Joining a Community of Writers
It’s been a glorious Thanksgiving weekend. On Thursday, Cathy and I provided a meal for, and enjoyed the company of, six people associated with our MFA program. Friday, we decorated for Christmas. Yesterday, we finished preparing our patio for winter. Today, we’re meeting friends for dinner. Lovely connections with people all around.
Such connections are often difficult for beginning writers, particularly if they’re natural introverts like me. I had to learn to make myself more outgoing. I guess, even though I was naturally quiet and shy, I so desperately wanted to find readers for my writing I was willing to take a risk. I applied for, and got into, an MFA program where I was still quiet and shy. After my MFA, I was fortunate enough to attend the Indiana University Writers’ Conference and to be a work-study waiter at Bread Loaf. Little by little, my writer’s world began to expand.
To make a long story short, I began to meet people, some of whom were willing to help me along my writer’s journey. Of course, there were, and continue to be, many, many rejections along the way, but I kept putting my work and myself out there. I published a first story. My first book won the Mary McCarthy Prize, and the final judge, Amy Bloom, recommended me to my first agent, who stuck with me and sold my books, and I was fortunate for one of them, The Bright Forever, to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. None of this would have been possible had I given up, as I threatened to do many times when no one was interested in publishing me. I give thanks for those, like Amy Bloom, who took the time to put in a good word for me, and I try my best to do the same for others when I can. Surely, it’s rare that writers have careers without others to help them along.
I’m thinking about this today because my new novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife, has its publication day on December 6, and I’ve set up a small tour that’s a mix of in-person and virtual events. The Glassmaker’s Wife is my fourteenth book, and I realize how fortunate I am. The work has to be good, yes, but a little luck and a boost from someone else never hurts. I could have written for years and years without publishing a thing, but I decided early on to take a chance and apply for that MFA program. I didn’t get in the first time I applied, but I’m nothing if not stubborn. I applied again the next year, and this time the answer was yes. My entire career has been a series of no’s with occasional yeses. Such is the nature of the business. I know one thing for sure, though. No one gets to yes without being willing to risk a number of no’s. No matter how much it might be against our natures, the advantages of being an active member of the writing community far outweigh any discomfort they may bring us. I encourage you to go to readings, attend conferences, make connections, submit your work, and open yourselves to all that can happen when you’re an active participant in this gathering of writers. Maybe I’ll even see some of you at an event for The Glassmaker’s Wife.
I am a natural introvert, too, and I do not do enough to push myself forward, though I have had many good things happen along the way. I started writing in college, both 4 yr schools, one in the Midwest and the other at Goddard. I worked with Paul Carroll at U of IL one summer. I got my MA when my daughter was 3 and finished while pregnant with my second. When I applied for my MFA at Goddard, they turned me down. No references or recommendations, so they wouldn’t take a chance on me. I applied to VCFA then, without any real hope, but they accepted me, based on my writing sample, the hell with the correct paperwork. I wrote and wrote. My first book was a finalist in 35 contests, including the National Poetry Series. I kept going. My second book, dealing mostly with mental health, won the Morse Poetry Prize, now now longer given. Well, there’s more, Finally now, I am a participant in a collaborative chap on mental illness with three other women writers and an amazing female photographer. Still in pre-sales. But it should be out soon. And thank you for all you have done for me—our book is poetry, and you are a great “blurber” and I’m so glad. I got tired of all the no answers, and still do, but there have also been some yeses as well. I cannot travel, am disabled, have lost my teaching job years ago due to illness. But meeting someone such as yourself, a fine writer and a superior teacher has been wonderful. I have ordered The Glassmaker’s Wife and can’t wait to get it around 12/6! Thank you, thank you, for being so much help and support to so many writers. I’m proud to know you, your work, your help–and sharing so much about you and your amazing wife–and Stella, of course. No wonder you have so many friends! Thank you!
Virginia, I think your work is amazing, and I’m so glad our paths crossed at VCFA. Cathy and Stella and I send hugs your way and all good wishes for the holiday season.