Sometimes luck and perseverance get so tangled up you can’t tell which is which. For example:
Until a decade ago, I has happily working full time as a newspaper editor, with no thought of ever going back to writing fiction. One day, as arts editor of The Ellsworth American in Maine, I assigned myself the enviable task of interviewing Doris Grumbach, the novelist, memoirist, and book reviewer. She invited me to her eightieth birthday party, where I sat next to an entertaining summer resident named Bill Henderson. Bill’s a memoirist himself, but also the founding publisher of The Pushcart Prize, a celebrated annual collection of literature published by small presses. He knows his way around the publishing industry.
Several years later, in a flash of insanity, I quit my job to write my first middle-grade fantasy. I’d vaguely kept in touch with Bill Henderson, who now spent his summers running what he called “the world’s smallest bookstore” in the town next to ours.
When I attempted to peddle my finished manuscript, I discovered how very bad I am at querying. So, taking my courage in my two hands, I drove over to visit Bill and ask for advice.
Bill’s wife, the novelist and television producer Genie Chipps Henderson, is a kidlit fantasy fan. She read my book and liked it, and eventually she and Bill sent the manuscript to his agent at Janklow & Nesbit. He gave it to a colleague, Kate Schafer, who also liked it. A year later (thanks to Kate’s perseverance), the book sold to what was then Harcourt Children’s Books (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Kate is now Kate Schafer Testerman. She has started her own agency, ktliterary, ltd., and I’m one of her clients. My third book’s coming out in August. I remind myself daily that there are thousands of great middle-grade fantasies in the world that never find a publisher. Sure, I write all right and I get it done and I grabbed my chances. But I’m an incredibly lucky woman.
Here’s what truly boggles my mind: I almost assigned a reporter to interview Doris Grumbach.