Luck? Doggedness? Who knows?

Sometimes luck and perseverance get so tangled up you can’t tell which is which. For example:

chamber music

One of my Doris Grumbach favorites

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.


This year’s edition of the Pushcart Prize

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.

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About Ellen Booraem

Ellen Booraem’s TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, a middle-grade fantasy about a scaredy-cat boy and a determined young banshee, comes out August 15, 2013 (Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers). Her earlier middle-grade fantasies are SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS (Penguin/Dial BYR, 2011) and THE UNNAMEABLES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008). She lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She's online at

10 thoughts on “Luck? Doggedness? Who knows?

  1. Luck can give you the opportunity, but you still have to grab it for yourself. It’s amazing how small things can make a big difference later on, isn’t it?

  2. I can seriously freak myself out with “what ifs.” I met my partner of 35 years at a party I almost didn’t go to. (Second party of the night, and an hour’s drive away.) And the list goes on.

  3. That’s some story, Ellen. You were on the road to perseverance and found a lucky detour–but I’m guessing you were very much ready when that opportunity came, and if it hadn’t, you would have found something else. Probably, the real lucky person is the agent who was fortunate enough to sign you!

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