In WAYS TO BE WICKED, the ambitious, hard-working dreamer of a hero, Tom Shaughnessy, reflects: Odd how soft and amorphous sounding the word ‘dream’ was. So many practical things, bits and pieces, tangible things, nails, wood and pound notes and people, went into the making of dreams.
These words kind of remind me of how my dreams of being a published author—my original, somewhat incomplete, amorphous dreams, that is—were so different from the reality I know now. Let's just say Tom knows more about dreams than I did when I embarked on my career.
To start kind of at the beginning, I don’t think I ever stopped writing once I could write. My first full-length book was the self-published (construction paper and staples), limited edition (I made exactly one) Crayola-illustrated story, Reddy the Rabbit. Reddy was a talking rabbit, and—but you’ve probably figured this out, because you’re all shockingly smart—he was red! In school, I studied Journalism and Creative Writing, and on the way to adulthood, I actively pursued other passions (like a fairly lengthy side trip into playing music) while doing time in the corporate world.
And that time in the corporate world only confirmed something for me: I longed to work independently. I had a wonderful fantasy I retreated to in moments of pure, head-banging, Dilbert-esque corporate absurdity: I was a published novelist; I set my own hours, working at home in the company of my cats, and at night a fascinating, attentive man of some sort who had a job that kept him out of the house all day would return panting for me. It was a very comforting fantasy, and not much more detailed than that, really. And then…
Well, you know what a centrifuge is? What it does? It’s this apparatus that spins really fast and separates substances of different densities—for example, milk and cream. Well, when I set out to turn my pleasant fantasy into a reality by selling a book, I kind of turned my entire life into a centrifuge. I’ll explain:
As you probably know, every author has a different story about how they were published. I finished THE RUNAWAY DUKE at night while I worked full time, over the span of about a year and a half. When I was finished, I knew I needed to look for an agent who would then, so I assumed, sell the manuscript for me. (This was about extent of my publishing knowledge at the time). I found an agent (my first agent) pretty quickly, and to my extreme joy she sold the book as part of a two-book contract a few months after that. It was this agent who suggested I join RWA. I did.
This was how I discovered that I needed to learn about a million things (what the hell is an ARC? A print run?) and do a million things (like build a website) on the fly, while revising one book and writing another and working a day job and and and…
Overnight, it seemed, the number of people in my life (there were already quite a few) and the number of daily responsibilities doubled, and for a year or so I never stopped moving from the moment I set my feet on my bedroom carpet at around 7 in the morning until I rolled back into bed after midnight every day. During the week I worked at my day job all day; I arrived home at night at around seven and sort of ate dinner with one hand while I typed revisions or worked on my second book (TO LOVE A THIEF) or paid bills or answered emails or worked on my website with the other. It was exhausting and exhilarating, but quite manageable for the most part. At first.
What’s that saying? Man plans, God laughs? Well, life happens despite your best-laid plans, and sometimes life happens with, shall we say, unforeseen vigor.
Did you ever have one of those years? Where every ring of my phone seemed to herald a new drama? Where you start to look at a ringing phone like it’s a rattlesnake, or something? I’d sold my book, which was thrilling, but on top of everything else, it turned out to be one of those years, too: births and deaths, divorces and breakups, disasters and triumphs, all occurred in a steady stream in my immediate circle of friends and family. And my writing career, my brass ring, changed the lives of everyone around me, too. Some people were understanding and wonderfully supportive, but others simply could not or would not understand why I was suddenly less available to them, and some threw actual hissy fits. It was difficult to know precisely how to allocate my time and emotion, because every corner of my life seemed to require every bit of me. I learned that being a professional meant trying my damndest to write a funny, entertaining book (To Love a Thief) in a short time span while I grieved losses and disappointed a number of people I cared about.
In the middle of all of this was this shining, wonderful thing—my first book, THE RUNAWAY DUKE, was a success—and the miracle that I’d been published at all.
In other words, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. J
And it was one of the most important times of my life. It was my centrifuge year: my life wildly spun, throwing everything and everyone I truly valued, everything truly essential to my life, into stark relief, separating it neatly from the less essential things in my life. When I was finally able to come up for air, it was clear whom and what I needed to keep in my life and whom and what needed to go, and I set about “cleaning house” with no regrets. And I went forward into my future as a writer more streamlined, more mature much more confident, because I now knew what I was willing to sacrifice, how hard I could work, what it truly meant to work independently, and just exactly how strong I could be.
I also learned that I loved my writing career, even the maddening aspects of it, because the maddening aspects only make you appreciate the delicious aspects (I mean— get to make up stories for a living!) all the more.
Anyway, that’s how my amorphous dream became a full-bodied, very satisfying reality— different from that original fantasy, but somehow much, much better. In fact, I'm nearly as smart as Tom Shaughnessy about dreams, now :) Anybody have a dream vs. reality story to share?