My mother wrote short stories, children’s books, and a few articles. I know my grandmother did the same. There has been a writing gene on my mother’s side of the family fighting to get out for some time. I have found its footprints in the typed and handwritten pages I used to find in my grandmother’s attic when I was a kid, among my mother’s effects. I’d stumbled across the trail for years when I was young, but it never had any significance to me when I was growing up.
Writing had no real meaning for me then. It was a form of communication, just words on paper that told you stuff, something else you had to learn in school. As I learned to read stories, I began to appreciate that there were different kinds that affected me in different ways. Sad stories, funny stories, scary stories...I started to pay attention to why they were different, then to how the writer did it. Lessons learned over a lifetime led me to become the writer I am today.
But that seed was planted in my head by the women who encouraged me to love the written word as much as they did, who nurtured my own writing ability, even if they had abandoned their own ambitions ages ago. I love them all the more for that, for not letting any regret or envy taint their appreciation of my growing joy at what they already knew. As I look back on them, when they lived, what they had to do and sacrifice to make my life as it is now possible, I see that in addition to the social strictures of the day, there was one other thing that they lacked more than anything else that stopped them.
I found a rejection letter to my mother for a children’s book she had written, which I found with it. It was a lovely story and when I read it to her in her assisted living apartment after I found it. She didn’t remember writing it, was losing a lot of the past as well as her present by then... I read it to her and her friend across the hall, and felt tears well up in my eyes at the end, it was that moving.
It wasn’t just that it was my mother’s story, or that reading it aloud to her was releasing a lot of emotions in me, it was really a good well-written story. Maybe not the best fairy tale ever written, but it had structure, good characters, and a little darkness in the style. But she gave up after one rejection letter. If there had been others, they would have been there in the attic too. I was sorry that she hadn’t had the faith in herself that I had in her, that neither her or my grandmother had been given the encouragement that they gave me to persevere.
Thirty agents rejected my first novel before I found the one who got it and thought it could work, and I won’t admit how many publishers. In the end, my second novel, BLOOD PRESSURE, is coming out at the end of this month with another great review from Publishers Weekly to launch it. Each rejection was a knife in my heart, but I rode it out for over a year, listened to people along the way, did rewrites, worked harder than I ever dreamed I could, and eventually got published.
This picture is of me as a baby on my grandmother’s lap. She always made me that happy. She died of bone cancer when I was in high school, and it took me well into my twenties to realize how important she’d been to my life, my development as a creative artist, and my sensibilities. I know how incredibly proud she would be to see what I have done now; as my mother was before she went to join her. It is because of them that I am where I am, and they’re why I always encourage people who say they write and how hard it is to get anywhere with it to stick it out, to keep writing past the bad writing, past the rejections, to the work that makes them happiest, to the work others can see and get as much as they do. The work they can get published, in any number of increasing ways these days.
Usually, I tell people not to pursue writing as a career unless it’s a passion for them, something they’d do every day whether they were paid or not. If it is an addiction you can’t shake, you also have to learn to feed it on your own. If someone had been there to tell my mother and grandmother that, who knows what legacy they would have left me? Instead, it's left for me to spread the love of language and story they instilled in me, in their name.
Now get back out there and write!