I read Sara Backer’s terrific novel having no idea what to expect, except that it probably wouldn’t be anything like what I normally read. I don’t read a lot of mainstream fiction. If it concerns other cultures, I am even less likely to grab it. Yes, I realize how terribly provincial this makes me sound. I’m so glad I challenged my provinciality in this case because AMERICAN FUJI is a terrific read. It almost literally transports the reader to distant climes. And the funny thing is that it turned out to be as suspenseful, with a true mystery at its heart, as many other thrillers I read this year.
I find it telling that other authors contributing to this blog claim not to have made it when they’re way ahead of me. My definition of making it used to be the ultimate: making a living (however frugal) by writing fiction. I’m a long way from that. Not even close. In fact, that dream may never come true. But thinking about moments is easier. I can recall moments I knew I had at least temporarily made it as a student, a friend, a teacher, a traveler, a singer, a wife, a neighbor, a gardener, a cook . . . and although these moments were ephemeral and vanished in the face of oncoming challenges, that doesn’t make them any less real now.
Here is a collection of my “made it” moments as a writer who still hasn’t made it:
My first publication, a poem in the “Happy Time Pages” of the Worcester Sunday Telegram written when I was 6 years old. I received a whole dollar for that poem (4 weeks’ allowance back then) and life was grand.
A poem in Poetry magazine.
A story in my junior high school newspaper, Giant Steps.
A story that won a prize in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest (#13).
A $100 college scholarship for my freshman year at college based on my writing.
A Djerassi Resident Artist Fellowship.
The day I finished writing my first novel. (Which is still in my attic.)
The day I sold my second novel, American Fuji, to Penguin/Putnam.
My novel analyzed in an academic article in a scholarly journal.
And a pick of the Honolulu Advertiser Book Club.
This month, American Fuji was reissued by Penguin/Berkley. (And I’m not even dead, yet!)
Finally, through Google, I discovered someone had named his beautiful tabby cat after the title of my novel. What an endorsement!
Making it isn’t a steadily paced escalator to the top floor. A writer’s life is hard and unpredictable, so it’s important to stop and sip the champagne along the way, even if you don’t know where you’re going. After parting ways with my first agent, it took me several harrowing years to find a second. The two novels I’ve written after American Fuji were not accepted for publication (yet). I’ve given readings to SRO audiences and as few as three people. But no matter what happens–for better or worse–I regard myself as very lucky to have found something I want to do for the rest of my life. Every day that I write, I’m making it.