Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Never Give In

By Amy

I often wonder at what point I’d give up hope of ever being published, if there would come a time when I’d stop trying. I think of Archer Mayor when he told me he wrote seven manuscripts before his first book was published. Or Amanda Eyre Ward who told us at a Grub Street South workshop that all of her writer friends who persevered were eventually published, years and years later in some cases. And now I have Harry Bernstein to bolster me, the ultimate beacon of hope for us writers.

Perhaps you read Motoko Rich’s profile of Mr. Bernstein in last Saturday’s New York Times. No? Then you may not know Mr. Bernstein had his first short story published when he was just 24. About four years ago, after being rejected by several American publishers, he sent his memoir “The Invisible Wall” to the slush pile of Random House UK where it was plucked from obscurity by Editor Kate Elton. Who knew editors still bothered to wade through the slush! Since its release on March 20, his book has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and that adoring profile by the inestimable Motoko (and gracious, she answered my charming note with one of her own, ergo inestimable).

All incredible achievements, a multi-layered happy story, yes, but there are lots of happy stories. What sets Mr. Bernstein’s apart from the others? Harry Bernstein finished his book when he was 93. That’s right, 93.

Throughout his life, Mr. Bernstein wrote with the intention of getting his work published. He wrote short stories and novels; some efforts were rejected, others were met with indifferent acceptance. But the man never stopped trying. He never gave up, never gave in.

How is that? What compels us to write, to reach and reach even when there’s nothing in sight to grasp hold of? I suppose the more interesting question is why. When I walk into a bookstore and imagine my own book there, I realize it would be one among many, nothing particularly special tucked on a shelf of thousands. I was talking to a woman this week about her own book and her reasons for writing it. We agreed we each had a goal for publishing a book that didn’t include enormous advances or glowing reviews – yes, we’d be delighted with both, of course – but what we really yearned for was that letter from a reader telling us how our writing touched them. A single charming note. Sentimental nonsense, I’m full of it, but a desire to be heard, to be felt, to be relevant is what each of us yearns for in life.

Mr. Bernstein is now 96 and has nearly completed a second memoir, written on an IBM electric typewriter. He has fortitude, alright, and heart. And soon he’ll have something else: A charming note from a reader - a hopeful writer -- whose life he touched by writing a book.

17 comments:

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

You're so right, Amy--it's all about those connections we, as writers, make with readers. Sure, I have visions of glowing reviews and bestseller status floating around in my head, but the notes from readers are what's really thrilling They've thanked me for writing my book. They've told me it helped them understand themselves. That's what we really hope for as writers; that's the real reward.

The Writers' Group said...

Judy, I read somewhere about the response you received from mothers who read All the Numbers: I can't imagine a more satisfying result from writing a book. I'm heading out today to Buttonwood Books to buy Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell. I plan on getting your novel as well.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Amy. It's a great reminder not to get caught up in all the ups and downs of this business. I hope to receive such a note from a reader one day. That's what it's all about.

xoxoTish Cohen

Maia said...

"The desire to be heard, to be felt, to be relevant.." I love that. Thanks for the great post. I too, marvel at the stunning perseverance of writers. Nothing will stop us on the road to publication.

The Writers' Group said...

Tish, I suspect you'll receive many letters after Town House is published. Humanizing those with anxieties will touch many lives.

Amy

The Writers' Group said...

Thank you, Maia. I agree, our dreams are too important for us to ever give in.

Maprilynne said...

Wow, that IS inspiring . . . but boy I hope I'm not 93 before my first book is published.;)

Maprilynne

The Writers' Group said...

Maprilynne, in the article he said he couldn't have written this book even 10 years ago. I love his desire to constantly seek more of himself, to learn and be open. Gosh

Amy

Therese said...

Amy, my 66-year-old beginning-writer uncle, who thought my first sale at 39 was impressive, was floored by Mr. Bernstein's. What a remarkable story that is!

And I'm glad to hear you're full of "sentimental nonsense." We need more of that in this world!

Lisa said...

Today is surely a day of signs...

Mr. Bernstein is my new hero.

The Writers' Group said...

Therese, good for your uncle and better for you. I love that you had your first sale at 39. It's my goal as well.

Lisa, hold fast to those signs. They really do mean something.

Amy

Ghost Girl said...

That is it--connections. It's just another way we long to reach out and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. That sense of humanity and unity. You often hear that writers are shy or tend to be introverted. I think we are sort of covert extroverts. We long to be gregarious, but on a more spiritual plane, I guess.

I have to say, I don't really dream of fame or fortune...just of writing and someone listening (reading). I know many stories of writers with piles of rejected manuscripts before their voice was heard and giving a place in the stacks. I'll keep doing it until my voice is out there, too.

Thanks for the inspiration, Amy.

The Writers' Group said...

GG, I may have to steal that line, "...writers are covert extroverts." That's why you're a writer!

Amy

Larramie said...

I adore this post, Amy, because it proves my belief that age is nothing but a number while passion is what rules your life.

And you wrote: "Judy, I read somewhere about the response you received from mothers who read All the Numbers." That was from my post featuring Judy and her own words.

The Writers' Group said...

Of course, Larramie! Thanks for reminding me. You have such an ecletic blog, how do you organize your mind around it all?

Patry Francis said...

I love this post.

The Writers' Group said...

Patry, you ,of course, inspire me too.

Amy