Notes from a Drama Queen


Monday, April 20, 2009

Thirty-five years ago this month my life was changed forever. I was twenty-five years old and my first book was published. It was a gothic romance, published by a subsidiary of Ballantine, and suddenly everything was magic. There it was, the cover with the ingenue in the front, the big old house in the background with one light on in the window. It was written in the first person, no sex but hot kisses, massively flawed but very original.
Something changes when you first see your words in print. Something they can't ever take away from you. No matter what happens, even if you never sell another book, even if your life sucks from that moment onward, you still have a little piece of magic you can hold in your hand, a proof that you're special.

Waaaay back then (April, 1974) when BARRETT'S HILL was first published, I figured there'd be times in my life when I wouldn't be able to sell a book. I figured doing talking gigs, at schools and libraries, would help support me, I thought if I could just make 10k a year I'd have enough, maybe 15k if I wanted to do a little travelling. I saw myself as a journeyman writer, with a thousand stories to tell and the time to tell them.

Well, in fact I've always been able to sell what I write. I never have had to go through the dry spells that most writers do. And I've never made a cent at talking gigs (with the few that have paid me I've turned around and donated the fee). And god knows I could spend 15k in a day if I really tried.

And I don't think of myself as a journeyman writer. I'm a little more stuck on myself nowadays -- I think I'm gifted, with something rare and wonderful that most of the world fails to appreciate. I also think I'm full of shit half the time -- it's never good to be too enamored of one's self.

I do know that I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing, though I spend a great deal of time wishing desperately that I could just walk away from the utter crap that is publishing. The impossible stresses, the things out of your control. Part of me longs for the good old days, when I knew no other writers, when I typed out my story on a manual typewriter, three drafts worth, and sent it off blind to an agent in New York and crossed my fingers. When I didn't know the rules, when all that mattered was the story.

But you know, that's part of the price you pay for the magic of holding your book for the first time. You'll never be that naive, that hopeful, that innocent again. But it's worth the price, a thousand times over.

So when I bitch and moan (which I have made a vow to stop doing -- someone recently quoted the horrific, hurtful things I've said in public and I've cringed) just remind me that it's a choice I made for the magic, and I'd make it again, without blinking.

Writing is magic. Seeing your book in print is magic, such magic that even thirty-five years later I still remember the amazement of seeing it in a store, of holding it in my hands.

BTW, if you want your very own copy of BARRETT'S HILL you can find it at Amazon for a mere $200:

In the meantime, I need to get ready for the next thirty-five years of stories to tell.

The Trip Winds Down

Monday, April 13, 2009

We're in the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown, winding down our trip. We can see our daughter's apartment building from our balcony, yesterday the Cherry Blossom Festival was in full swing, and for breakfast this morning we had fresh California strawberries and pastries from one of the many bakeries nearby. Yum!
While I'm here I'm going to use the deep Japanese bathtub (you sit on a little stool and scrub yourself before you climb in the tub, as anyone who's read ICE BLUE would know, then wallow in the warmth.) There's a gorgeous chaise in our room that I can stretch out on and write, and we've got one more night here before we fly back to the Land of Snow. In the meantime we're going to enjoy our last full day to the fullest, quite possibly by doing nothing at all.

One thing I re-discovered -- driving is the best possible thing for the imagination. There's something about the hum of the tires, the rumble of the motor, the scenery flashing by, that put me into a kind of altered consciousness where the ideas pour down like a waterfall in spring. I've got so many ideas fighting for my attention that I'd like nothing more than to immure myself in my office when I get home and write write write.

What I Have Learned From Trip:

1. I adore my husband of almost 35 years. Always have, always will. He's gorgeous, funny, easy-going, a great driver, a wonderful companion, and he adores me. What more can you ask?
2. I don't want to live in Ashland, Medford, Klamath Lake, Davis, Fort Bragg.
I don't think I want to live in Mendocino, Bandon, Sebastopol, or (gasp) Lake Tahoe. I think when we find out where we want to relocate to, we'll know it. I could be happy in most of those places. But I didn't have that magical "ping" I think I'll feel when we find the place we'll move to. So for now, back to Vermont.
3. And as for Vermont, HURRAY!!!!. Proud of my state. It many ways, most ways, it's the best state in the country. But it has an endless winter, a crippplingly high tax rate (one of the highest in the nation), and everything is hours away. After 38 years it's time to find more sun.
4. People are friendly everywhere.
5. There's no place like home. I'm really looking forward to getting back, where I can write, and quilt, and enjoy the slow end of winter. Wherever it is, there's no place like home (we can all click our red heels together now).

I'll post more pictures when I can make Blogger work better. But in the meantime, here's the video of the day: