There’s something about crossing water that makes me feel like I’m going someplace different, a place where something will happen.
That’s what I thought as the ferry left Port Townsend on October 6th for Whidbey Island where I had signed up for an Algonkian Writer Conference. It was, I also noted, what would have been my father’s 99th birthday.
My father is who introduced me to travel by water. When I was eight, we got on the Wonosobo, a Dutch freighter, in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and 75 days later docked in Long Beach, California. The last two weeks, we saw no land as we sailed through typhoons, waves crashing over the top of the ship.
I loved it.
When I was 60, I discovered the letters he had written to my four-year old self when he was alone in Saudi Arabia, yearning for the time we would join him there.
I suspect it is because of my father that I am a writer. As I read his letters, I understood what a good storyteller and writer he was. A man who hadn’t graduated from high school put pen to onion skin paper and described nights in the Empty Quarter shared with desert foxes, kangaroo rats, and men who snatched locust from the air and consumed them with great gusto and trudged to the highest sand dune each sunset where they lay their prayer rugs and bowed and kneeled and bowed and kneeled and touched their heads to the rugs in the presence of Allah.
Perhaps that’s why I thought of him as I rode the ferry to my writers’ conference. A mere 35-minute ride.
This conference was about getting your break-out novel published. I have done little to get published. I have enough rejection letters, emails, and messages posted on my accounts advising me my piece was not accepted to prove I am a writer. What’s a writer without rejection notices?
So what’s a writer who hasn’t been published?
Well, that’s a conundrum for me. I want to be published, to have people read what I have written.
But, I hate the process—think it’s a terrible business model. But it is what it is.
To be perfectly honest, I have resisted that next step in writing—that step where you actually try and get published. I think it is my last self-imposed barrier that keeps me small—keeps me from being seen.
I’m a bit embarrassed about that, but there it is. I’ve said it in public.
I’d like to report that my brilliance was recognized and you can expect that my break out novel is coming to a bookstore near you soon. Oh, right, there aren’t many bookstores. Okay, coming to an online bookstore soon.
But, I cannot report that. I learned what I suspected—getting published is a daunting task. One of the most difficult hurdles is getting past what the conference leader referred to as the “Twenty-two year olds”—the overworked and un- or underpaid interns who are the gatekeepers.
And then there’s the problem that I write literary fiction or what is referred to as up-market fiction. Hard to market it.
I got a great appreciation for what an agent does, the amount of work they have to invest to get you in the door. All on speculation. It is market driven—neither the publisher nor the agent can take great risks on unknown authors, especially if they write what is hard to market.
But, I also learned how to pitch a novel, and got a good template for planning out a novel—which helps one winnow the pitch down to that famous elevator conversation. Oh, and that my writing and my storytelling are solid.
I believe in what I am writing.
So, I got what I needed. Something happened. I have broken down that last self-imposed barrier. I’m not afraid anymore of being seen nor do I need to keep myself small. I’m willing to do the work to get published.
With a little bit of luck, I won’t be that author that they discover posthumously, but one who gets published in her lifetime.
It’s just a matter of continuing to cross water to get to someplace different where something will happen.
It’s kind of being a grown up.
I should add that I met terrific writers, kind, smart, talented—my tribe—and they all live close by. Worth its weight in gold.