Sometimes the gift you get isn’t the gift you were hoping for.
I’m sure every writer dreams of fame and fortune. The three-book deals, the book tours (although it’s just as well I haven’t gotten those, as I am a lousy traveler), the general Stephen King/Barbara Cartland wealth and riches of it all. Back in the day, that dream typically included Oprah’s Book Club, until a couple of writers burned her and wrecked it for the rest of it. In my daydream, I am convinced that, if not for those writers (you know who you are!), The Caregiver would certainly have been chosen, and I would have had to go through all the stress and bother of figuring out what to wear on TV and how not to melt under those lights, which I hear are quite hot and probably not kind to ladies of middle years who tend to be hot a good bit of the time anyway. Phew.
As you can probably tell, this didn’t happen, and I don’t just mean Oprah (although I haven’t completely given up hope and would like to point out that the film rights are still available and there are four meaty parts for actresses, one elderly, two middle aged, one teen—Angelina, Drew, Meryl, are you paying attention here?). The lovely (and horribly expensive) trips to writing conferences somehow failed to result in any famous authors wresting my manuscript from my hands and insisting on sending it to their agents.
Agents, generally, are quite unresponsive, making me nostalgic for the days when I submitted short stories to literary journals and could count on reaping a reliable harvest of polite, although preprinted, rejection letters. Agents pretty much just ignore you, or they ask for more pages and then ignore you, or they ask for the whole thing and several months later send you a lengthy email explaining that they love everything about your book except the title, plot and main character, but if you’d like to take the book apart and write a different one entirely, they would be happy to look at it with, of course, no guarantees.
My writing career hasn’t been without benefits, though. Thus far it has not resulted in a lot of the kinds of tangible outcomes that just lead to the trouble and expense of hiring fancy tax accountants. The famous authors, who have mostly all been very nice, seem content to let my manuscript take its chances in the wide word without any interference from them. But the writers, and now the readers, have been the icing on the cake. The whole cake, really. I’ve posted before about my writing groups. Many of my best friends, including my husband, were found in my writing groups over the years. I have traveled to some gorgeous places, and made wonderful friends. I have found writers to be wonderful, generous people, with inexhaustible supplies of great stories and magnificent sense of humor.
Now that The Caregiver is out, I have met lots of readers at book clubs and other venues. They too are unfailingly generous and supportive. One person attending an event, who hadn’t even read the book yet, got a steely look in her eye when I mentioned my struggles to donate my book to libraries. “I’m a volunteer at my library,” she said. “And I’m going to make them BUY it!” Readers invite me into their homes, tell their friends about the book, and post reviews on line (about which I have been known to be just the tiniest bit naggy). Their warmth and kindness, thei questions they ask about the characters and their insights into the book astonish me.
I’ve learned about my community: a vibrant place, full of groups of friends who look out for each other; who meet to work, play, laugh, share goodies and explore the world. I was interviewed on the air, in an actual radio station! The fact that it was exactly like the ones on TV and in the movies (except maybe a smidge smaller) in no way detracted from the coolness of the experience. I was actually there. Incidentally, I’ve learned that people really do read the free weekly local paper, about which I promise to be much more diligent henceforth, even when I’m not looking for a housepainter or a day camp.
Sometimes the gift you get isn’t the gift you were hoping for. Sometimes it’s better than you could have imagined.