When I was a kid, my parents threw their version of New Year’s Eve parties. They’d serve 1960s crudités, meatballs and champagne, and clink glasses with a few close couples. The women dressed in gold-threaded dresses, the men in ties, and both wore party hats—for at least the countdown. For extra good luck in the upcoming year, my father ate pickled herring at midnight.
|Sisters on the famous avocado stairs|
My younger sister and I sat at the top of the avocado green stairs, the same ones we raced down during the day, and waited eagerly to be invited to join the grownups for a taste of herring, a blow on the party horn and, yes, a sip of champagne. Some day, I thought, I would host my own party.
Sometimes I still feel like that little girl, the one waiting at the top of the stairs. Will I ever be allowed to join the party? Will I ever publish a novel?
Recently I read this lovely piece by Marcia DeSanctis (thank you Dani Shapiro, for sharing the link). Ms. DeSanctis found herself at a table with several powerhouse authors and wondered if she'd earned a place in their company. I, too, have piles of rejections. I, too, have been buoyed by praise from workshop leaders and trusted authors, encouraged by query success. Yes, I’d love to be published. But I write because I love to write, not because I think it will make me rich or famous or accepted at the powerhouse author table. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to be there as well.
I'm not great with New Year’s resolutions, mostly because by the end of February, I’ve forgotten what I’d resolved to do. Even so, I finish what I start, am diligent about deadlines and I work hard to accomplish a goal, even if I’m unsure of the steps to get there. Eventually the elusive answer appears, eventually the sentence reads true. But I know to keep a resolution, it must be something in my control.
I just read Donald Maass’ article Failure to Launch in Writer’s Digest. “Why do so many published novels fail to sell—and what can you do to keep your book from becoming one of them?” Authors who languish on the shelves with mediocre sales should not blame the publishing industry or a bad cover or unfortunate spot in the bookstore, Maass writes. Rather they should focus on what they can control: writing strong voices and complex characters facing their deepest fears. “Runaway success comes from great fiction, period,” he says. I know his words apply to unpublished manuscripts, too.
There are times I doubt there’s a spot for me at the grown-up party. I can’t control the publishing industry or force an agent and editor to love my book. But I can resolve to keep working diligently, read amazing novels by both friends and idols, dig deep to create unforgettable characters and write until my sentences speak truth and beauty. I can position myself with a noisemaker, champagne glass and delicious meatballs. And wait to be asked to join the party.
Happy New Year!