Monday, February 27, 2006

My Glamorous Life as a Writer / Part 1

My Glamorous Life as a Writer

Part One

I wrote my first book out longhand on a yellow notepad. I was in Argentina and really didn’t have much else to do. We were staying in the countryside, which basically meant no neighbors for a hundred miles, and my twins were still toddlers - they would turn three in a month. We had a housekeeper who adored cooking for my husband and playing with my children, so for the first time in my life I didn’t have to cook, clean, or run after the twins. The house was surrounded by mile after mile of flat plain and tall eucalyptus trees that rustled in the wind. The wind was a constant presence. There were also swarms of mosquitoes at night and rainstorms during the day that flooded our pool and garden.

The twins spent half their time in the pool and the other half sitting on the couch wearing motorcycle helmets and watching cartoons in Spanish. The helmets had been in the house and the boys thought they were cool.

My husband was buying horses, which meant he was away most of the time, horses being spread far and wide in Argentine. On most days, he drove anywhere between five to ten way, to see a horse and try it. If the horse was any good, they loaded it in the truck and brought it back to the farm for a week to see what happened when the drugs wore off. It was a given that most horse-dealers drugged their animals or did something to them to make them act like polo ponies. In those days, finding a real polo pony was harder than nowadays. But the drugs and tricks have remained the same. At any rate, we had a barn full of horses, grooms, and I could ride whenever I wanted. But I didn't want to leave the twins alone all day, so I stayed in the house. I was bored. I decided to write a book. My first novel was a fun book to write, and I kept at it doggedly.

I liked sitting on the veranda watching the twins play the pool, while writing my book.

People who came to visit were impressed. “A writer!” they would exclaim.

I liked being called the writer. Usually I drew pictures, but “An artist” doesn’t carry as much weight as “A writer” does. It sounded important, not flaky. Artists were flaky. Writers were intellectual. As much as I hate to admit it, I preferred being thought of as an intellectual, and not as a flake. My career as a writer was born. I thought it was glamorous and intellectual.

During the three months we were in Argentina, I taught my twins to swim, finished my novel, and wrote a couple articles for the Polo Magazine. I sent the articles in and they were accepted and published. Writing seemed a cinch. Then we went back to France, I bought a type-writer, and I typed up my story.

It was the first time I’d ever typed anything. It took a long time, a lot of paper, and much ink. When it was finished, I sent it to a friend who proof-read it and submitted it to an agent she’d met at a party.

The agent met us in NYC the next month, and was very kind. She told me the book was good but that it needed work. I had a knack for character development and plot, but I needed work on my writing skills. She thought I should try writing short stories for a while and then polish up and re-submit the book. She gave me her card and wished me luck.

I was thrilled. I realized that the agent had done me an enormous favor by meeting me in person and giving so much of her time. I also realized that writing was not as easy as I thought. Her idea about fixing the book was good but daunting. However, the short story part of her advice sounded perfect. I’d always liked writing short stories. That’s what I’d do.

I read a lot of short stories. I’ve always enjoyed them.

I sat down and wrote a short story and sent it to the Bear Deluxe Magazine in Oregon. They accepted it. Well, I thought, that’s easy.

My next twenty short stories were rejected by twenty different magazines.

I polished them up, revised them, and sent them out again. Slowly, I started selling them. Then one of them won a prize, and another was nominated for the Pushcart award, and I started to become more sure of my craft.

That was about the time I decided to write a short story about a journalist who goes back in time to interview Alexander the Great.

By now, the twins were four and we were still travelling. Writing was simply a hobby for me, like my drawing and painting.
(to be continued...)


Virenda said...

I think writing is lovely and have always wanted to call myself a writer.

I envy you...


I want to take some classes that will help me to be a better writer, just the basics.
Hopefully that will work.

Your surrondings sound so much prettier than any of the places I've lived. Have I told you that I envy you yet?


I can't wait to get one of your books!

Sam said...

Thanks for your very kind words! I've been lucky to be able to travel so much. A really good book for writers (it's my bible) is the Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

Jim Donahue said...

I've only published one thing--I was hired to ghostwrite someone else's memoir (no, not James Frey!). It's out of print, but I'm happy to say it's listed on Amazon, currently ranked at #2,152,089.

I thought it would be a snap, but it was hard as hell.

Wynn Bexton said...

I love reading about how other writers got started. I enjoyed this blog and honestly, Argentina has to be another of my dream destinations (I fell in love with the country through everything my dear friend Roberto told me, and then Anibal. And now you stirred those lovely images again.)

Yes, writing isn't always that easy but if it's your passion and you keep at it, there's nothing more rewarding than seeing your work in print.

Gabriele C. said...

Lovely story, Sam. But be glad your kids weren't like me at three, I'd have tried to climb those ponies. My niece has inherited that gene, btw. :-)

My first novel (if you don't count the handwritten exercise books with War and Peace meets the Three Musketeers fanfiction during my school time, lol) started off on the keyboard. One night in 2001. Out of the blue, with no plan, characters or anything but a vague idea of a Mediaeval setting.

Less romantic than the veranda of a lonely house on the pampa.

Sam said...

Jim, ghost-writing sounds Very hard! At least when I use my imagination I can change what I want.
Wynn, you would love Argentina - my husband got back yesterday all tan and telling us about stories of riding three hundred miles on a dirt road in a rainstorm, lol. The country doesn't change!
Gabriele, it was very isolated so there wasn't much to do. I guess writing seemed like the easiest way to distract myself, and there were lots of yellow note pads around, lol.

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