Sunday, July 20, 2014

"First he wrought, and afterward he taught." ~ Geoffrey Chaucer 

Some of you kind people have said that I ought to write a book. Some of you have even asked me if this writing is going to become a book. Dunno... I do LOVE words. I LOVE writing. And, no, Papa Hemingway, I don't "open a vein" to do it! 'Course I'll never even touch the toes of your shoes, "Papa." And, no, writing isn't "hard," as you said last night on your TV show, David Letterman. It does take hours and hours... at least 4 - 5 hours for me to write just one entry in this blog. But it's a joy... a kind of joy a person can get lost in. It's another form of art, isn't it. 

Once I almost had a book contract! Every year a friend and I would go spend a week at a large conference up north, and the head of acquisions liked my art, I guess. I just liked her as a person, and we'd become friends. The last day of the conference she said that I ought to send them a submission for a book. Now, I'd been published a few times in national magazines, and I was teaching writing to AP Lit seniors and had been named a Fellow in the UCI Writing Project. Writing my own book was a dream, deep down inside, though, one that I'd never spoken about, ever! 

Now, every single Fellow in that specialized UCI group was talented. I found that out in our writing groups. We each had to produce a piece of writing 3 times a week for presentation in our indivdual writing groups, besides reading at least 3 books a week to prep for the amazing writers who came from all over the country to teach us that summer. I still have a picture of the 30 of us all standing on a narrow, outside stairwell, crowded together, step upon step. A more disparate group of people you'd never see again! We looked like a cross-section of "your tired, your hungry, your poor," and every other possible category making up the U.S.A. In that official photo I am standing on the top stair, with a kind of shocked look on my face in profile, but with laughter just about to erupt. The Fellow next to me was 1/2 my age and already a assistant professor of English there at U.C.I. He had just told me something so funny that the two of us were looking at each other, just beginning to laugh, oblivious of the cameraman below shouting, "SMILE! SMILE!... EVERYBODY SMILE! PLEASE SMILE!... Oh well..." SNAP!

The secret in writing... well, one of the secrets, is to have your own "voice." I think "voice" in writing is the music in the words. And you have it or you don't. It's not teachable. My father used to sing in church, but as I grew up, I realized that my Dad knew the words, and he thought he was singing, but he only knew one note... just one! He thought he was making the up-and-down sounds that the rest of us were making, but he wasn't. I think they used to call that a "one-note wonder." He had gusto, though.

Well, when I came home again from that Northern California conference, I had gusto! I wrote the book submission with all the precision in me, hoping that there was also a lilt in my "voice," and I shoved the thick sheaf of papers into the envelope, and off it flew to the publishing house.

You are told from the outset that much time will go by before you hear anything from a prospective publisher, and, boy, are they right about that! My time was slathered, though, with reading and grading my students' writing, and teaching all the days, and leading meetings or attending them in the afternoons, and working on new fiber pieces that I was dreaming up in the evenings. I never quite forgot that I'd sent my manuscript, but it wasn't the first thing I woke up to every morning.

Then, one late afternoon it came... The phone rang, and it was the Acquisions Editor. I steeled myself for what she would say. Whatever, it was my best work... couldn't do any better... out of my hands... it was their call...

"Terry, I've never done this before..."

Oh, no...

"I'm calling you to tell you that they read your proposal and they all LOVED it! But this isn't an official call! I'm not supposed to be talking to you yet, but I just had to tell you! They'll take the final vote on Friday to make it official. But I'll put it like this... Tell your husband to go out and buy a big bottle of champagne!" Then she giggled, and I giggled, and we hung up.

I didn't sleep all night, juggling in my head the whole idea of having a published book with my name on the cover... with my work inside of it in full, glorious color, with my own words strewn throughout the book. I'd carefully whack away at them until I'd have just the right amount of words, saying exactly what I wanted them to. My book would help other people create their own masterpieces... help them see the world through new eyes... or something like that... 

Well, of course the call came on Friday. I grabbed the phone, said "Hello!", but all I could hear was crying... crying?

"Ter-Ter-Ter-Terry... I'm sooo sorry... I never should have called you Tuesday... (sniff, sniff... sigh...). They decided not to publish it because they already had met their quota before they read your manuscript... Oh, Ter-Ter-Terry, I'm sooooo sorry I called you on Tuesday...  I never did that before, but this time it was such a sure thing... Terry, you have to send it in at the begining of the next acquistion cycle... Please, say you'll do that... they really did LOVE it... they just... (sob)... had already met their quota for this cycle... I didn't know... your champagne... I'm sooo sorry..."

So I don't have a pubished book, and I don't have an end to this little piece of writing here. I was hurt, I was angry, I was shocked, and I'm embarrassed to tell you that I didn't "take it in stride" like adults are supposed to. In fact, I'm kind of ashamed of myself. But after moping for two days, on Monday morning at 6:30AM I had 220 high school students to go back to teach, and nearly every single one of them had a lot more to deal with than a silly book deal gone bad... 


  1. So, Terry, are you going to submit your book again? Your writing is out-of-this-world captivating. It would be a shame for your manuscript to sit languishing on your desk. I hope you let it take wing.

  2. Dunno, Linda... Must be inthe back of my head somewhere, thoug, or I wouldn't have written this piece, I guess. Thank you sooooo much, though, for those kind words. Wow! You made my day, my friend! Thank you.