Now that a certain conference is over, I can breathe a sigh of relief and finally, officially break the happy news I alluded to last week….
No, I haven’t scored that long lusted-after novel contract.
Nope, Foreign Service friends, we haven’t discovered that our onward assignment is to be my dream post of Dublin. Or Belfast. Or Prague.
And no, despite my pleading, husband couldn’t be coaxed into getting me a penguin for my birthday last weekend.
But yes: I can now say I have an award-winning book on my authorial résumé.
Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a bit may remember another of my posts that contained a hooray cat meme. That particular installment discussed the publication of The Body: Subject & Subjected, a literary anthology in which a chapter of mine appears. (Intriguingly, the anthology’s purveyors now include Amazon and Walmart; no one was more surprised than I to discover the latter’s involvement in the academic book market.)
Well, poetic symmetry demanded the inclusion of a hooray cat in this post, too, because… The Body was the text to take home the literary bacon, scoring the South Central Modern Language Association’s (SCMLA) Book Award for 2016!
Hip, hip, HOORAY! indeed!
Needless to say, I’ve been enjoying a bit of happy buzz since receiving the news from the book’s editor, Dr. Debra Andrist (who deserves a rather sizable shout-out for putting the whole project together). This delightful mood has been accompanied by one of those revelatory moments where you look back and suddenly discover that the road which previously appeared so winding was actually straighter than you might’ve guessed.
My first post on The Body talked about how the publication of the book–and often, publication in general–was/is the result of a series of interwoven coincidences. The absence of any one of them–my not attending the right literature conference, not meeting the right colleague, not pursuing the right research at the right time–would’ve meant missing the excellent chance to contribute to The Body.
Which would’ve meant missing the chance to place the SCMLA Book Award on my authorial brag wall.
Yet again, I’m seeing proof that coincidence (or God’s plan, if you’re a Christian) and timing are as essential to publication success as talent and discipline.
All this musing on timing has given me another revelatory gift as well–an inclination to appreciate something I usually interpret as more of a nuisance: the length of time it’s taken my novel-writing career to unfold.
I penned my first novel when I was 12. Its sequel came the summer I was 13. In my eagerness and naivety, I submitted both to a Random House contest–the Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel. The award for the winner was the stuff of my fondest dreams: a publication contract for her/his manuscript.
As you’ll doubtless guess, I didn’t win. But I did receive a lovely, personalized letter from one of the editors, telling me the my submissions “were as good or better than many of the adult submissions [they] received.” She urged me to keep writing.
Even now, that letter remains precious to me (though not in a creepy Gollum way). I wish I could reach back through time and hug that editor, tell her just how much her words meant–and continue to mean–to me. I’ve clung to them in those few dark moments when I’ve seriously considered giving up my novel-publishing dreams.
Now, let’s not exaggerate: had I been offered a book contract for my youthful novel attempts, I would’ve snatched the opportunity with both hands… and probably run a good distance away, just to be sure no one tried to snatch it back.
But today, I can appreciate the years that’ve passed between then and now. Because all that time I’ve spent chaffing because my publication credits halted at articles, reviews, and short stories, growing impatient and antsy, I’ve also been ripening into an ever better writer. I’ve been producing manuscripts I’ve become progressively prouder and prouder to call my own. Not with a sense of arrogance, but rather with a sense of satisfaction–the same elated contentedness I feel after a good surf session, a vigorous swim. Satisfaction over a work carefully crafted, wooed, and massaged.
Obviously, I still have a long way to go in my writing career. But as an author, I’ve grown so much in the decade-and-a-half that’s passed since my first novel submission. I hope I’ll keep growing still, because there’s no such thing as “finished” when you’re a producer of art. But I can’t help wondering: had I landed that early contract, would I have stagnated as an author? Settled? Certainly it’s true that the publishing fails and near-misses that have occurred instead have invigorated me to write harder, think deeper, discern more sharply. Would the reverse also be true, then? And given the choice, would I give up the maturation of my voice for earlier success?
I’m pretty sure the trade would not have been a good one.
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