• Thu, Oct 13 2011

Chasing Thirty: Redefining Adult Accomplishments

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

As those of you who checked in here on Friday know, I launched my book last week. It was an exciting moment for me, and one I’ve been looking forward to in some sense for most of my life. I got slews of nice emails from friends and strangers on Friday and generally my spirits were up. I’m even having a little party this week to celebrate it. And yet…

I dreamt of this moment the way that some girls (allegedly, I’ve never met one who would admit to it) dream of their wedding day. I imagined the book cover, the way the thing would feel in my hand, and most of all I imagined getting the call. When I was shopping this novel with my agent, I bore a hole into my phone waiting for it to ring and refreshed my email every five seconds like a nut job–just waiting for that news to come.

Remember that episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie laments that adult accomplishments are not celebrated unless they involve marriage or procreation and then declares that she is marrying herself so that her friend will buy her the pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes that were stolen from said friend’s house? Wow, that plotline sounds really ludicrous written out like that. Anyway, in the final scene when the sparkling stillettos arrive at Carrie’s apartment you know the reaction you’re supposed to have is ‘yeah girl, you stick it to those smug marrieds!’ but then you think ‘oh wait? You married yourself? That’s…silly. And kind of sad. Marriage just isn’t something you’re supposed you do on your own.’ And neither, I always thought, was publishing a book.

And of course, I didn’t do it completely on my own. Beside my very talented cover designer, I had a couple of editor and writer friends who helped immensely with the revisions of the original novel, a very gifted agent who polished it further and a half dozen industry friends who advised and encouraged along the way. Despite all of that, being a novelist is a lonely business and more so without the support of a publishing house.

But you see, I’d done all of the right things up to this point. I’d written the book for one. I’d written two books! I’d queried and gotten an agent and queried all over again. I’d blogged and tweeted and gotten my writings on the internets. And I’d waited, and waited. So my options came down to write some more books and wait. And I was only okay with one half of that equation.

I once worked with a wonderful man called E. Lynn Harris, the late great author of a whole load of deliciously trashy, unputdownable urban fiction (it’s a pet theory of mine that the Real Housewives of Atlanta sprung fully formed from his imagination). He was raised dirt poor and after graduating from college was working as an IBM salesman in Atlanta when he tried and failed to sell his first novel to a publisher.  He self published his book (which back in those days meant fronting the heavy cost to actually have the books printed by a vanity press) and sold it one copy at a time to ladies at Atlanta beauty salons out of the trunk of his car. He sold thousands of books doing this and eventually did land with a publisher. Every single one of his books hit the New York Times bestseller list.

This is the stuff of publishing legend and of course, a one in a million story. But the thing I take away from this story is just how driven he was and how much sweeter success must have been once it finally came; no one can say what was in his heart but you can only assume he wanted it more than all the world’s MFA candidates combined to go to those kinds of lengths. It was just about getting there, not how he got there.

It can be really easy to focus on the shape of things, on whether things look the way you thought they would but this is like focusing on the dress you’re getting married in instead of the man you’re marrying. In the end you have to be willing to let your dreams take any shape they need to to be realized.

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