I’m away from home for three whole days (!) with just my doggo for company, and I’m having all the feels, mostly because the last time I was in this little town in southwestern Ohio, I was in a very different place professionally.
I came here ten years ago, nervously leaving my toddler and baby with my husband. The two nights away felt rather glorious and decadent, as I sat on the porch of the old farmhouse I rented and read books until late into the night and woke in the morning when my body was ready, not just because someone was crying.
But the main reason I came here back then was not for the R&R but to meet an agent who was taking part in a writing conference. I was not attending the conference myself, but we decided we’d never have another chance to be in such close proximity, so I planned my trip, and she made dinner reservations. Months prior, she had expressed an interest in my debut book (a literary adult novel), and we’d even chatted on the phone once, which was a call I’d hoped would lead to representation, but instead led to promises to work with me on edits until the book was ready…at which point, a contract with her…and then a book sale. That was the plan.
I was in my mid-30s then and I felt OLD. I felt like I had to make this book happen NOW and it had to be THIS book (because of course, I’d spent so much time on it, and who would want that time to be “wasted”?) and it had to be THIS agent because she had shown more interest in me than anyone, and she had such a popular blog, so she must be really good!
I think back to how desperate I felt then, and it’s no wonder I tried to spin what was a pretty disappointing dinner into something much rosier. Well, she said she was tired. She’d had a long day. So what if she still hadn’t made any notes on my book yet, despite promising them months earlier? So what if she showed no interest in anything I was working on? If this had been a blind date, we would not have exchanged numbers. I might have even left early.
But, I was so desperate that, I’m embarrassed to say this, I let this particular agent string me along for close to two years. She did give me notes on the manuscript, eventually, but they were scant and vague, and so, not surprisingly, she didn’t like my revision. She never offered a contract of representation, but still talked of all the money the book would make once we got it right. I clung on. After all, she had so many Twitter followers, she had to be good, right?
Now, maybe she is a good agent to some of her clients, who knows. But she definitely wasn’t right for me, and yet, I stuck around, stubbornly, for the good of the book, for the career I felt I was just on the edge of, despite all the warning bells. It was only when she cut me loose (so she could focus on crime novels) that I was forced to see what an idiot I’d been, forced to admit that what I really needed was to write another book, start fresh, and chalk this whole experience up to practice and lessons learned.
Today, back in that same little town, I’m making notes on a middle grade manuscript as prep for a revision I’m doing with my editor at Chronicle, who recently bought the book. I’ve also made notes on a new picture book idea, which I hope will be my fourth (one already published, one sold, one in revision stage with my editor to prepare for, hopefully, a sale). Also, since arriving here, I’ve written a humor piece, done some research for my next middle grade novel, organized all my computer files (which has been on my to-do list for two years) hiked a nearby nature preserve and strolled all over this artsy little town with my trusty canine companion. I just got here two days ago!
Whew. I should be tired, but I’m not at all. In fact, I’m staying up way past my bedtime and getting up early and still feeling energetic. Leaving home on these little retreats does that for me, and I really should stop being surprised by that fact, since it happens every time I manage to get away. There are other surprises, too. Like the town isn’t how I remember it. Ten years ago, I remember groups of white teens with dreadlocks wearing tie-dyed shirts camped out in front of all the shops. There were tourists and dogs and friendly people everywhere. Today, it’s kind of empty, but maybe it’s too early in the summer. Shopkeepers are kind of grumpy, too, but maybe they are dreading the tourist season and the first few trickles of outsiders, like me, is reminding them of what’s to come. And somewhere in my memory I had the idea there was great food here? Wrong on that count, too. I’m still enjoying the town to be sure, it’s just not like I remembered it. Memories are tricky things, and even if you do recall something in a pretty accurate way, you aren’t the same person you were back then, so repeating that same experience might strike you differently.
One thing is for sure—I’m a very different writer/person than I was then. I have so much more faith that things will eventually work out, because they have. This isn’t an embroidered pillow kind of Christianity or something—like some God has a plan thing—which I don’t subscribe to at all. It’s more of a realization that if you keep working, just keep trying and moving forward, things will happen and it will be okay, eventually, though maybe not in the way you thought. Last time I was here, I didn’t know yet that my husband would have to fight cancer. I didn’t know that I’d start writing for children, that I’d publish a best-selling book!
When I walked into a shop on Main Street yesterday and the women asked if I’d ever been there and I said, yes, 10 years ago, she said I was mistaken because the store hadn’t existed then. I was so sure I’d been there, but I was wrong. I was so sure when I walked that same street ten years ago that the project I had going then was my “last” chance. It was such a foolish thought and so limiting, too. Going forward, I’m thinking about the great things that are going to happen next, rather than dwelling on what came before.