Kim Wright has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than 25 years, and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing. People Magazine said of her first novel, Love in Mid Air, “Wright understands female friendships, the interplay of love and envy, the way one woman’s change of fortune can threaten the group’s equilibrium. Astute and engrossing, this review is a treat.” Her post on how she got started writing is also a treat. Enjoy! – Meg
When you first novel comes out one of the classic questions you get is “How long did it take to write this book?” Sounds like a logical thing to ask, but it always confounds me a bit. Because I don’t know if I should count the fallow periods.
In one sense I began Love in Mid Air over ten years ago, just following my own divorce. But I knew that I was working with material too close to home – it felt emotionally raw, and I was also afraid I’d fall into the trap of making the novel overly autobiographical. So I threw my journals into a Hefty bag, one of the big drawstring kind people use for autumn leaves, and put it in a closet for two years. Then I worked on it for two years, put it away for three more, finally got it out and really plowed though a first draft, and then let it sit for another year. The thing is, the world isn’t really waiting for a first novel from an unknown writer. You don’t have any deadlines. There are no agents or editors itching to read it. Real life in the form of jobs and kids is always pulling at your sleeve. Everyone keeps reminding you that publication is a statistical long shot. If I hadn’t formed a tribe of good writing friends during my visits to conferences and retreats through the years I’m not sure I would have had the stamina and emotional courage to keep going.
That’s probably, in fact, the main thing I would tell someone who wants to write. Don’t do it in isolation. Go to workshops, critique groups, conferences, MFAs, coffeehouse readings, use facebook and social/literary websites….anything you can find that will help connect you to other writers. It’s not just a matter of networking – although that’s important and not the dirty word some writers seem to think it is. But you’re also going to need these people for feedback, praise, advice, an ear to vent to, and just the periodic reality check. I recently threw away 200 pages of a book in progress when I realized it wasn’t working. I knew it was what I needed to do but that’s a pretty sick feeling to jettison a year’s worth of work. I was moaning and groaning about it on Facebook and within a couple of hours I got this flood of responses from all sorts of writers ranging from beginners to a Pulitzer Prize winner. They were saying things like “I’ve been there” or “It’s the right thing” or “Don’t beat yourself up.” And you know, it really helped. I ran a copy of their responses and I’m sure I’ll reread them on some rainy day in the future.
When the book was finally finished my cadre of writing friends – four wonderful women I’ve come to trust completely – helped me whip it into good shape and then I started to look for an agent. This was the single toughest part of the process. I got maybe 30 or 40 rejections and finally I broke down and asked a friend if she would introduce me to her agent. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask her to start with, but I had some sort of nincompoop idea about doing it all on my own merit. Publishing a book is just one long exercise in getting over yourself.
So I asked Alison to introduce me to David and we turned out to be a great fit. Having a friend recommend you isn’t a slam-dunk way to get an agent; I’ve since recommended several writers to him that he hasn’t taken on. But I think it’s your best shot at getting a full reading if you’re a complete unknown. David had a list of eight editors he thought would be right for the book and they all passed on it. At this point if you aren’t already drinking, you start drinking. But he promptly sent it on to another round of eight and this time three houses bid on it. I talked to all the editors by phone and we went with the one who I clicked with best. My friends and I had polished so well – and my agent has excellent editorial skills – that they pretty much took the book as it was.
My pub date was in March and at Christmas I told one of my cousins, “All I want is for someone to tell me that I hit it out of the park. But they never say anything like that in this business. Editors and reviewers always equivocate.”
So the miracle was that on January 4, 2010, the first working day of the new year, I woke up and cut on the computer and there was an email from my publicist saying “PW Star” with a million exclamation points. The review started with the line “Wright knocks it out of the park in her debut…” It was like I had dictated it to the universe.
The second thing I’d say to aspiring writers is this: Savor the sweet moments as long as you can. This is a tough business and there are so many moments of doubt. Bad reviews hurt. You never seem to be doing enough. That second book can run itself down a blind alley and require you to cut 200 pages, It’s easy to just sit and watch your rankings rise and fall on Amazon like some demented day trader. But there are also moments of incredible joy. Not just good reviews, but days when you remember exactly why you’re doing this and why you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life. When I have one of those moments I try to stand back and let it sink in. And then I say “Amen.” – Kim