Since I was in junior high and was challenged by another student to write the dirtiest short story I could I’ve dreamed of being a respected and widely-read author. Translated into fifteen languages, millions of copies sold worldwide.
I won the contest, by the way. Hands down. Somehow the filthy reworking of a paperback porn book my sister and I had found on the side of the road got lost on it’s way back to me. My chance for hometown fame at the tender age of 13 fell flat. A boy shoved my purloined folder under my nose and asked, “Did you write this? ‘The Wild Virgin’?”
“Nope. Not me.”
If I hadn’t run from my first brush with a chance at the Pulitzer Prize you wouldn’t be reading this. My parents would have killed me and I’d already had too many close calls. In my mid-twenties I sat down to an old manual typewriter and hammered out an absolutely awful historical romance. At the time it seemed everything I attempted to write, except for my kid sister’s biology term paper, came out sounding like the racy cousin of a Harlequin.
Never say die. I mulled it over, thought of a fascinating time period, a plot that hadn’t been done to death and characters cut from cloth no swooning heroine or brooding hero had ever dared dress in.
Well into the third draft I laid out my plan one night over a dinner out with my husband. If I quit my job as a domestic engineer (a maid, ya’ll) and devoted my time to finishing the book and finding a publisher it just might take wing. “I feel good about this. You know Ted, my boss, has read thousands of romance novels and she really likes my manuscript. It’s original. No one’s written a plot like this. And if it sells a lot of copies people will recognize my name and my next book will allow us to do something besides work ourselves into an early grave.”
He was looking at me, listening. He knew how much this meant to me. My man wasn’t so insecure that he couldn’t bear having a wife that made more money . If I was in the public eye that would be okay. He’d be right there by my side.
“So, what do you think?” I asked at the conclusion of my pitch. He blinked, swallowed his bite of enchilada and began to talk about something so far from the topic of conversation I’d thought we were having. Even if your audience isn’t listening you know when you’ve gotten your answer.
Twenty odd years and a divorce later there was no reason to not give it another whirl. The nudge came in the form of poetry. Where did that come from? Poetry wasn’t a literary form I’d used to express myself unless assigned by a teacher. But sitting among friends one afternoon a thought came into my head and that was my head was like a tin roof with too many holes in it. An hour later I’d penned a paean to addiction and broken love, my yearning to chuck this crazy life and follow the road to the departed custodian of all I’d come to know of myself. It was just a part of the worst year of my life.
I survived. Yes, I believe people have actually been killed by their broken heart but mine wasn’t the death of me. Over the next few years a sentence would spring to life in my imagination and the rest would pour out. The ones that finish themselves in fifteen minutes or so feel like the best I’ve put on paper.
What came next was a short story. It’s said that an unproven writer can cast his or her bread upon the waters in this manner. Not much money in it and you get your name on the contents page inside a magazine rather than 40 point type on the front of a book on the newsstand. But so what, right? Stephen King and Dean Koontz did, too, and they ended up okay.
I returned to the unfinished romance novel I started so long ago.
What the hell. It was closer to being completed than anything new I might have come up with. Then something new pestered me until I started typing just to shut it up. Do you do that as well? Maybe you have two or three publication wannabees in your desk. That’s normal, I’m told. It’s also normal to wonder if anyone will ever read what you’ve created Our stories are like children and we hold their little hands and pray they won’t be the outsider on the playground, friendless and passed over when sides are chosen for the game.
And if I never become a mediocre seller, much less Pulitzer material? I’ve lived long enough, failed enough, been wrong enough and broke enough that it won’t kill me. It’s almost been enough to entertain my friends and hear the members of Facebook’s group The Disenchanted Poet’s Society tell me how much they like my posts. The praise of friends is tempered with love and peppered with diplomacy but they seem to mean it when they say they like what I’ve written. I choose to believe them. Who knows? I might actually sit down and give life to the XXX screenplay my adolescent self started four years before she was no longer a wild virgin.
All I can do is go for it. My whole life I’ve swam the middle waters. I’m hardly an apex predator. What I am is dogged and thick-skinned. Dr. Seuss was on the verge of giving up writing when he at last heard “We’re going to put you in print.” It took over a hundred submissions before Chicken Soup For the Soul was optioned.
Besides, I’ve read some books that made me think ‘If they printed this book surely they;ll print mine’. How can they not?
Chin up. Go buy another book of stamps.