Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lost

I admit to feeling a bit lost this past weekend.

On Saturday at the Muse, several friends told me of their experiences with the Manuscript Mart. Weeks in advance they’d sent in 20 pages of their manuscripts to either an agent or editor from some of the most exclusive agencies and publishing houses – 20 pages to be vetted by the best in the business. The reports back from my friends were glowing: each had a request (though not everyone does), one of whom I overheard being talked about later by editors paired off in a corner. Oh, the buzz.

Later that morning, I ran into a woman, Liz Kahrs, who’s regularly attended our Grub Street South workshops. She’s the kind of woman who makes an impression – the good kind – laid-back with an easy-going charm. She had news. An excerpt of her novel was picked up by Huffington Post. Naturally I read it once I arrived home. It’s good, something to be proud of, with clever phrasing that immediately calls to mind crisp imagery. Quite a coup.

Oh, and you should have seen Lynne shine on the marketing panel! Sitting alongside author Hank Phillippi Ryan, as well as the director of publicity at Da Capo Press and PR goddess Lissa Warren, assistant director of publicity at Houghton Mifflin Taryn Roeder, and president of Newman Communications David Ratner, Lynne offered the perspective of an author’s responsibility to both her in-house publicist and to her book. It was a side of her, the masterful public persona, I’d not yet seen. Gracious and utterly impressive.

Sunday was much of the same. Scott Heim told me he’d made it over the hump with his revisions – I’d been worried since we last spoke in October. He appeared despondent then, as if he couldn’t live up to the expectations that follow an astonishing debut. But this past weekend, his face was clear, nearly serene, he was pleased with the work he’d done. “We Disappear” is due out in February. Another success, no doubt.

Along the way, everyone asked the same dreaded question of me, “How’s the book coming?” To be sure, they were simply being polite, but I had no answers for them. Worse, none for myself.

When we sat down to brunch on Sunday, despondency swelled within me. How could it not? Over there was Michael Lowenthal, right there Pauline Chen, Michael Mezzo straight ahead, and oh dear God, I’d sat at the wrong table, because across from me was the conference keynote speaker, Charles Baxter. I was indeed lost.

After a second cup of coffee, Charles Baxter took to the podium and gripping either side, announced the title of his speech, "Losers." When he began to speak, sharing his own sense of inadequacy and alienation, I realized it’s impossible to be lost when so many others are on the same journey, stumbling over the same obstacles of doubt and desire. Here was the master, and now he was reducing himself to comparisons of the likes of me.

When he finished, I waited until the others had their say and then approached. The only words that could find their way past the catch in my throat were thank you, as if I were a child who’d been separated from the hand that guided me through the crowd of unknowns and he the kind man who steered me back.

So today, and hopefully for a while yet, I’m found again.

13 comments:

Therese said...

You sat at the right table Sunday, without question. There's no better guide to pull you back into the fold than Charles Baxter.

And in hopes of doing a little to help, I'm sending you a hug. :)

The Writers' Group said...

Ah, Therese, you're too kind, as was Charles. A real gentle man and I urge everyone to buy his books.

I just received an email from a reader who was concerned that I felt lost. My response: Being lost can be a good thing, it forces us seek where it is we need to go.

Amy

Trish Ryan said...

I can see why Baxter's speech was so helpful! It's true - someone will always be doing better. I've never had trouble believing that the great writers have to wrestle the words onto the page sometimes like the rest of us, but wow don't I love it when one of them shares tips for winning the battle!

I'm sorry I missed the conference - it sounds wonderful :)

The Writers' Group said...

Trish, you have the best excuse: You're working on your book. Maybe next time as a workshop host.

Amy

Larramie said...

Amy, you undoubtedly know the saying: "Daisies don't tell..." But, with my bunch of daisies in hand, I'll tell you that being lost can prove to be the best part of your journey. You're open and searching for that next direction and -- after this Sunday -- please remember that the right path will always appear. (Hugs)

The Writers' Group said...

I don't know the saying, Larramie. Will you please share?

Yes, I've always liked a good journey, and certainly the workshops with Margot Livesey, Michael Lowenthal, and Scott Heim pointed me in the direction I need to go next.

Amy

John Elder Robison said...

I'm here in Amherst, Mass. Might I join one of these things?

The Writers' Group said...

John, you can become a member of Grub (www.grubstreet.org), but I think they'd preferhaving you asan instructor. Your book sounds amazing and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Amy

Lisa said...

This community teaches me so much. There are always people ahead, some so far that I need a telescope to see them and all over the world, someone else is just stepping onto the path. How wonderful to know that wherever we on the trail, we are surrounded with compassionate souls always ready to extend a hand or point the way. Even when we can't see the way, we only need to call out to know we're not as lost as we thought we were.

hug :-)

The Writers' Group said...

Wise words, Lisa, ones we should all heed. Thanks for stopping by and calling out.

Amy

Larramie said...

Although I searched for the origin of the saying/phrase/term of "Daisies don't tell," nothing was found. However my understanding of those words has always been that they were connected with love and, even if you plucked daisy petals asking: "S/he loves me, s/he loves me not" -- the daisy would never tell. Yet, in my previous comment, I did. ;o)

Patry Francis said...

Another beautiful and wise post, Amy.
Thank YOU.

The Writers' Group said...

Larramie, your presence here is such an enormous comfort. Your input always, always appreciated.

Patry, coming from one of my favorite philosophers, heady praise.

Amy