October 7, 2009

Made It Moment: Sara Backer

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:32 pm

Sara Backer -- American Fuji
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.


  1. I read American Fuji a few years ago. I loved the book. I have a daughter in Japan (on and off, sort of –right now on) and a grandson born and raised there who comes to visit – he is 13 now – and his favorite place in NY is the Metropolitan Museum. I have often wondered if you (or your heroine)have been able to overcome the illness that plagued your lives. And I hope you don’t mind my mentioning it. It is a wonderful book and very different from so many books written about Japan.

    Comment by Zulema Seligsohn — October 8, 2009 @ 12:28 am

  2. Thanks for your comment, Zulema, and welcome to the site! I think your question is very relevant, and an aspect of the book I’ve talked about with other readers…Did you know the book has just been re-released by its publisher for a second printing?

    Comment by jenny — October 8, 2009 @ 7:52 am

  3. I think Sara’s point about what defines “making it” is an interesting one. I think writers probably all have different definitions of making it — depending on where they are in their careers, their personal lives, etc. I can’t even think about earning a living from my writing at this point, yet I’m sure there are writers way higher up on the food chain who hope to make the NYTimes Bestseller list. After they’ve done that, maybe they want to see how many books they can get on that list, etc., etc. So, writers here, at this very moment, what would you consider “making it”?

    Comment by Judy — October 8, 2009 @ 7:59 am

  4. Way to nail the question, Judy…For me, at this point, it would be signing a book contract. Pure and not-so-simple, as we’ve found. But all the steps Sara mentions, and the ones you did too, large and small…well, I’d love those too someday.

    Comment by jenny — October 8, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  5. Oh, except maybe the tabby cat. I don’t have one of those.

    Comment by jenny — October 8, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  6. Probably none of us ever feel like we’ve “made it.” But I couldn’t agree more about American Fuju, Jenny. It’s outside my typical genre–but I am so glad I read it, and have been turning other readers on to it as well. I had no idea Sara had a poem published in Poetry! Wow, that’s amazing. I feel like once that happens, you’ve “made it”…but of course, if it happened to me, I wouldn’t feel I’ve made it yet, LOL

    Comment by sapphiresavvy — October 8, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  7. I’m delighted to hear my novel speaks to readers who wouldn’t necessarily think to pick it up. I almost wish I could put a sticker on the cover quoting Zulema: “very different from other books about Japan!”

    Zulema, I’m sorry to say chronic illness is never “overcome.” It’s an ongoing challenge. Some days or weeks or months are better than others, some are worse. It’s like weather; you deal with what comes at you as best you can.

    Savvy, I’ll see if I can find link for the poem in Poetry. It’s titled “Jack.”

    Judy, today my “making it” moment would be to come up with a good blog entry for tomorrow.

    Jenny, good news: you don’t have to have the cat–the honor is that a stranger names his pet after your novel’s title. (Though I do cohabitate with a tabby myself.) Thank you for inviting me to write for your blog. I’ve included my blog URL for anyone who wants to see my photos of Japan.

    Comment by Sara — October 8, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

  8. Right, no, I got that–for some reason I thought he named his cat after a cat in one of your stories, though. OK, title of your book murmured instead of Here, kitty, kitty…yes, that is quite an honor!

    Comment by jenny — October 8, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

  9. That “made it” moment is a moving target — thank goodness, or we’d all stagnate.

    Comment by Terry Odell — October 9, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  10. That’s a good way to think of it, Terry…

    Comment by jenny — October 9, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  11. [...] a recent post on her blog, Sara Backer–who has appeared here before in a Made It Moment–reflects on how readers can help writers. It’s not a question usually asked–and I [...]

    Pingback by Sara Backer on readers helping writers » Suspense Your Disbelief — January 31, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

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