that proves that if at first you do not succeed, try, try again. The answer may lie where you least expect it.
About 10 days ago, I came up with a brainstorm: start laying the groundwork for a different type of career should it ever come to that, and if not, use this groundwork to give me a sense of purpose and fulfillment intellectually that would keep me from focusing on all the chaos around me at work that I can’t change.
Plan 1: actually commit completely to going back to my novels (it’s a trilogy) and rewrite/revise/edit it for publication. FOR REAL this time.
Plan 2: create a literary journal with a focus on fairy tales, myths, the supernatural, horror, and gothic, and invite all the students and others I’ve ever met that would be excited to submit something to be included. All the logistics need to be worked out as far as how this journal would be published since it would be self-created, self-published, as far as, do we do it online only, do we have a newsletter type thing go out, or do we make it like a “real” journal (my idea is to make it almost look like an old book of tales with a fantastic ornate cover—I have a close friend who is an artist who would love to design this—and then do some things on the interior to make it look “old”, like you start each story with the ornate letter, etc., and then publish it through a wide platform like amazon’s create space where I can control the entire project, start to finish, and make an e-version for sale and a paperback book possibly…like I said all that has to be worked out with my assistant/contributing editorial team, who will be…the best and the brightest women I’ve ever taught! And then I have a running list in my head of every student I’ve ever met whom I respect intellectually, who is creative, who writes, who is very likely sitting on piles of short stories and poetry unpublished… There ARE a few literary journals like this, but I need to have a skype with my peeps and hammer out what will make us different.
So the deal is, no one has time to work on the journal till summer, but now till then, we are going to brainstorm all the stuff we need to do to build it from the ground up.
But I DO have time personally to work on the novels, and so…
Plan 3: Come up with a way to write where I will enjoy it enough and feel like it works for me enough to create a habit out of it. A ritual, if you will. BUT. I have 4 laptops all of which have significant problems and that’s not going to work for serious work…the tech gets in the way. So.
Plan 4: Go buy a new laptop. Invest in the tech that will work for me to do the composition and editorial work. So I do this. Go to Best Buy. Get a $500 laptop that will do more than enough. Get excited, come home, boot it up, and I bang out the entire Prologue to the novel. It’s been in my head for 2 years or more, unwritten. I sit up for 4 hours, in bed at 1am, but I finish the prologue and I even log my word count on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, because that’s going on in November, and back in 2013, that’s when I wrote the first novel of the trilogy, for NaNoWriMo). I get super stoked. I figure that the 3 day weekend, I will revise to death and get caught up with NaNo. You have to do 50k words in the month to “win”, lol. You get a cute certificate online if you do, but it’s more about teaching you to build writing as a thing you do every day.
BUT. The next night I sat down to write/revise, and the prologue was gone. IT HAD CEASED TO BE. It was nowhere. I’d saved that sucker 3 separate times. On different files. Because I over-save docs. In 14 years of writing for publication, I’ve never lost a single document, yet this one was gone. I searched for 4 hours on that computer and found no trace of it. I have since found that sometimes Windows 10 will make it look like you are saving something and then it won’t save. Randomly! And then I also wondered if the computer being new, was it still loading office 365, I was only on the word processing part of it, did I save when it wasn’t fully loaded, who knows? But I was NAUSEOUS. I was like, am I being told “don’t pursue this”???
So the next day I took the computer back. It was all wrong and I could feel it. No, didn’t want to exchange for another computer. This isn’t right. (at this point, very upset, I very strangely felt the impulse to contact my inspiration: PHILIP PULLMAN. I’ve not written to him in years, and I don’t know if he remembers me, but I essentially write to him and ask for his sage advice. How do you personally deal with technology, do you have a staff, do you still write by hand, what’s your method, what computer or program or tech do you use, etc. I basically wanted a pep talk from the man. I felt like I was way out on a limb. He usually hates being asked this type of question in interviews but I’m hoping he remembers me and answers because I desperately need a lift).
Plan 5: Go the complete opposite. Buy a good fountain pen. Good quality paper. Invest in THESE tools. Write it long-hand. So I order a pen and paper. Then on Sun., I watch in my robe through the front window as the postal worker drives up and doesn’t come in the driveway as usual, but instead, forcefully SHOVES this $12 pad of paper made in Italy specifically for fountain pens, in my mailbox. I can’t get out there in time to stop the destruction. I then go retrieve the envelope and not only did she wreck it, but the pad looked like it came from 1940, all scuffed up and covers bent. I was furious. I opened the new pen (nice pen but I’m not enthralled with it) and wrote on it anyway (the pain in the ass of sending it back for the 12 bucks wasn’t worth it so now it’s a scratch pad), and STILL, the words are just not flowing right, I can feel it’s not “me”, I’m all anxious, and I’m like, strike 2, am I really not supposed to do this?
So then a day passes. I go to the eye doctor last night. I try to order a pair of new glasses for $564. I SHOULD have $500 on my FSA, but it won’t go through. It’s a mess. I have to leave with no glasses ordered. FURIOUS, I drive home, feeling disoriented with anger but also some kind of strange excitement that I can’t name.
When I arrive, I stand outside on my patio (herb garden) and this is like, a pretty sacred place to me, and I can’t explain it, but suddenly, I felt so “changed.” I felt like something huge in the world/universe had shifted. I felt like I was picked up and put into some sort of quite similar but almost imperceptible alternate reality. And I stood there in the rain just saying out loud, to anyone who would hear, TELL ME. WHO AM I? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO BE? AFTER ALL THIS TIME, ALL THIS REBUILDING OF MY LIFE, WHAT DIRECTION AM I SUPPOSED TO TAKE, BECAUSE I DON’T FEEL RIGHT ANYMORE WITH WHO I WAS…GIVE ME A SIGN, PLEASE! And I asked every single deity I feel connected to for a sign, and I also pleaded with my Dad. Please give me a sign, I’m begging you.
So I go inside. I make a fancy cocktail. Just for fun. I even include a sprig of rosemary and grapefruit mint from the herbs I grew which are living so far through the autumn/early winter temps because I put them inside my sun porch. And then I suddenly say, “I know what to do. I’m going to boot up my old desktop computer. I wrote all 3 books on it and every article I’ve ever published. It’s probably going to have problems, it’s not been updated in years, and it will probably fuck up, but I DARE IT TO NOT WORK. COME AT ME. I DARE YOU.” (yes I talk to myself a TON. Whatever. It’s how I function best 😉
I turn it on. It boots up slowly, does a couple of updates, I cancel out all the dumb windows popping up that mean nothing, and then I log on to my Comcast email. That’s where I sent the novel to myself (without the prologue) and I need to start by downloading it onto this PC.
As I’m doing this, I notice something. From the minute I sat down, it was like I had put on an old, comfy robe…I saw on my screen the files of all the books I’d put together and all the articles. I save them on the desktop so I can find them easily. They were all there, along with photos from far back, needlework charts, fun things, remnants of my life from several years ago. I felt “right.”
I log on to Comcast, and before I can even scroll down to find the novel to download it, I see at the very top of the list, sent within minutes of my sitting down to the computer, is an email reply from Philip Pullman.
It said, “Susan, thanks for this. I’ll reply more fully tomorrow. Till then—Philip”
I was ECSTATIC. It had to be a sign. He took 3 days to reply (totally understandable, but in that time frame I kept wondering if he wouldn’t answer, would find my questions tedious, etc. I was wrong).
Plan 6: Write the prologue. It was tough to start, but I did it. I got out 1446 words before I quit for the night. It all began to flow. I started to think, all along I told myself writing fiction “had” to be different, “had” to involve a different process, than writing non-fiction. But I was wrong. I “get” how to write non-fiction. It’s natural and flows for me. I take notes in long-hand from research or jot down ideas in long-hand…then I compose on the computer. I edit on the computer. Windows 7 is good enough for Createspace publishing. And the fact is, that if I do need things converted to something fancier, I can very likely get someone to do it for me for a small fee, or I can make them something. Who doesn’t want a homemade lovely hat or scarf? I’m very good at knitting. I know how to make people feel fashionable and warm 😉
In the end, I found my process, by going back to what was right under my nose. This room is right across the hall from my bedroom. It sits there waiting for a guest to stay over, and a few do a year, but mostly, it remains empty except for…guess what…my cat Lyra! Lyra has claimed this as her room. She laid on the bed the whole time I worked. LYRA, named for Pullman’s iconic protagonist, the heroine who inspired a huge amount of my writing. Right under my nose. All this time.
Today, I woke up to a very generous response from Pullman. It’s lovely. He took the time to answer me in great detail. And without knowing it, possibly, he gave me the pep talk I needed.
This is my path. There is always going to be a voice in me that doubts and says “don’t try; you’ll fail. Don’t try; you’ll sell only a few copies. What’s the point?” but I think that everything is pointing to me telling that voice to be quiet. I have so many stories to tell. My head is filled with them. I know how to edit and revise. I’m already partway there. I just need the confidence, and the ability to reach out to others for help and the exchange of ideas and talents when needed as opposed to remaining cloistered in my house forever.
I’m not sure what we’ll name the journal, but my initial thought was that I want us to be modern-day conteuses, enthralling our readers with tales that transport them to different times and places, helping them to find the magic in the mundane. I want to produce something that gives people the feel of the small gathering. The tale told to a select few. The intimacy and the comfort of an old book filled with wonder. And if I do that in tandem with writing my own books—and if my other editors do the same—we can tell our stories and get our own work recognized. We can all become storytellers.
Because why not?
Plan 7: Be the writer I was meant to be, and thank the universe for lighting up the path.