Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wherever the Yellow Brick Road Leads

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

Several nights ago I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I turned on the television and watched the Wizard of Oz for the million and one time until one in the morning. Yes, yes, I know the songs and each scene by heart. I can even do the dance steps when I put my mind to it. Then again, who isn’t drawn to Dorothy and her band of misfit friends? All the Tin Woodsman wanted was a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, the Cowardly Lion some courage and Dorothy had her heart set on a one-way ticket home.

To recap, the four battle against the Wicked Witch of the West who wants nothing less than Dorothy’s powerful, magical shoes. The four eventually overcome the unbearable obstacles she shoves in front of them. They reach the Emerald City and the Wizard of Oz who they are convinced will grant their wishes and secure their happily ever after. To their dismay, however, the Wizard insists they prove their worth first by bringing him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West—a most unreasonable demand, if you ask me. In my cynical state of mind, the plot had an uncanny resemblance to the relationship between authors, agents and editors on the road to publication.

Days later, friend and fellow author, Susan Whitfield, invited me to read and comment on her blog post titled, “Making Decisions About Publishing and Promoting.” It’s a great article about her writing and publishing journey—I highly recommend you to read it. Now, I haven’t written a thing in months and have all but (kind of) given up on my writing. Still, I was intrigued with the title. Frankly, I don’t know if Susan wrote the piece with me in mind (ha) or if it’s really true that I’m not the only writer with publishing concerns—shocker! At any rate, it hit home. It didn’t make me want to rush over to my computer and start writing, but it started me thinking and sometimes a little spark is all it takes.

While I addressed Christmas cards, finished my shopping, wrapped the presents, cleaned house, and started my baking I continued to think about Susan’s journey and her to-the-point question, “How do you make decisions about publishing?”

My only excuse is that I blindly fell into it. I feel very fortunate to have been able to secure a small press to publish my first two novels, but things eventually changed and unexpected hiccups occurred. All seems to be fine now, but often it’s the very door we don’t want to close that opens a new one. At the time, I decided it would be wise to take on the "wait and see" approach before my next submission to that house and began to write my third novel. I got it in my head that I needed an agent. After numerous months and countless queries, the multitude of rejections shook my confidence. Yes, yes, a handful of agents did request to read additional chapters, but I haven’t heard back from them in months so they don’t really count, do they? This experience nearly stripped me of my self-confidence and worth. On the upside, like Dorothy and her skip down the yellow brick road, the many hurdles and long respite from creativity gave me a vast amount of time to re-evaluate my purpose as a writer. In other words, why do I write, who do I write for, and where do I really want to go with it?

I quickly found myself thinking about the blissful early days of my writing career when words poured from my brain, when stories formed out of the sheer passion to create, and I actually had the courage to believe I would succeed. To my amazement, success did come. Not in huge sales or movie contracts. Not in New York Times reviews or best seller status, but in the smiles on the faces of people I met--those who had read my novels. I also found it in the great reviews and reader comments. What could be more gratifying to an author than for someone to say they couldn’t put down their book and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish reading it and then were sadden because they wanted the read to continue?

Okay so at the end of the movie, Dorothy convinces the Wizard to take her back to Kansas in his hot air balloon. Things go terribly wrong though and he leaves without her. Crushed and feeling doomed to live in the Emerald City forever, Dorothy begins to cry. Enter Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, who comes down in an orb to comfort Dorothy. Glinda reminds her that she always had the power to get back home and asks what she has learned on her journey to Oz. The answer, of course, is (come on all you Wizard of Oz lovers, read it out loud!), “Well, I - I think that it - it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em - and it's that - if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with!” At that point Dorothy clicks her heels three times and repeats, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” and is shot back to Kansas and into reality.

Okay, so I don’t have ruby red slippers. Even if I did, I doubt clicking my heels three times would get my manuscript published. Still, I realize now how far I’ve strayed away from the driving force of my enthusiastic beginning. The power to succeed was mine all along, but I got lost along the way and didn’t see it.

Christmas is four days away. It’s bitter cold today. There’s snow on the ground and several more inches will be here before the weekend. Over the next several days, our home will be filled with family and friends, laughter and more food and gooey sweet treats than we truly need. After that though, in the early hours while everyone, including the dogs are sound asleep, I’ll clear off my desk, nudged myself toward the keyboard, and start the magic again.

Best wishes to all my friends and readers for a warm and wonderful holiday!

About the author:

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available in paperback and e-book format online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons/Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-a-Million. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 978-1-905202-886-7
Tradebook: $15.99
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 798-1-905202-72-0
Tradebook: $15.50
E-book: $9.00 from Smashwords
Personal site:


Kim Smith said...

What a truly inspiring post, Marta! I will be joining you after the crush of the holiday. I will enjoy some down time and some "me" writing time. Merry Christmas!!

s.w. vaughn said...

You know, comparing publishing to The Wizard of Oz is a FANTASTIC idea. I bet if you wrote an article devoted to that, you could sell it - like to Writer's Digest, maybe, or Poets & Writers. Just sayin', you got the skillz. You could do that. :-)

Nobody steal Marta's idea, now! :P

And outside of that - fantastic post, Marta. I'm so thrilled to hear that you're rediscovering the reasons you write, and feeling the first stirrings of returning to it. When you start in again, I believe you're going to produce your best work yet.

Have a happy holidday! *hugs*

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, this is a simply fantastic analogy. LOVED it!

I've been through a similar scenario - had two agents who were nice but not successful in their own right. One went crazy ("forgot" that she asked me to rewrite 8 weeks worth of my very first novel!) and the other just hadn't had time enough in the industry to get any contacts or networking going. We parted friends.

I've tried off and on to catch the golden ring - that big NYC agent who will propel me into a big five company, and who will push me right up to their A list... but I haven't put all that much energy into it. Once a year or so I send out a dozen letters. But I hate it. Just hate it.

I think it's because it robs me of my writing time, and it's that very part of the heart and soul of creativity that you mentioned that makes me sing praises for my dear small press publisher and for the ability to write book after book without agonizing about rejections or big time recognition. Funny how many of us come full circle in such similar ways isn't it?

I always tell my readers that the best part of being an author is connecting with them, knowing I'm giving them something to enjoy or comfort or thrill them. For example, once in a while I feel wistful about wanting to do this full time (i.e. make an actual living out of it!). I remind myself about the people I've met, and their stories, like Bill Messner, who told me, "Your books got me through my chemo." Damn. That makes it all worth it!

Marta Stephens said...

Kim, Sonya & Aaron,

We've all been there, haven't we? This post didn't start off as an analogy, but as I thought of how I've been spending my time, I remembered the Wiz of Oz, and bam damn it made perfect sense. LOL

Aaron, you drove straight into the matter when you wrote, " robs me of my writing time, and it's that very part of the heart and soul of creativity..."

Querying has not only robbed me of my writing time, but of the desire and frankly the confidence to keep trying. At least now I can say I tried it, but prefer spending my time plotting the next book. :)

Thank you all for your friendship and the occasional shoulder.

Susan Whitfield said...

Wow! I had no idea that my post would bring out so many profound comments from writers' hearts. The Wicked Witch has my fingers all tied up and my brain muddled. I haven't written in about two months, and it's really getting to me. How nice to have friends and family and the Christmas season to wrap around me while I figure it out.

I do need to step back and ask myself the same questions you're asking: Why do I write? My response has always been the "because I can't not write", not an original statement for sure.
Who do I write for? That one is harder to answer. While I hope readers will love to read my work, I honestly have to say I write for me. And where do I really want to go with it? We're all like Aaron, hoping to hit the NY best seller list, but let's be realistic. I, too, enjoy the smiles and comments from readers and hope to keep them entertained throughout the book and waiting for the next one impatiently.

Perhaps my article and your, Marta, will not only light our passion again but also give many other writers pause for thought.
Your post could not have come at a better time for me. I plan to stay in by the fire today and re-read some stale passages and try to move on because I believe in the story and I believe in myself.

Know that the magic will return. Your ruby red slipper should arrive just in time for Christmas*wink*

Marta Stephens said...

“I had no idea that my post would bring out so many profound comments from writers' hearts.”

Susan, I’m not surprised at all. Writers share a commonality in experiences and emotions. We sit in front of a blank screen (or page) and bear our souls with each word we type. It’s inevitable that a part of us bleeds onto the pages of our work. Professionally we may respond to rejection or criticism by saying it’s not personal, but who are we kidding? Its stings like hell and in the end, the only thing that keeps us sane is the knowledge that we’re not alone.

Thanks so much for lighting the old spark!

Terry W. Ervin II said...

It is good to read that you're going to get back in writing gear again.

We each, as writers, have our own measures of success, and they vary along the way: get that first draft finished, get that edit done, send out that first submission, get that first rejection, that first acceptance, that first review, sign that first copy, etc.

Each hurdle or milestone, one more step along the path. And truth be told, some are easier than others, some more fun than others--and depending on the writer this varies greatly.

I'm not saying anything here you don't know. But do know that I am cheering for you, and that you'll make it over that next hurdle, ready to face even more along the road to your individual success.

And Merry Christmas!

Marta Stephens said...

Terry, thank you so much for this! All the best to you in the coming year.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh, the truths in this post, Marta . . . and some of your thoughts have been my thoughts, as well - it can be an unforgiving business if we feel as though we are lost in oz ...

I wrote something about Oz too - back in the summer - it's in my blog archives from June 6, but going to reprint it in R&T blog as I told you . . . Auntie Em! Auntie Em!

You also remember what else I told you .... *hug*