, impatience aside, I still have plenty of reason to feel good about things, because I still have plenty of reason to believe I’ll sell that next book, and the one after, and the one after that. Eyes on the prize, o tiny people who live inside my computer. Eyes on the prize.