Alone, and quietly, with no fanfare, I celebrated one of the most significant events of my life this past week. I signed my first book publishing contract. I wish I could say that it was no big deal, but I would be lying. It was a very big deal.
I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. All I ever wanted to do with my life was write. How lucky I have been to have received so much more than that out of life. My passion for writing is so close to the bone, that I almost don’t know how to start to talk about the journey to the moment that my pen touched down on that book contract this week.
Over 20 years ago, I started writing down notes and vignettes for a story I had an idea about writing. Fragments of the story came to me and sometimes I captured them, while other times they escaped. I began writing my first novel in earnest in 1993. At that time I had three small children and I was working fulltime. I lived at the Ranch and so I spent a great deal of time driving back and forth to town. When I got behind the wheel, my mind would usually go to this novel. As soon as I arrived at home or at work, I would scribble notes to myself.
I started to get up at 5 AM every weekday to write for an hour before waking the children to get them ready for the day. Sudi wasn’t even in school yet when I started writing this book. I wrote on an old desktop computer with a DOS operating system and no mouse. I still remember the glow of the green rectangular box that was the cursor blinking at me. Some days I wrote no more than a paragraph or a few sentences. I wrote like that, early every morning, Monday to Friday, for six years before I finished the first draft.
Then I had a few people read it, and I got feedback, and I started revising, rewriting, developing new material, cutting material that didn’t work. I threw away the whole first section of the book and started it with the second one. I reworked the book for a couple of years, and then had people read it again. And then reworked again. I started sending queries out to publishers. Sometimes a publisher would request the manuscript and I would send it. I have a folder about an inch thick of rejection letters for this novel. And I have rewritten it many, many times over the years. I would set it aside, and write something else, and then go back to it and rewrite. My nickname for the book became “War and Peace.”
In January 2010, I got a phone call. I had entered the novel in a contest and the prize was publication. The people who ran the prize wanted to award the prize to my book, but they wanted me to make some changes to it first and they wondered if I was open to that. I met with them and listened to their suggestions. They wanted me to do a substantial rewrite that mostly involved cutting three sections out of the middle of the book. It would mean taking three of the main characters and making them into peripheral characters. I agreed to do it. The book had too many main characters and too much going on. The people who ran the prize convinced me that the book lost momentum in the middle and the change was worth making. I spent the next six months rewriting yet again.
The people who ran the prize loved the rewrite. But they explained that they couldn’t award me the prize just yet because they were in the process of finding a new home for the prize with a different publishing company. They told me to be patient and I was. I waited. What else could I do? In June 2011, they completed an agreement with their new home for the prize and I was delighted to discover that this publisher is a very prominent company, well-known and well-connected. Then the publisher contacted me and we began negotiating a contract.
On Wednesday of this past week, the final contract that we have agreed upon arrived in my email inbox with instructions for me to print, sign, and mail to the publisher. Alone, in the quiet of my study, I picked up my pen and signed. All my life, I have dreamed of that moment. By now, I have quite a few book-length manuscripts stashed in my closet. I wonder which of them will ever go out into the world. But this week, I am celebrating the miracle of one of them stepping out on that journey. So many hours, so many years, so much sweat and tears, so much hope and despair locked in those pages. I am astonished at how much I wanted this, how long I had to wait for it, and how grateful I am that my day has finally come.