Friday, December 15, 2006

THE CALL

Recently, I realized my long held dream to be a published author. I gave a brief speech on the topic to my writer’s group in Los Angeles. Many people told me they were both moved and inspired, for which I am grateful. I thought I’d post it here, because it says everything on the topic I could hope to say. ~TJB

I have wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old. I wrote my first story then, about a horse named Spirit, well before Disney contemplated the same. It wasn’t half bad, and was well received by my first audience, my family. I forgot that dream for awhile, however, and parted company with writing for a time. Like most girls, I became preoccupied with the business of growing up. Going to school, getting a job, and starting a family were all more important then writing a story or a poem or two.

But somewhere, in the back of my mind, the dream lingered on. Six years ago, it finally demanded its share of my attention, and I wrote my first novel, The Legacy, a historical romance set in the rather exotic locale of early reformation Germany.

(*shrugs*)

What did I know?

Nothing then, obviously, not about writing or the romance market. But while browsing in my husband’s eclectic library one day, I came across the story of Martin Luther, the reforming priest, and his wife. The story told of how, in the early 16th century, a dozen nuns escaped a convent and fled to Martin Luther’s doorstep during the early days of the Protestant Reformation. Luther found himself faced with the task of finding homes and husbands for all twelve nuns, and eventually married the twelfth one himself because she would settle for no one else. Their love story became one of the great marriages of history, but it got me thinking: What about the other nuns? What happened to them? Therein, as they say, lies a tale, and The Legacy was born.

I made all my mistakes on that damn book. Writing was hard, and when I didn’t know how to do something, I turned to books about writing. When that wasn’t enough, I joined RWA and learned everything I could. Slowly, somehow, my book, and my writing career became "The Little Engine That Could."

Almost everyone is familiar with that old children’s story. The upshot of that tale, variously attributed to Mabel C. Bragg and Mary C. Jacobs, is that when all the bigger trains were asked to pull a huge load over a high mountain, they made excuses that the load was too big and the job was too hard. The little engine took the job, however, and instead of saying it couldn’t be done, asked herself how she could go about doing such a difficult job. Despite the fact that she may not have been as strong, despite the naysayers who claimed she wasn’t as talented or as skilled as the other engines, she took that big load over that high mountain, saying “I think I can, I think I can!” Well, I kinda felt like that with this book.

The trip up the mountainside has taken a long time. Four books and six years later, I’m just beginning to see the top. When the climb got hard, I had to pile on more coal, work harder, and convince myself to go on. Sometimes, I needed a push from others who believed in me: my sister, my writing friends. Sometimes, I went on alone.

Sometimes, I admit, I even stopped for a while, believing it was just too hard to go on. In fact, I had decided to quit for good after a very traumatic year and a half in which my husband lost his job, I left my beloved Los Angeles for the wilds of Texas, and my mom grew very ill, eventually passing away just weeks ago. One day, after completing my fourth book; after round after round of rejections on my third--a Golden Heart finalist for which I had high hopes; after hearing yet another agent say no; and after reading yet another “good” rejection letter from yet another editor, I had decided enough was enough. After losing my mother, so many things seemed inconsequential. Why was I wasting my time sitting at a computer, making up stories that were important, but not real? I decided I needed, once and for all, to walk away from my dream.

That was on a Sunday.

On Monday morning, I got The Call. Medallion Press’s author liaison telephoned, hinting broadly that they were very interested in my work and would I be home for a while, and could I send them my long synopsis electronically. “Sure,” I said. (After all, I’m not stupid.) That afternoon, the president of Medallion Press called and said, “I love this book, and I would really love to buy it.”

That day taught me an important lesson, one I’d like to share with you now. When you have a dream--one that fills your soul and expands your mind, one that won’t let you sleep at night and drives you crazy when you’re awake--God won’t let you walk away from it, even if you want to. He put it there. It belongs to you, and the only choice you have is to live it or not.

I think it is appropriate that the book of my heart is the one that sold first. It was the only one my mother ever had a chance to read. It may be the only book I ever sell, but I don’t believe that, because I will forever be reminded of the moral of "The Little Engine that Could." I quote:

“To think of hard things and say, ‘I can’t’ is sure to mean ‘Nothing done.’ To refuse to be daunted and insist on saying, ‘I think I can,’ is to make sure of being able to say triumphantly, by and by, ‘I thought I could, I thought I could.’”

For those of you chugging up your own personal mountainsides...

I think you can, too.

TJB

2 comments:

Christine said...

Thank you for posting this, TJ. I'm so sorry I missed December's meeting - and I'm so proud of you for selling that book! HUGS!!!

TJ Bennett said...

Thank you!

TJB