One sunny day in 1985 when I was cycling in the Scottish Highlands, I was faced with a long climb along the side of a glen. The road was probably an old drove route for livestock so it wasn’t terribly steep but my quads didn’t care: all they knew was my relentless nagging to keep pedaling. They retaliated by starting to burn.
I forced them (and my bellowing lungs) to go on, and on, and on because I had looked at the map before I’d begun the ride and I knew what they did not: at the far end of the valley, at the top of the climb, was a place called Rest and Be Thankful.
As there was in every other village in England, Wales and Scotland, there would be a café where I would sit with a heavy china cup of strong hot tea the colour of chestnuts and pour in a swirl of cream. I’d split a scone (or two) and spread it with butter and strawberry jam and savour every rich mouthful because I had earned it, riding up that hill.
Meanwhile, I shifted down and ever downward, forcing my pedals around one revolution at a time, looking ahead at the slope that now seemed less like a gentle grade and more like a mountaineering route. But that might have been my quads talking.
I kept that tea and those scones (which had multiplied to three) firmly in mind and finally – finally! – I came to what had to be the last push. Surely there couldn’t be another hill beyond this curve.
And there was not. I had reached the top of the glen. As I sucked in huge gulps of clear air that rushed into my blood like shots of bubbles, I looked down at the silvery thread of a stream in the valley far below. I gazed at a loch at the base of the mountains ahead of me.
All that was missing was the village.
I checked the map. It was still there – and not marked “Rest and Be Thankful: visible every hundred years,” like some Ordnance Survey Brigadoon.
I hauled my bike across the road and leaned it against a bench, and before my quads could drop me onto it, I saw the sign. Rest and Be Thankful.
On the bench.
I have much the same relationship with the publishing world as I did with that road in the Highlands. Constant work, ongoing effort, digging for stamina, searching for the right gear/craft/story that will carry me to my goal: publication (oh, and money).
As part of my journey, last weekend I went to the Emerald City Writers Conference in Seattle and I felt like I’d finally found the granny gear. You know, the one that’s easy, that lets you ride almost comfortably into mysterious mountain ranges or home with a load of groceries.
The agent and editor panel on Friday night gave me a much better idea of the industry professionals than a website can. The workshops were informative – I learned something important in each of the eight I attended – and I usually laughed, as well.
And of course, there’s the all-important camaraderie and support of other writers. As Alyssa Day pointed out in her laugh-out-loud keynote speech (which also brought me to tears three times), the friendship of other writers is so very important.
Just as I craved afternoon tea in Scotland as a reward for my cycling effort, now I want publication as an acknowledgement of my writing effort. However, as authors tell me all the time, getting a book in stores is not the end of the road. It’s just the bench where they get to pause for a minute to enjoy the scenery and catch their breath.
In the same way I had to forego those scones in Scotland and instead appreciate the view and my own strength in getting to it, I might have to do without New York’s stamp of approval and simply enjoy the ride with my colleagues.
I'm glad they're such good company.
Big Damn Sidebar:
Here’s a smattering of what I learned at Emerald City Writers Conference, October 2010:
Ann Charles and Wendy Delaney: writers who are left-brain dominant are more likely to look at the fine detail in our own work and our critique partner’s, while right-brainers are more likely to be able to focus on the big picture of the story.
Robert Dugoni: Write a great opening sentence (that raises a question) for every scene; write a great closing sentence (that raises a question) for every scene too.
Kristina McMorris: Give agents and editors a reason to say Yes: ask if you can query them, tell them about your awards, and even get endorsement blurbs from other (known) writers before you query.
Theresa Meyers: in a query, include the same kind of information and power words that make compelling back-cover copy in order to intrigue an agent or editor even before you’ve got a deal.
Laura Navarre: Dark heroes (men or women) are often strong and compelling, although female dark heroes generally must show a caring, nurturing side in order to appeal to readers.
Deborah Schneider: Don’t just have a booksigning; have an event. It sounds like a party and people will show up.
Amber Scott: Make dialogue show the change in the person, like Jack Nicholson’s “You make me want to be a better man” in As Good as it Gets or Hugh Grant’s “I’m an idiot” in Notting Hill.