3/29/2005

"The Call"

I am a writer. I can't tell you how long it took to finally say those words out loud, or to list my occupation of forms as "writer." It actually took my son to "out" me.

I had been writing away for about three years and had even had a short story published, but still I didn't consider myself a real writer. Real writers made a full-time living off of their work, dabblers like me were just rank amateurs. Now, this standard only applied to myself...anyone else who put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, I called them writers. The standard's just always been different for me...and don't make me wax neurotic by asking why...God, that's what therapy's for!

Anyway, I'd written a novel based on the published short story; a short story I might add that had placed first in the Sleuthfest Short Story contest and had been published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and had actually paid me $862, cash on the barrelhead. But I didn't have an agent or a publisher and the book was "making the rounds" looking for someone who would believe in it enough to actually agree to represent me and then try to sell the thing to a publisher. I was not having much success. My husband (at the time) was on my back to "get a real job" and I was fairly depressed about my chances of ever getting my toe in the door of the published world when Adam made his move.

He was in Ms. Thorne's second grade class and it was Meet The Teacher night. When I showed up we were instructed to look at the pictures and attached biographies our children had done of one of their parents. They were posted on the wall above our heads in a border that ringed the classroom.

Adam took my hand and began to lead me over to the middle section of the back wall. There, on manilla drawing paper, was a child's view of me...brown curly hair, a big smile and wild-looking dark eyes. Below the image was the story of my life as Adam saw it, neatly lettered in his childish scrawl..."My mother is a mystery writer."

I remember the lump in my throat, the tears burning my eyes, and the way he smiled up at me as I hugged him to me and said, "Oh, Adam, it's beautiful!"

He saw me the way I only dreamed of being. For him, it was a reality.

Months later, lying in my darkened bedroom, I actually went so far as to pray that my Sierra girl would live to see daylight on a printed page. I knew, good minister's daughter that I was, better than to pray for something so selfish and insignificant when people around the world were in pain and suffering, but nonetheless, I did.

I even promised to go to church again.

My husband told me I had "an obsession," and should get over it.

Two days later, the phone rang. A woman's voice asked for me and said, "I LOVE Sierra!" And just as I'd done when my first story got published, I thought, well, I can die now because surely this is the best life can ever get! However, unlike the first time, I did not go out and buy a new computer, 90 days same as cash...I knew better than to do that again! But I hung up the phone and screamed, danced, cried, said a big Thank You and in general, made a complete fool of myself. It was almost as good as giving birth, because in a way, I was giving birth...to my fictional daughter and her crazy, fictional world.

That Sunday I went to church.

Five months later, the book finally sold to St. Martin's Press.

And you know, ten books later, I still can't quit my day job, but it pays a good half the bills and I get to stay home more with the boys which was my goal in starting this career. I work like a dog to learn my craft, to become a better writer and with each book I think I get a little better. But it's night's like last night that remind me of the gift and the dream of this profession.

Last night the phone rang and it was V. (She's the one in the thongs, you remember her!) She said, "I hate to call you at home, but I've sort of got a problem..." I should mention here that in my day job I'm a psychotherapist, so calls like this are not at all unusual, however, this call wasn't one of those.

"Did M. tell you I've been writing a little bit and that I submitted a story?"

Yes, but she hadn't said anything about submitting. M. is not a writer. She would have no idea how much V trusted her just in telling her that she wrote, let alone that she'd submitted. I mean, when you submit a story, the risk is that you'll get rejected...and when a writer gets a story rejected it is like they have personally been rejected. It's a shame based business, that's why we're so secretive...at least, the writers I know are!

"Well, I just got a phone call and it was from the editor. She wants to see the rest of the book, only since I sent it in, I've been working on it (Something all writers do...we tinker endlessly...) and now I need to add 3 thousand words. I just called to see if you had any advice on how to do that."

She was glossing right over the biggest news, the most wonderful moment, in a writer's life...V had just received "The Call!" It was time for celebration!

"It's a romance, right?" I asked.

"Right."

"Hell, add another sex scene! That's what we're all looking for anyway. Now forget that. It's time to celebrate!"

A short while later, the three of us gathered at my house to drink a glass of wine and celebrate yet another accomplishment. M. had just finished her first metalworking project, a glorious, copper fountain with a tin roof.

We set up the fountain, drank the wine, and toasted ourselves. We grinned and did little victorious, happy dances. It was in the joy of that moment that I realized what I should've been accepting all along. No one can "make" you an artist and no one can take it away. It doesn't matter how anyone sees or labels you. Becoming an artist is something that bubbles up, like M's fountain, from the very bottom of your soul. It can't be stopped or denied. The little voice just keeps coming up with words or images that find their way to paper or copper or canvas despite self doubts or the censorship of others.

As my grandmother would say, "She was born to it."

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