Like many women of a certain age, I’ve had a few past lives. When we lived in Memphis I organized a non-profit literacy program focusing on creative writing. It was called WriteMemphis. We had 27 volunteers working with inner-city teen girls in several Memphis locations. These young writers created awesome poetry and prose about their lives in Memphis – from the strong women in their lives to gunshots through the front door to becoming teen mothers. When I left Memphis in 2014 I gave the program to Literacy Mid-South, which was a natural fit for the life-changing work they do.
Fast forward to where I am today. New Orleans. New business. New home. New life.
I miss writing. I really do. Even though I love the work I do every day in our shop I miss the creative energy of word to page. I have resolved to make more time for writing in 2017. And in celebration of that promise to myself, I want to share exciting news! One of my essays is included in a new anthology (slated for March publication) edited by my friend Susan Cushman, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We are Meant to Be.
A Second Blooming includes work by fabulous writers – Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, Beth Ann Fennelly, and my friends Ellen Prewitt, Susan Marquez and Nancy-Kay Wessman – twenty-one in all! I am in awe of these fabulous women and I am honored to be among them. Readings and signings are scheduled in Memphis TN, Jackson MS and soon in my home city of New Orleans. I’m so excited I’ll let the world know when that will be! Here’s the catalog page from Mercer Press:
One of my novel manuscripts has received 79 agent and/or publisher rejections. I should change that to read 6 agent and/or publisher rejections and 73 ignores.
The ignores are the most difficult. I’d rather have a firm “no” than nothing at all. I lovingly send something off with high expectations, then I never hear back. Did they ever receive the package or email, I wonder? The actual rejections have arrived either via email, a form letter, or a self-addressed stamped postcard that I paid for.
While my shorter pieces have been published, there’s been no action on this particular manuscript. I think it’s a good story. My readers think it is a good story. But the publishing industry is not in a gambling mood; they want a sure thing. If it was chick lit or young adult fiction or anything with vampires some agents say it might have a better chance. But here’s the thing, I can’t and don’t write in those genres. I’ve tried, but I have no passion for that.
I’ve almost come to enjoy these rejections and ignores, these little efforts to force me into doing better or different work, because when you win there’s no incentive for improvement. When you receive a rejection, or even an ignore, at least there is a reason to go back and look at your pieces over and over again and make them better. I decided to engage the services of a professional editor to review this one manuscript. I know I will learn something from her, even if it means re-writing this novel for the upteenth time.
So what to do while I wait for those acceptances, those affirmations for my life as a writer? I keep doing it. Every day. Writing is a solitary activity. I am usually alone when writing, as are most writers. I sometimes sit all day and write. I will miss meals and work in my slouchy clothes all day if given the chance, because story material appears every day. Just this morning I read about an 11-foot alligator caught by wildlife officials walking down the street in Greenville, Mississippi. That was after the wedding in the convenience store between the Cheez Whiz and the toothpaste. And then there was the grandmother in Florida who tried to sell her infant grandchild. What motivates people to do what they do is the basis of fiction. What are those internal or external conflicts that we all bump up against? Was the alligator hungry? Was the grandmother? What about the couple who married in that store? Did their eyes meet, did the ringing of the cash register sound like rolling thunder in their hearts? Did they honeymoon at Talladega?
Writers are compelled to write. I carry these stories forward to see what they want to express to the world. There are myriads of opportunities in Memphis to pursue this avenue of artistic expression, especially in the inner city, and especially with our young people. They all have stories to tell.
Writers have an artistic gift, and we need to cast it out into the universe, not keep it to ourselves. There’s a young man in the Beltline neighborhood that enjoys writing so much that he wrote a play and his mentor helped him enter it in a local contest. He didn’t win. But he’s still writing. He wants to be a better writer.
If you enjoy writing and want to carry your story forward, helping young people like the young man in the Beltline neighborhood, consider facilitating a writing group for WriteMemphis, a literacy program I started because I wanted to do more than hold my gift tightly to myself. I am compelled to share this gift with the world, and I hope you are as well. Visit the website at http://www.writememphis.org, and we’ll put you to work while you wait.