Sunday, March 7, 2010

Portrait of the Author as a Young Man, Part III

It was the Willamette Writers conference of 1994. I sat across from the editor who had read my opening chapter. He was a senior editor at a major New York publishing house. He did not look dangerous.

This is a short version of what he wrote: "Every once in a while I come across a situation like yours. On the one hand, I like your writing; on the other hand I really feel the plot is not commercial... What I can say definitely is that you write well enough to be published... Might I suggest a Japanese detective story?"

What was my brain screaming? He likes my writing! He thinks I write well enough to be published!! Of course I'll write a Japanese detective story. I'll start tomorrow.

Which is to say that getting validation like that from a publishing professional is the greatest adrenaline rush imaginable. Of course your family likes your writing (it would be dire if they didn't!) and your writing group thinks you're a great guy who can turn a phrase or two. ("But what do they know?") Buoyed by this one short note, I threw myself into Mustang Mori, a Japanese p.i. novel and completed a first draft within a year. (The first chapter was later to win an honorable mention in the Kay Snow Writing competition.)

But then life knocked me off kilter. My first son was born at only 24 weeks gestation, weighing one pound and six ounces. Marie and I stood vigil in the neonatal intensive care unit for four months. And the Japanese detective novel, forever tainted by this traumatic event, withered on the vine. Looking at it brought back flashbacks of this life-or-death time. Even at 13 years of distance, I still cry when talking about what we went through.

I was thirty three when my first son was born. No longer a young man. My writing life changed considerably. But that is for a later post: Portrait of the Author as a balding, middle-aged man. (Hmm, doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?)


  1. Good luck on the next one, if Mustang Mori never makes it! I admire you for writing it; I was advised by an editor once on how to write romances but hmm... just wasn't 'me'!

    My son went straight to NICU after being born, and how true it is, that you walk out those hospital doors afterward to find everything looking different somehow. I might be remembering wrong (happens a lot ever since 40...) but I read that Jane Austen's The Watsons was supposedly abandoned when her father died.

    Good to find you -- thanks for doing Slush Week at DGLM!

  2. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I look forward to reading your blog too. That NICU experience does still haunt us. Just last week we gave an interview for a camera crew (they are doing a fundraising piece for the hospital) and though I started off all jaunty and jokey, it didn't take long for the flood gates to open. We are fortunate: our miracle child is now 13 and doing remarkably well, given his early and traumatic start!



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