Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Wherever the Yellow Brick Road Leads

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

I was off from work 12 days over the Christmas break and I spent a considerable amount of time in front of the television watching old movies. One evening, 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 until now. Guess it’s time to clear off my desk, nudged myself toward the keyboard, and start the magic again.