June 15, 2009

But you’ve at least heard of Oprah, right?

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 7:14 am

So I’m reading writing books, I’m writing, I’m still working as a psychotherapist, and one day my husband comes home and says, “Would you be interested in this?”

It was a flyer for a writers group just starting up at a Little Professor Book Shop, though that particular branch has, sadly, closed.

Of course, I had participated in writers groups of sorts at college: workshops, really, where permission to enter had to be procured by some often intimidating literary giant and which roughly followed the rules of any critique outfit. Start with a positive. Voice negatives constructively. And never, ever consider the possibility of doing this for any reason besides the fulfilling the pure desire to create.

As I’ve said in another post, this is exactly why I wrote, and so I never felt short-changed by these workshops. But now I wonder if they were overlooking some essential part of the process. If I am ever lucky enough to get to teach, I plan to talk shop almost as often as I discuss the power of a stricken adverb.

I attended the first meeting of the writers group with more hesitation than I’d ever felt approaching a literary giant. These were real people who wrote, and I was admitting for the first time since I’d slunk away from the possibility of an MFA that I did the same.

But the people were wonderfully friendly and supportive–much more so than I’d experienced in college. I remember one bearded fellow who had part of a humorous novel down and an enviably slim, dark-haired Goth who wrote poetry. Oh, and then one pleasant looking, neither tall nor short, fat nor thin housewife who had begun hesitantly putting thoughts on paper for a memoir.

Her name was Dorothy and I will never forget her.

The day I was scheduled to read, I held up the first ten pages of Arugula’s Mother in one quavering hand. My voice shook when I started to read. I had nothing more at stake than what this delightfully motley collection of people said to me a few minutes hence.

That was enough to fill me with abject fear.

I remember Bearded Fella liked the fact that I began the chapter with a line by REM (though these quotes were to disappear in the second draft).

I remember the Poetess smiled.

And then Dorothy said, “Wow. That kind of reminds me of Deep End of the Ocean. Have you read it?”

I looked at her blankly, still trying to accept that no tomatoes had been lobbed my way.

“It’s a huge bestseller,” Dorothy went on. “Oprah chose it.”

I had never heard of the book, much less read it.

You see, I didn’t read much popular fiction then, and although I had been weaned as a babe on mystery, horror, and suspense, which the librarian was always calling my parents to make sure I was allowed to check out–Trixie Belden quickly bleeding into Doris Miles Disney and then Stephen King, William Blatty, Ira Levin–I had largely abandoned such early loves when those college workshops handed me William Carlos and other Williams–like Blake–and then Updike and Cheever and Mary Gordon.

But you can be sure I bought a copy of Deep End in that bookstore that night.

It was like I had been wearing a disguise all those years and once it fell off I could return to the realer me underneath. I read Jacqueline Mitchard’s novel in a couple of sittings, and went on to read my way through vast swaths of women’s fiction, soon finding myself back in the land of mystery and suspense.

All the writers who had appeared while I was gone! Carol O’Connell, Thomas William Simpson, Andrew Klavan…any list will be wildly incomplete, but how had I never heard of these people?

Dorothy did something besides give me back popular fiction.

She planted the seemingly simple, yet heretofore utterly elusive, idea that I could write something people might like to read.

It was a short leap from there to wondering how a person might go about getting published.

1 Comment »

  1. [...] Those of you who read this site–really read it, with the proverbial fine tooth comb–have seen Jacquelyn Mitchard’s name already and know the pivotal role she played in my evolution as a writer. [...]

    Pingback by The first great read in a while: NO TIME TO WAVE GOODBYE by Jacquelyn Mitchard » Suspense Your Disbelief — October 20, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

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