This week, I’m rerunning two previous posts, one to celebrate the paperback publication of Lynda Rutledge’s Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale in paperback, and the other to celebrate the U.S. publication (also in paperback) of Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters Who Walk This Path. I hope they inspire you to great writing this week. – Meg
Lynda Rutledge: The Time I Broke Up with Fiction
A decade ago I broke up with fiction. I had given it my heart and soul, and what had it done for me? Broke my heart, I tell you, and darkened my soul. Thus began my Blue Period. At the time, I was a freelance journalist, involved in a fruitful if purely professional relationship with nonfiction, but I couldn’t quite shake those pesky literary dreams. So by the time of the break-up, I had been herding words into “promising” failed novels so long I’d forgotten, no doubt on purpose, some of my earlier fiction attempts. I bumped into a former writing workshop classmate that year, and the first thing she asked was: “How’s April?
“April who?” I said.
“You know, your character in your novel.”
Omigod, I thought. I’ve blocked out April and her entire world. That can’t be good.
About that same time, I heard National Book Award winner Charles Johnson admit he’d written six novels before he sold one, so I began counting up mine. There was the failed coming-of-age novel, the failed mystery, and the failed April idea…whatever that was. There was the arts council award and the writing residencies that kept fiction sweet-talking in my ear, which inspired the failed roman a clef that needed me to be dead before seeing print. And then came the comic novel set at a garage sale. When it was taken by an agent on the condition I’d do a rewrite, I thought fiction had finally proposed. I can still hear the plop that manuscript made as the postman pitched it back on my front porch when the agent changed her mind.
So I’d had it—I showed fiction the door. Then I went out and saw the world on the strength of my nonfiction pen taking every crazy extroverted assignment I was offered, dodging hurricanes, swimming with endangered sea creatures, petting baby rhinos, even hangliding velcroed to a guy off a Swiss mountain. I was taking the breakup hard. I was going to have fun even if it killed me.
And here is where the proverbial worm turns: While I was having all that frantic death-defying nonfiction fun, I caught fiction sneaking in the upstairs window. My mind was being unfaithful, still playing around with the last spurned idea– the garage sale. Forget the thing! I told myself; it’s not good for you! Any well-adjusted person accepts the concept of a failed idea! But as time went on, I began to grasp the possibility that it wasn’t the concept that had failed, but my immature treatment of it.
So over that entire decade, as I went about my nonfiction business, I let the idea simmer and grow and deepen as I did the same thing as a writer. Humor became a tool of the truth, not an end in itself. Profound themes worth the effort began to form. And I slowly realized there was a reason the idea would not let me go. It was trying to tell me something I missed during the first fling. Because what are stories but ways to explain the world to ourselves? And if lucky, others? And in so doing, I understood that this was what I wanted from the relationship all along, not just a good time, but a commitment that offered me food for my soul as well as my heart. The moment was right: I reinvented the idea and the newer, better garage sale is now, as of this very moment, open for business–Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale, to be exact.
So what is the moral of my little tale? Never give up? No, something deeper, I hope: Give up when you need to, but keep listening for the idea that won’t let you go. It just may be trying to tell you something wonderful when the time is finally right. - Lynda
Yejide Kilanko: Walking this Path
My debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, really began life as a short poem I wrote in June 2009. That poem was titled Silence Speaks. At the time, my day job was as a newly minted Social Worker in child protection services. The role guaranteed a constant exposure to heart-wrenching stories of child sexual abuse and I struggled to fall and stay asleep. Working on the novel every night, sometimes through the night, became my outlet. This is why I have often said that in the beginning, I really wrote the novel for me.
The truth was that prior to this time, writing a novel had not been on my list of things to do. I did love words since I became an avid reader at a young age and started writing mostly autobiographical poems when I was twelve. But as far as I was concerned, life had other plans for me.
Over the course of eight months, the novel grew from scribbles of random thoughts to a manuscript I shared with a few close friends. Their encouraging words spurred me on to work on it some more and a year later, I had a complete manuscript. I also had no idea about what to do with it.
By then, I had read on many writing sites that most, if not all writers, had those first, starter manuscripts tucked away somewhere, never to see the light of day. I decided that I too would put my starter novel away. At least, I had proved to myself that I could write a novel. Who was I, to think that my story was good enough to be published?
However, an inspiring conversation with an old friend during a July 2010 visit to Nigeria made me rethink my position about seeking publication. I thought to myself that there had to be a reason why I had gone down this writing path. I had to give myself a chance. I could not quit without even starting.
On August 16, 2010, with an equal mixture of dread and anticipation, I sent out queries to literary agents in the United States. That same day, I received a request for a full manuscript. Exactly one week later, I had an offer of representation from one of the agents I had queried. I was ecstatic and thus began the second part of this incredible journey.
In May 2011, Daughters Who Walk This Path was bought by Penguin Canada. The novel was published on April 10, 2012. Following the exciting news that the novel was Costco Canada’s buyer Catherine Bergeron’s pick for the month, on May 5, 2012, the novel debuted on the Globe and Mail Bestseller’s list.
As I write this, my head is still spinning from all the things that have happened in such a short time. One thought that often comes to my mind when I think of this unlikely journey, is what would have happened if I had kept that first manuscript tucked away in the bottom of my drawer.
I guess, we’ll never know. – Yejide