Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Waiting on the Glamour

Waiting on the Glamour

A southern author – when I hear those words I think “Margaret Mitchell”. Now that I am in the column listed under this category, I figured glamour would be quick on the heels of the title. Seriously – wouldn’t you think it also?

Let me introduce myself – Patti Callahan Henry. I am just finishing my fifth book – THE ART OF KEEPING SECRETS, which will come out in June 2008. My last book, BETWEEN THE TIDES came out last summer (June 2007). I started on this writer’s journey when I was twelve years old and vowed that I would one day be an author.

Blaise Pascal says that 'things are always at their best in the beginning'. Well, in the beginning, I believed the author's life was one of glamour, book signings, fame and red-carpet treatment. I had imagined a writing career since I could hold a crayon and draw the cover of my new bestselling book. But, as we tend to do, I gave up on my dream of becoming an author until I was well into my thirties—and even then I still imagined the fame and glory that would come with such a career.

Do you hear the screeching sounds of my imagination coming to an abrupt halt? Yes, I am so blessed to be a published author who is now releasing her fourth book with Penguin/NAL book and writing her fifth book, yet I often need a large dose of reality.

So, I'll start at the beginning. The first thing I did was embark on this career with faith, determination and enough naivety to believe someone would love me enough to publish my work. I started going to workshops and writing conferences. This particular section of my journey should have offered me a hint that there wasn't any glamour headed my way. There is nothing glamorous about sweaty palms, heart palpitations and sitting in the back of a conference room too scared to speak to the lecturing author or creative writing teacher at the front of the room. But I had confidence it would get better. Really, I did.

Then, through a miracle of grace and glory, I obtained a literary agent. Here it comes—here comes the glamour, wouldn't you think? I found someone important who believed in my work and loved my writing, and I knew the publishing world would love it as much as we did. I sat down to rewrite again and again, then finally put the first book away and started something new. It is not so glamorous sitting in one's basement typing and retyping, outlining, spell checking and searching for character motivation.

Then it happened—I received an offer from a major publishing house. Glamour would be waiting at my front door with the contract, right? Well, not so much. It would be at least eighteen months until my book was released, and in the meantime I had to rewrite, reword and restructure a story I thought was perfect.

Now book release day came and guess what? Nothing changed. I still did the laundry, drove car pool, bleached my son's baseball uniform, then went to the grocery store and forgot the toilet paper... again. My husband wanted to know if I picked up the dry cleaning (which I didn't); my daughter wanted to know where her dance uniform was (I forgot); and I just wanted to stand in Barnes and Noble and stare at my book on the front table.

Where were the launch parties, the photo-ops, the cocktail parties in honor of my literary awards? Whoops.

Then for my third novel, When Light Breaks, the publisher sent me on a fifteen-city book tour. Now I would absolutely see the glamour. I mean, haven't you seen those TV shows and movies where the author is all dressed up and signing books to a line of avid fans?

Somewhere around the ninth city I was eating something that resembled a sandwich out of a vending machine when I realized something huge, something so big that I had to sit down in a dirty plastic chair in the airport after my flight was delayed and laugh: It is not about the glamour.

It's about the readers, the lives my story might touch, my gift, my passion for words, and most importantly, it's all about the story. There are many dazzling moments along this road of authorship, even if those moments aren't glamorous. There are the readers who adore my story, old friends who show up at signings on the road, booksellers who love books and recommend them to readers because they actually know what the customer wants. There are new friends, new ideas and other authors who want to talk, share and laugh about the journey we're all stumbling through together. All this, and more, is exceedingly far beyond any glamour I can imagine.


Susan Cushman said...

This is a wonderful post... thanks so much for sharing it! I'm back there where you described going to workshops and working on my first book, and lots of re-writing and not even ready to query an agent, and yes, dreaming of all those things you mentioned. But it IS about the story, isn't it? And the readers. I haven't read your books, but now I'm going to because I'm intrigued by your story. hmmmm which one should I read first?

rebecca said...

LOVELY post...(can i still hold out for glamour? or at least... "teen vogue"??)

River Jordan said...

Oh, yes. Oh, the moments. As I told one group at a writers conference that I had made it to to speak at the last minute with wet clothes from the late night attempt to pack - "Don't tell me that writing isn't glamourous, I have my underwear drying in the back window of my car right now. Trust me, a writers life is oh, so glamourous!"

Thanks for the story. We're all waiting on the limo and our real life to show up but this is it. We might as well laugh and enjoy it.