Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Portrait of the Author as a Young Man, Part II

I met Marie during my first few months in Japan. Originally from Oregon, she was teaching at a women's college in a city called Wakayama, about an hour by train from where I lived. She was (and is!) enthusiastic, energetic, passionately committed to her ideals, and an amazing ideas person. The upshot is: we were together for three years in Japan, traveled through Asia, and became engaged on the rooftop of a hotel situated in the middle of an Indian lake. The fact that she was American and I was British wasn't insurmountable. In our plots and plans, Marie made it known that, when I moved to Oregon and we got married, she would go out to be the bread-winner and I would be able to write to my heart's content.

That's what happened.

Looking back over the span of 20 years, I have to chuckle at my 20-something chutzpah. I firmly believed I would write a novel, send it out, delight an agent, cause an editor to salivate uncontrollably, and be published with fanfare. I'll give it a couple of years, I believe was the mantra.

Writing for hours a day was the easy part. I wrote the usual coming-of-age bildungsroman, shipped it out to publishing types in London, and got big fat raspberries. I seem to remember one comment to the effect of "we'd all love to be published, but it behooves us to have something publishable first."

I did one thing right. After a number of negatives, I enrolled in a novel-writing class, taught by a grizzled old veteran. He was free with the red pen and urged me to toss out my ms. for something less full of adolescent angst. I remember his surprise when I returned the following week with a completely rewritten first chapter, with a completely different tone. I was now writing a farce, and he grudgingly showed some appreciation for it.

Once again, the writing came fast. Once again, I sent it out. One agent actually requested the whole ms. The rejections came again, but this time there were encouraging notes appended to the slips. That novel never did see the light of day, and neither did its subsequent sibling. The more I read about the trials of aspiring writers, the more I realize that I'm not alone in having several manuscripts gathering dust in a bottom drawer.

The important thing was that I soldiered on. I began a third novel, this one set in Japan. I also joined the local writing organization, Willamette Writers, and volunteered to help at their annual conference. One of the perks of being a volunteer was that one of the editors attending would do a critique of first chapters. I sent mine off. What that particular editor said has kept me writing to this day... (And those comments will be revealed in part III).

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