Monday, April 7, 2008

Ya Can't Always Get What You Want

Maybe it's because I'm approaching 40. Maybe it's because the honeysuckles are now in bloom, and no scent makes me sadder. Maybe it's because I had lunch with my mother on Saturday and she had forgotten that I was just down there a few weeks ago. I watched her walk to her car and watched her legs moving slower, the back of her head showing thinning hair. I listened to her tell me the same stories over and over again, but underneath it, I saw a girl. My mom is only 67. I am at the top of the hill; she is on the way down.

And there's that damn honeysuckle that takes me back to North Carolina. Back to when I was the girl that may still dance behind my eyes if I am lucky enough to reach 67.

I am in my life now. Something clicked this year and I realized I'm not moving toward it anymore. I'm not waiting for it. I am in it. So then what? If I'm not moving forward am I stopped? A new paradigm needed to surface.

So one did.

I've now been told by my agent and my editor in the past week that the only thing harder than selling a first book is selling a next book. This is no doubt the truth. I have also been reminded that Anne Lammott only wanted to be a best selling novelist. Although she is a best selling author, she is not a best selling novelist. Natalie Goldberg wanted to write novels. Her only novel is not close to the league of her memoirs.

It is now not a matter of if I will do a second book with Shambhala. The only details to iron out now are timing and content. They trust me now, they said. They want me to write organically. They want to know what I want to do. We'll sign a contract when there's a bigger advance on the table after this summer of workshops increases book sales even more. Go figure that one. My inner Lutheran wants to sign today and take the current offer before disaster strikes. My agent says wait. We've got it now. You've got the power in the relationship now. You want to work with them and they want to work with you. Wait for three months. Second books are harder. Stop chasing now and sit.

I've spent the better part of last year grasping at something to sell to them before my editor moved on, the publishing house folded, a new attack occurred on American soil -- any number of factors out of my control that can crush a writer's career. I've false-started more in the past nine months than ever in my career. I have a lot of pages of "stuff". I have an image of a yellow swing in a North Carolina backyard. A squirrel in the snow. A bulldog. I have a concept I like but not a lot of substance yet. I have two fleshed out proposals with no juice. The same questions haunt me, knock on my skull to find form, spin away in disgust. The same questions challenge my nature of pushing, forcing, making something happen from nothing. These questions only dance in color when I'm still.

I have let the thought in now -- I may never sell my novels. The timing seems to not be right. I may be supposed to use writing in other ways. I may be supposed to help others find their voices. I may be supposed to write nonfiction. Being in service to the work doesn't mean only when it suits my objectives. I can't not write fiction. But perhaps I need to release an expectation of selling it. This year has opened doors I never thought I'd reach. I will be teaching in one of the best retreat centers in the world in New York. I'll be there with people I only know from bookshelves. I'll be one of those people. I will bring what I've been given and see what happens next.

It's the honeysuckle, most likely. Nothing makes me sadder. As a dream shifts focus, what happens to the remnants of the desire? Like first drafts, it gets you where you need to go. But you can't drag it with you. You can't drag the ladder up onto the roof.

You can only be on the roof, feel the breeze from three directions at once, root your feet into the shingles, and say thank you.


Andi said...

Honeysuckle - sucking that tidbit of juice out = springs in the North Carolina mountains. . .
Thanks for this post. Thanks for struggling opening. Thanks for showing that your brokenness is human - so real, so beautiful.

Jody said...

I just finished reading Writing Begins with the Breath and I wanted to thank you for writing it. I don't know why I picked it up, but it may be as you said that the books we need are right there when we need them. I'm just shifting into a point (finally) of writing full time, after teaching and raising kids. I didn't put writing off, but it wasn't the central part of my life that it once was. And I've been struggling a little with the idea of thinking of my writing as my work. I know there is no magic answer but your book did help me think through some questions I had about the writing process. I think I was getting too hung up on the publishing part, which in the end is out of my control.

Laraine Herring said...

Thank you both for your comments. I really hesitated even starting a blog that wouldn't be 'perfect & polished'. I of course want the world to see me as brilliant and amazing! :-) But underneath it all, I recognize that it is in being broken that I am most human -- and the more I'm able to post and write like that, the more I'm able to free up this old gal!

Thanks, Jody, for picking up the book and taking the time to write. I'm glad it was of some value to you.