A long time ago, I read a book written by a 12-year-old. It was a real book and it was in my school library and it was at the book fair and it was published and it was exactly what I wanted to happen to me. I wanted to be published; to write stories that made people laugh and cry and want to turn the page because my words left them wanting for more.
The book was by Canadian author, Gordon Kormon, who had famously penned an English assignment that blew the socks off of his teacher and was eventually submitted to (and accepted by) a major publisher. Once, in middle school, I got to meet him. He was an adult at this point and had more books under his belt than I can count. There had been a contest and the prize was lunch with the famous author. To enter, you simply had to write the name of each of his books that you'd read, one title per entry, add your name and teacher's name, and slip it into the box for the drawing. I'm pretty sure I was the only student with an entry for every book, and soon found myself eating lunch with another student named Lindsay, Kormon himself, and a teacher chaperone. I can't remember where we ate or even what happened to the autographed book I happily took home that afternoon, but I can tell you that the day itself was magical because it made writing real to me. I got to see the real person behind the books I devoured and he was kind of goofy looking and slightly awkward and he lived and he breathed and it was amazing.
That day made up for the fact that I missed my deadline of being a published author with a book on the school library shelves and in the stores by 12th birthday (and the resulting midlife crisis, which I'm pretty sure involved copious amounts of twinkies and one hell of a sugar crash). It also served as my rock and my placeholder for my own dreams. Maybe I wasn't meant to best-selling child prodigy, but I'd bide my time...I'd get there. Kormon did it and by God, so would I.
Eventually, after high school, I became brave enough to apply for the school newspaper. And I soon learned what it felt like to see my byline in print and people talking about the stories I'd written. I took a class taught by a Detroit Free Press columnist named John Smynteck - people called him Smynty - which led to the opportunity to interview a comedian to promote his upcoming show in Detroit and have a very tiny but oh so big opportunity at story with my byline in the newspaper. I think I learned to fly in my dreams that night.
My father bragged about that four inches of type, two columns wide, for years and trust me when I say how much that meant to me because it did -- and still does. So very, very much. More than I realized, I guess, because now I'm sitting here with wet cheeks and a sniffly nose and the memory of him and his voice and his laugh and the way he'd puff up with pride echoing through my heart. I want so very badly to call the number still in my phone, the one that says Dad, and tell him that I did it. That after years of building my clip file -- with actual print stories were the only way one did such a thing -- so thick that I have three ring binders filling a giant tote in storage, that I made it to my goal. I want to tell him that I did it, just like he told people I would, and that even though he wasn't the hugging type, that i always knew he loved me and that believed with me in my silly little dream.
That's what people think, you know; that you're crazy for thinking you've got a chance. So many writers with the same wish and only so many dreams realized. Gotta be practical, shouldn't we? Get a nice sensible job with benefits and a regular paycheck and let those childhood fantasies just stay back there where they belong with our cookies and milk for Santa. It's time to grow up and think about the future, after all.
And then it is the future and we are grown and we are still dreaming and still trying and there are still so very many hurdles to overcome. Platforms to build and agents to impress and digital clip files to figure out where the hell to actually store so your portfolio isn't lost in some random pinterest board you'll never actually find when you need it. There's the blogging and the networking and the writing for free in order to write for bigger audiences for free in order to keep expanding your audience and one day, maybe, cash a check with your name on it because you don't have to write for free anymore.
I'd tell my dad about Latina and my advice column. He'd be all kinds of proud and puffed up about that, alright.
But still, even though the column is amazing, it's not...a book. It's not the thing that I believed I could make true as a child and somehow never stopped believing in no matter how many times I was told no. And trust me when I say that it was often. Even writing it in its entirety is one of those against the odds things and one of the reasons people celebrate completing challenges like NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo... it's just so damned easy to walk away from a maybe that typing The End makes you someone else's hero because you did it and maybe next time, they can do it, too.
After you write it, you try to sell it. You try to romance the agents and they don't need you so you need to make them want you and chocolate chip cookies are a great way to deal with each new rejection letter, I think. Then you find one, an agent and not a cookie, mind you, and they try to romance the publishing houses and they don't need your book so your agent needs to make them want your book and you're very glad that you were smart enough to keep those chocolate chip cookies nearby. Sometimes, contacts aren't renewed and people tell you to let things go and move on, that maybe the story you believe in was just another rung to be climbed on your way to your dreams and you think that they are wrong but wonder if they are right, so you nod stupidly and distract yourself with new stories and new URLs and more Pinterest boards.
Years go by. And then a little something someone else did leads you on a rabbit hole across the internet researching hybrid publishers and you think Why the Hell Not? I've still got the fucking cookies! Why not give it a shot? And so you do. But this time, when you've already got your hand in the bag ready to eat your way through another rejection, the yes throws you of your game.
A long time ago, I had to keep believing. Today, I am so very grateful that I never stopped.