Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I Try For You

On April 28th, 2008, I made a deal with a friend. She was going to join Match.com and start dating again. I was going to actually submit a story of mine to a publisher.

We shook hands, and I duly subbed the story - a vampire tale, to the Black Lace anthology Lust At First Bite. Of course I expected nothing from this. It was easy, because I'd made it just a bit of a lark. I'd made a silly deal, and if nothing happened, well. I'd be fine.

What I completely did not expect was an email from Adam Nevill nine days later, informing me that he'd loved my story and wanted it for the anthology. I also did not expect to have my second story accepted, for the anthology Seduction. Or my third and fourth, for the anthology Liaisons.

And then just a few short months after this first publication, I was asked to write my own collection of short stories. This collection has sold thousands of copies. It's been translated into German. It's had amazing reviews from our very own Lisabet Sarai, amongst others.

All of which is kinda sounding like I'm bragging, so I'll stop and get to the point: that I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn't made that first deal with my friend.

Of course, there are many ways in which I'd be happier. I've had terrible things happen to me because of that deal, as well as good things. I've experienced the closure of a publisher I loved. I've had rejections, and received terrible reviews, and despaired that I would ever be published again. I've had a book sell no copies. I've felt let down by people and hurt by people and there have been times when I've not been prepared for the cut throat nature of the publishing biz.

But if I hadn't shaken her hand that night, there are a million other more terrible things that would have happened to me. I see that now. I'd be thirty-one years old, without fulfilling the dream I'd worked towards for eighteen years. Which I realise isn't very old, but even so - it's not what I imagined when I started dedicating all day every day to writing at the age of thirteen.

I thought I'd be a writer by seventeen. By that reckoning, ten years later doesn't sound too bad. But fifteen years without even subbing anything - would I be able to live with myself now? All that joy I would have missed out on. All those emails from publishers saying yes, yes, yes - gone. I'd be solely a teacher, now, working at a college I despise. Teaching classes on a subject - creative writing - that I actually have no real experience of.

When students ask me: are you published? I'd still have to say no. And then I'd feel that clutch of despair and shame, to know that I'd thrown away eighteen years of my life on nothing. To know that I had nothing of any real value to share with them, no hope to give them. I'd never be able to say - well, I did it. You can too!

I mean, sometimes I feel that way even now. Like I haven't accomplished enough, or given my thirteen year old self all the things she dreamt of. Of course, she dreamt big and ludicrous. But that's not the point, is it? Even though thirty one is not a bad age to have never been published by - there's no time limit on the thing, thankfully! - she had such a different idea of my life. And the further I get away from that, the more depressing it is.

I get depressed just thinking about that penthouse I don't have, in New York City. Or the millions of readers I don't have, for every book I write. God only knows how depressed I'd be, if I hadn't even tried.

Because I think I could justify just about anything to her - the lack of penthouse, the thousands instead of millions of readers (and sometimes not even that), the lack of a sassy agent in an eighties power suit, the lack of a famous boyfriend with dark hair and green eyes - as long as she knows I tried.

It's the trying that makes us great. It makes everything possible, instead of non-existent. They tell you that everywhere: you won't get anywhere if you don't even try. But I don't think I ever fully understood the weight of those words until I got those first publication deals.

There's always a risk. But the greatest risk is that one day you'll look back and think: how I've wasted my life on fear.


  1. Great post, Charlotte! And you're right, 31 is not old for a writer. I can't help wondering how much you will have accomplished by the time you reach my age. (But then, there's no time limit, & I come from a long-lived family.) I hope your Literary Career so far keeps giving you the courage to soldier on despite the slings & arrows. :)

  2. Thanks, Jean. Next goal: to have not collapsed under the pressure of writing by the time I hit 50.

  3. Charlotte,

    All I can say is I'm really glad you decided to sub that first story. Because if you hadn't, I'd never have had the delight of reading your work.

    I think that the "what the hell, it's a lark" attitude might be a good one to cultivate. It will lessen the pressure!


  4. Thanks, Lisabet. You always brighten my day and make me think it was worthwhile! And you're right - nothing makes the writing flow better than thinking "this is just a bit of fun, for me"

  5. Couldn't agree more on the "it's a lark" attitude. It doesn't at all preclude hard work and great results, just that fear.

    On the age... I remember talking with a former boss about my decision to pursue a Ph.D. later in life. I said something like, "But by the time I finished, I'd be 42." To which she replied, "And how old would you be if you didn't finish?"


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