Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When a No Is a Yes.

"It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey."
~ Wendell Berry

In the middle of last week I finally heard from the agent who was considering the first hundred pages of Somebody's Bound to Wind Up Dead.  As many of you know, she'd been considering it for six months. Actually, it had been lost for four of those six. So for two months. Her response was gracious, kind, encouraging. She liked it, it was good, I should not give up.  And so on.

And no. It was not for her.

Basically, I was relieved because I don't think I'd ever have the guts to say no to an agent's yes. And although she was kind and encouraging, based on things she's written online about what she's looking to represent, my novel did not seem to be a very good fit for her. Today's agent really needs to find a good fit. I so get that. Therefore, I'd already moved on. About 97% on. 96% maybe. 94%?

What ensued then was what I can see now was kind of a mini dark night of the soul. I had traveled from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains last summer (in the company of my extraordinary spouse) to meet this agent who had judged my entry to be a finalist in the writer's contest for the Crested Butte Writers Conference. I could tell from things she said that she appreciated a lot of things about the novel that I myself think make it special. She'd had a chance to meet me face to face in all my charming irresistibility -- and still she said no.

Moreover, I'd finally permitted the whole screaming flurry about The State of Traditional Publishing and Publishing In General to penetrate the carapace of my resolve to a) find an agent b) get a publisher c) become a real bunny after all.  The odds against against that happening -- especially that last thing which is not now nor has it ever been in the purview of publishing -- seem vast.  So very vast.

So there it was.  The freaking abyss.

I fell right on in. I sulked about this, my lost grail. Wept some over it.  Ate a few -- well, maybe six -- brownies for it. (Good choice, IMHO.) And felt really, frighteningly, adverbially lost for ... I think it's been exactly one week.  The question I kept asking myself was, "What am I going to do with myself?  Who am I if I'm not a writer?  Wherever will I go? It's too late to take up figure skating."

Then last night I was burrowing through some old emails and I stumbled upon the Wendell Berry quote I've posted above.  It seemed kind of fuzzily apropos.  I put it back in my email signature and this morning it all came into focus for me.  At last.  So I'm sharing.

Oh, for Pete's sake.  Here's who I am:  I'm a writer.  I've been a writer since I was about eight.  I can't remember when I wasn't one.  I'm a writer washing dishes.  I'm a writer driving my car. I'm a writer, eating brownies.  I'm a writer, most especially, when I'm writing anything at all.  And when I'm in gear, fully, physically, word-to-page writing, in that space between Infinity and the keyboard of my laptop?  Then?  I am a writer as deeply, profoundly, miserably, exaltedly as any writer can ever be. What's more I've been an author since I finished my first of four complete novels in 1997.  Writing is not publishing, it's ... ummm....writing.  And letting people read what you write.

Will I ever find an agent? Maybe. Who knows. I haven't given up. Will I ever be published?  Oh maybe.  I hope so.  Will I ever -- and this is the only question that makes any difference whatsoever to me at the end of all things -- have readers?  Heck. I have readers.  Honey, I have you.  Every single reader counts like crazy.

I'm not sure why this feels like such a revelation to me. Maybe because I'm a prisoner of my time and place like everybody else on this beautiful planet. I believe I actually subconsciously thought I'd have to give it all up if I couldn't sell it. That I equated "real writer" with "best selling author."  That's my good old "real bunny" problem again.  Everybody has one.  Let's all make a pact to give that one up and be our own real bunnies all the time.

This post is mainly for all my dear and devoted friends and readers who've been waiting for six months to hear from that agent, too. Hey, thank you, my beloved people, for caring, for reading, for liking my books, and for loving me. All y'all are the best. The very best.


P.S. This post is also for some other folks who are part of my life, my one and only writing life.  Perrin, Lefty, Ed Brown, Ananda; Tim, the Aunts -- Luticia and Monica -- Maylene, Mr. Kim;  John Pritchard, Andy and Emily Corrigan, Emmett Chapman and Archangelo Bianchetti; Allie, Tom, Margo, Rune, Tony, Diana, Otis; Agatha, Liam, Arthur, Doc, Virgil, Hastings. I know you. I know how you talk, what you'll do, what you want, what you're thinking, and what's going to happen to you next.  Some of the time.  Sometimes y'all get to drive and I get to sit in the back and enjoy the view. You guys, I may never make you famous, but I will never, ever forget you or throw you away. Promise.