Thursday, February 25, 2010
Southern California Writer's Conference
The red taxi drove away, leaving me there, alone, for three days of writing, lectures, read-and-critique workshops, author panels, editor insights, networking, and the nerve-wracking one-on-ones with literary agents.
Already, I wanted to board the plane back to San Francisco.
Only days before, my memoir, DROP DEAD LIFE, a pregnant widow’s poignant, heartfelt, and often comic journey through death, birth, and rebirth, had been rejected, via email, by yet another literary agent. Like most rejections, there wasn’t much commentary on the actual writing, but I conjured up plenty of imaginary bashing on my own.
Not feeling very poignant or comic, I dragged my horse-sized brown suitcase up to the hotel lobby check-in and gave my name.
The front desk manager smiled. “Oh, yes, here you are. Hyla Molander. Part of the writing conference.”
Noticing the large vase of colorful flowers behind him, I thought they might provide good shelter under which to hide. “Yep.”
“Tell me, what do you write?”
“Oh, um, a memoir. I’m writing a memoir, uh, about my life.” Nice, Hyla. Better work on refining that thirty-second pitch.
The manager’s brown bangs nodded up and down, blue eyes widened. Clearly, he was unimpressed. Would he hault each arriving literary agent to tell them about my inability to form sentences?
Maybe I should just go home? Give up on the memoir for a while. Maybe I could actually learn to cook. Be more domestic.
When I met my new hubby on Match.com, I was forthright about my lack of culinary expertise. A girlfriend of mine once said, “Darlin, if a man has to choose only one room in the house for his wife to be good in, he’d better choose wisely.”
Yeah, well, my husband decided NOT to focus on the kitchen. He understood the pressures involved with raising four kids, running a photography business, and trying to write a book.
As if writing wasn’t challenging enough. Writing with a herd of small bodies, ages 2, 6, 8, and 12, is like dodging hurricane debris. Just when you reach that place, that emotional state necessary to write about the sounds, smells, and tastes in the most pivitol chapter, one of your offspring will, undoubtedly, shriek, “Mommy! MOM!!!!! MA-MA!”
Then, of course, throw in the WIDOW aspect. Eeek.
Like many people who have experienced loss—be it through death, divorce, infidelity, or lost love—I struggled to find my way back to who I was before. Unfortunately, the belief I formerly had in my skills as a writer and photographer stopped beating, along with my 29-year-old husband’s heart, on that Easter Sunday, six years ago.
Sure, I could land a supportive Standford MBA husband who was eager to adopt my two daughters, but could I find a literary agent who knew, in all certainty, that my memoir HAD to get out into the world?
For Christmas, the kids had each colored hand-made gift certificates for the writing conference: one scribbled a red hotel, another took her time drawing an airplane, the next filled yellow construction paper with the diverse SCWC schedule. Something there for every writer. And, hopefully, an agent for me.
I couldn’t let my family down. I couldn’t let myself down. Helping people live and love more deeply was the reason for my existence, the reason Erik dropped dead on the kitchen floor. How else do you explain these things?
So, I clicked my uncomfortable three-inch black heels into one writing workshop after the next, gaining more confidence and industry knowledge through each person I met. Helpful editors. Talented writers. A conference staff who always made me feel like I belonged.
My hands still trembled when I held the pages of my memoir, but I prodded my tongue, and read the first sentence of DROP DEAD LIFE aloud.
"While waiting to have my womb sliced open, I stare at the black and white photograph of my beloved Erik."
There I stood, behind that burgundy podium, allowing my insides to be sliced open in front of everyone, but this time I wasn't birthing a child. There were no first-breath wails, no umbilical cord to cut.
This time, at the Southern California Writer's Conference, I heard my own breath setting free, as I digested their overwhelming belief in me.