I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone without writing a blog post since this I started writing here. In my last post, I was despondent; my agent had all but given up hope on selling my memoir, and I didn’t want to pay to publish it via a vanity press. I had spent nine years living the story and six writing and trying to publish it, building a platform, researching and learning and thinking about the ways to reach families like mine. It was incredibly painful to think that my final goal of publishing our story in a real-honest-to-goodness-book had finally been stamped DENIED.
The day before I heard for certain from my agent that she was basically out of ideas, I went for a walk with my good friend Sarah. She and I had sat in the windows of the student union at Northwestern University, two years before, when I’d received a rejection from a dream publication for an essay I had felt was my best work yet. I was ready to give up, to decide that writing and publishing were too hard. She sat and listened in this serene, patient way she has, with long pauses before she speaks. She has a habit of looking straight at me almost the whole time we’re talking, not off to the side or up at the ceiling. She’s comfortable with silence and tension and she’s comfortable with waiting. After I doused both of us with my self-pity and negativity, she smiled a little bit and shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I have a feeling that something is about to shift for you.”
Eleven days later, an editor at the New York Times accepted the essay that would go on to be published in August, the one that would launch me forward into attention from publishers and agents and eventually help me to sign with my own agent.
“I knew it!,” Sarah squealed on the phone when I told her. “I just knew it. See??!”
So in October, when I told Sarah on our walk that I thought I was at the end of the road for my book, she shook her head again. “Remember when you thought it was over before?” she asked me. “And remember I told you I had a feeling?”
Again, foolishly, I didn’t believe her. The next day, when I got the email from my agent about how the time might not be right for my book, how I could self-publish or put this book in a drawer for a couple of years, I forwarded it to Sarah, who said again that she saw more hope in that email than despair. Again, I ignored her and bathed in my own misery.
And a month later, out of nowhere, out of the dark ether of 2020, a publisher made an offer on my book. A month after that, I signed the contract, and three weeks later — yesterday — so did the publisher.
Six years after I started thinking about writing a memoir; five years after I started writing actual chapters; eighteen months after I had an essay published in the New York Times; seventeen months after I started querying agents; fourteen months after signing with an agent; and twelve months after my agent sent my book out on submission, I signed a publication deal for it.
The photograph at the top of this post is what I see above the top of my computer when I sit at my desk. The cookie-tin banjo is a gift from my father. The crocheted cactus is a gift from my daughter. The little carved face door knocker was a bridal shower gift from a dear friend of my family. The plant is a gift from a writer friend. The napkin underneath it all was crocheted by a friend who lived through the story I tell in my memoir right alongside me. In the periphery are cards and other gifts from friends and family. In fact, the only thing in this photo that I bought myself is the sign:
Believe there is good in the world.
Be the good.
It’s too on the nose, isn’t it? Although Sarah didn’t give me that sign, she embodied it for me.
Sarah, you were right. Like the breads I bake with so much love and hope that the yeast will hold, this book rose.
Dear readers: my memoir will be published in the spring of 2022 by Rowman & Littlefield. Stay tuned.