Tuesday, February 12, 2008


By Amy MacKinnon

(I spoke too soon. The "good news" I intended to share with you today will have to wait just a bit longer. But as soon as I can open the circle, you'll be the first to know.)

Writing is often described as a solitary life and it's true. We sit alone for hours at a time, living in worlds only we know, separating ourselves from our true lives that are inhabited by real people (though it's difficult to believe our characters don't truly exist and you'll never convince me they don't). We must be alone.

But writing a book is not a completely solitary venture. If you're fortunate, you have a writers' group like mine with whom you can share your worlds. Then there are the people who've helped you along the way, either knowingly or not. Count them up and you may be surprised by the number of hands who've pulled you along.

When you needed to know what type of police-issued firearm your local officer carries you made the trip to the department and someone welcomed you, gave you a tour of the station and an ear-full of cop talk. How it informed your dialogue and the details of your setting. Or perhaps it was a hospital, school, rehab center, or in my case, funeral parlor. Someone gave you the gift of expertise and even more valuable, their time.

There are those who may never know how they've influenced your writing either through their own, in an interview, or both. For me, Terry Gross and Jonathan Franzen, Julia Glass and Amanda Eyre Ward, Alice Sebold and Stephen King, Karen Fisher and Michael Lowenthal, Arthur Golden, Scott Heim, Betsy Lerner, Charles Frazier, and Carolyn See. I turned to them again and again to guide me.

Who was the first person to believe in your writing? For me, it was an English teacher my junior year of high school. Roberta Erickson was elegantly beautiful and shared my passion for words. I so looked forward to her classes. Deconstructing Shakespeare and complex sentences were a joy. She encouraged me, took me aside to tell me I could write. She planted a seed that year, though it took years to grow. Later, three more people believed full-on I would one day publish a book: my children. Their support never faltered. Not once. Then along came the women of my writers' group and I had yet more unconditional support.

There were editors, too. I was a stay-at-home mom with absolutely no writing experience when I solicited my first newspaper assignment. I'll never know what made the editor take a chance on me, but if she hadn't I doubt I would ever have pursued a book. Another editor gave me the chance to do a monthly column and another a national platform on the op-ed page. They each gave me the gift of allowing me to try.

And so many, many more.

Enough family and friends, strangers and officials to overflow my office and fill my downstairs. When you consider it, writing a book isn't as solitary a venture as is so often described. Not one bit.

So what brings this all up? Last week, I wrote my acknowledgment. It's something I've long dreamed of -- you have too. Drafts were started as a diversion from the doubt of wondering if that manuscript would ever be read by anyone else. It fueled me to think there had to be some way, some small gesture I could make to repay others' faith in me. Perhaps more than any other part of the publishing process, writing the acknowledgment has been the most satisfying aspect of all.

I did leave out one person, though, and I feel terrible. I intend to check if it's too late to revise, I hope it's not. But if so, let me present it here. That someone who encouraged me soon after I revised my manuscript, who was there when I began querying, celebrated when I hooked my dream agent, who supported me through the dark days, and then shared my tears when the book finally sold is you. You.

Thank you.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Writing that acknowledgement page is really magical, isn't it Amy. You get to summon back all those folks who supported, believed, pushed, prompted. Who stuck with you and dried sad and celebratory tears. Something about seeing those names in print is very special.

Good for you.

kristen spina said...

Amy, congrats on all of it! What a dream come true...And yes, the acknowledgement page is magical in a way, it is very often the first page I turn to in a new book. I love being witness to the hands and minds that lifted and inspired the author.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Judy, I bet you loved doing it just as much. Andlet's not forget the dedication page...

Kristen, thank you! I alos love reading the acknowledgment page, especially in a debut. Therese Fowlers is very good, she says up front that it's going to be long.


Larramie said...

With the acknowledgment written (which I always read first), you're one step closer, Amy, Thank you for thanking us.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Larramie, your lovely bouquet got me through many dark days. You yourself are a sign of goodwill.


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Amy, you are such a tease! Well, we'll all come back for the good news.

I agree about the ack page--I always read them, relishing the writer's happiness, and so often they bring back all of my own feelings. You wonder--who are all these people, how did it all happen, and aren't we all lucky to have this ever-widening circle of people who honestly care.

I still have a scrawled draft of mine, written in a notebook when all I was hearing was "no." It made me believe there could someday be "yes." And essentially that same draft is now in print!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hank,I'll never forget opening Prime Time and seeing my name on the Acknowledgment page. It was a shock and about the highest honor. I absolutely believed in you and your writing, but more important -- you believed in your writing. Now look at you!


Eileen said...

You're the best. However- I think you a tease on holding out on the good news.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Eileen, it's not that I'm a tease so much -- though I can be -- it's more I'm stuck in the dark ages and just a teensy bit superstitious. Travel around with me and you're bound to get hit with a fistful of salt or a headache from all the wood-knocking I do.


Anonymous said...

This came up on my google alert, and I'm happy I found this blog. I don't have a writers' group, and it does feel lonely (and lovely) some mornings in my pajamas. I'm honored to know I inspired you, Amy, and I'll be looking for TETHERED. The whole publication process is such a rush, don't you think?

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi, Amanda, thanks for stopping by. I loved SLEEP TOWARD HEAVEN (first heard about it on NPR, then from my bookseller), so when I saw HOW TO BE LOST, I immediately bought it. Though I already knew my ending, LOST showed me with its perfect ending what my last line needed to be. And how exciting it was when FORGIVE ME finally arrived at my local bookstore. The setting was quite a departure, but you nailed it. Anyone who's ever worked with reporters will recognize Nadine immediately.

As for the publication process, my what a rush.


Carleen Brice said...

Aw, Amy that's sweet! Thanks to you all at The Writer's Group! Still looking forward to hearing your news.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Carleen, I go to my local indie tomorrow to get your book. I can't wait!