Most of us remember the book that made us want to become writers. For me it was The Mirror, a time-traveling novel set in the mining camps of Colorado long before I ever dreamed of living here. I was 10 years old. That same year, sitting on the bleachers at a soccer game, I told my mother I was going to be an author.
Since those days I’ve dedicated my life to the creation of art. I’ve strolled, stumbled, skipped, and often dragged myself down the path that any writer understands: the manuscripts abandoned in drawers, the shame of rejection, the yearned-for approval of publication, lonely hours spent wrestling with creation, the exquisite moment of birth. And I’ve spent a good deal of that time looking for colleagues with the same dedication, long-term vision, and commitment to an artistic life.
But, despite having been touched by many beautiful wordsmiths, my circle of colleagues continues to shrink. Reality picks them off slowly. The first ones fall to fantasy—those who are talented but undisciplined, or committed but only to a caricature. The ones who believe each word they write is precious, or who retreat after one rejection.
After fantasy it becomes more personal. The next fall to circumstance: your graduate school colleagues, your heartbroken writing partner who could no longer face the page, the writer who was forced into parenthood or personal tragedy, the brilliant writer who lost herself in a bottle of whatever was on sale. The disciplined writer who wrote ten manuscripts but never found her voice. The writer left autopsying her only manuscript until it was something unrecognizable.
And finally, the last fall to hubris. Having counted themselves among the few still standing, they think they’ve already won. Hubris arrives slyly and tempts us to no longer struggle. Because for god’s sake we’ve struggled enough. They should be knocking on our door, after all. And they, quietly, fall.
Last summer, while cleaning out my bookshelves, I came across my old copy of The Mirror. I reminisced over the author’s black and white headshot, her long straight black hair, and reread the bio I’d read 100 times as a child. Wait a minute—Boulder?
After much sleuthing I found her, hermitted away in a grand house in the hills of Boulder immaculately gardened by people with time to garden. She shyly opened the door, and I recognized the aged version of the woman on that book jacket. I followed her down the long hallway of a dozen or so framed best-selling books and into a sunny living room with a waiting tray of sweet lemonade. I’d already been warned by her husband about the Alzheimers, that she hadn’t written for many years and didn’t feel she had much to contribute to an official interview. After a while I finally got brave enough to ask:
Do you miss writing?
She answered without hesitation: No.
It got to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore, she clarified. They always wanted me to write the same book, they didn’t want anything new. They’d want to see the first three chapters before I even knew what the story was about, and then they’d try to give me edits and tell me where the story should go until it wasn’t my story anymore. It got to the point where I couldn’t do it.
She gazed into her lemonade.
But I made a lot of money, she added. Back in those days a writer could make a lot of money…and I do mean a lot. Especially once you sell the translation rights.
Dust swirled in the silence. Your book is the one that made me want to be a writer, I finally told her. And I shared my world: the bodies tasting of defeat and bitterness, the bone yard of forgotten words, the preciousness of the survivors, writing unafraid into the pink crayon mornings.
And then I held out my 30-year old book and, in very shaky penmanship, she signed it.