Why am I an author? How did it happen? Did classes help? How did I manage to get published?
People often ask me these questions. I ask them too, still a bit amazed that after trying so long I found a publisher.
I grew up in a family of strong-willed, opinionated parents. The discussions around the dinner table sometimes turned into rather loud arguments about the latest news, politics, even mundane things like family finances. For my hardworking immigrant parents, where and how to spend money was always an important consideration. I did more listening than talking. It could be hard to get a word into the conversation when my parents were passionate about one of their favorite topics. And I suppose it was my genes, too. I was usually more comfortable listening and absorbing things, rather than talking, wherever I was. So, yes, I was the proverbial introvert.
Still am. Oh, I can have fun with friends and happily talk when it’s one on one. But put me in front of a crowd? Oh, no! I’m one of those people who would rather be broiled over a fire than get up in front of an audience and talk. (PS: A shout-out to a great book, which helped me feel OK about being an introvert, even though so much of our world seems to value extroverts more highly. The book: QUIET by Susan Cain.)
I was always good with languages and loved reading. Even before I actually put words down, I created stories and imaginary characters for myself. I lived with these characters in my head. Sometimes it was more fun than real life. I could travel with them to far flung places. Go back in time. Be in a space ship or captain a ship. Or take on other new personas.
Perhaps that’s where the nugget to write was born. I kept creating and started writing little stories in school, but I never thought of myself as a writer. And I never said it out loud. Too scary. Too grandiose. But I kept writing. I won a short story contest in a local magazine when I was twelve years old. And I even submitted a screenplay to a famous Hollywood star when I was in college and got a nice rejection letter back. One time I submitted a story for a contest and, seeking validation, I asked the judges, “Can you tell me if I can write?” My story didn’t win, but scrawled on the rejection letter was a quick note by one of the judges, “If you have to write, you will write.” Not exactly the validation I wanted, but an important piece of advice that has always stayed with me. I’ve learned it’s not about being famous or getting validation, it’s about the need to share something that’s deep inside me with others.
Since I was the son of immigrants, it was important not be a burden to my parents, but to get a job and earn a decent wage. Pursuing something as insecure as being a writer was not in the cards. Happily, I did get a decent job – in book publishing in New York. (Whether it paid a decent wage, well, we in publishing still smile and shake our heads about that.) In any case, I had to content myself with being around all those editors and authors, learning about the book biz from the inside.
I loved the people I worked with. “Conventionally crazy,” that’s what I called them. We publishing types had our quirks, as many creative people do. But we weren’t totally out there. We were professionals, who wanted to earn a living doing something useful – bringing the unique voices of authors to the world. I saw how much hard work went into this, and how long it took, and how patience and perseverance were so important. They helped you not to give up and keep doing what you loved.
But the author part of me never died. I kept writing, taking a class here or there. And I kept submitting stories, plays, and books, but nothing much ever came of it professionally. Did the classes help? They didn’t “make me an author,” but they did give me important lessons and tips about writing. I sharpened my sense of what matters to a book reader or an audience watching a play. I learned the importance of rewrites. And just the act of continually writing helped me learn to get over my perfectionism, which killed more than one attempt at writing in the early days.
Finally, lo and behold, last year, after another submission, I got an acceptance email from an editor at Nine Star Press. Now I see the book biz as an author. I still love it, though (Smile. Smile harder!) I often have to remind myself what I learned about patience and perseverance, especially when it comes to sales and marketing. It’s a cliché but true, since clichés often are. I’m another one of those authors who says, “Don’t give up!” Especially if you’re one of those authors who has to write.