I love to write.
In case that wasn't obvious.
I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a writer's conference called WriteAngles at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. It was my second time at the conference and I was not disappointed. It is such a high for me to be surrounded by so many writers and readers. I love the energy. I love the opportunity to learn. I love the fact that I get to step outside of the isolation that I sometimes experience as a writer and instead be able to engage with those who share my passion.
I had a lot of physical challenges facing me going into the conference this year which is partly why I have not been blogging as frequently. My Sjogren's symptoms kicked into high gear a few weeks ago and this resulted in a significant increase in doctor's appointments and major changes in medications; not to mention feeling like hell due to pain, fatigue, and issues with my eyes. It has probably been one of the worst flare ups I have experienced in my illness since its onset four years ago.
This wasn't just an opportunity to attend a writer's conference though. I also had a ten minute, one on one meeting scheduled with a literary agent at this event yesterday. It was an opportunity I had known about back in December of last year when I started writing my book Tales From The Dry Side: The Personal Stories Behind The Autoimmune Illness Sjogren's Syndrome. I made sure that I signed up for the conference the day registration opened up in order to ensure one of those coveted agent meeting slots. I spent weeks learning how to write a good query letter. I researched how to do a book proposal in case one was required for my particular book. While sitting in doctor's waiting rooms over the past few weeks, I would be emailing back and forth with other story contributors for the book in order to get the manuscript complete.
Now I had never been to one of these meeting before, but the impression I got from the person coordinating the meetings and from doing a bit of research online, it seemed like the purpose was to review your query letter, discuss your book and have the opportunity to ask questions. I was not expecting to walk out of that meeting with a literary agent. Not because I don't have confidence in this book. I do. But because I knew that it was my first time at the rodeo so to speak. This was more of an opportunity to introduce my work and if I was really lucky, maybe spark the agent's interest. I was expecting to get some valuable feedback about my book and learn something to help me figure out the next step in getting this very important book to the next level.
By the grace of God, my symptoms started to settle down forty-eight hours before the conference. The day before the conference I was by no means back to the physical state I was in a month ago, but I was definitely able to get myself to Mount Holyoke College, which is twenty minutes from my home. I thought I could manage going eight hours without pain medication and then hopefully be able to focus, function, and act intelligently for eight full hours; without a nap or rest period. I would probably require at least several days to recover from the experience. My medical needs had increased over the past two weeks and I meticulously planned my medications, eye drops, inhalers, and water needs (due to extreme dryness from Sjogren's) around the conference schedule. My writing bag was packed, accompanied by my medical supplements. I had researched my agent. I knew what I was going to say.
I was ready.
I was excited.
Thirteen hours before I am to leave my house, it is seven o'clock in the evening and the phone rings. I see the caller ID and the name of the person coordinating the agent meetings flashes at me from the phone, daring for me to answer. I knew. I just knew. I get through the conversation, barely.
The agent I was supposed to meet with was sick and all of his meetings had been cancelled.
Some people would stop reading here and say OK, so what? It was just a ten minute meeting. Send the query letter to another agent. Or maybe he will read the letters at another time and then get in touch with you when he is feeling better. But in those moments following the motion of hanging up the phone, all I could feel was profound disappointment. All I could think of were the hours I had spent in bed, while so sick, writing this book. The obstacles I had overcome to even be able to get to this point with the book. The disappointment I felt over not having the experience of meeting with an agent.
And within minutes, the negative thoughts were gone.
He was sick.
I know about sick.
I know about not having control. This was out of my control. What was in my control was how I was going to handle it.
I changed my mindset. This agent, on this day, was obviously not the path for me or this book right now. I decided to keep faith and move forward. I was still able to go to the conference. I was still going to be able to meet and enjoy the company of other authors and learn more about my craft. I was going to have the opportunity to immerse myself in the literary world that I have come to love so much.
And so that is what I did. I met new people. I learned new things.The speakers were tremendous. I was especially touched by the keynote speakers Maria Luisa Arroyo and Ann Hood. Both of their stories touched me in a way that few ever have. Both made me cry. In both of them, I saw what it was like to have the soul of a writer and how a writer can effectively use their life experiences to make a dramatic impact on the lives of others.
I am sitting in the second morning panel session called Going Beyond the Personal in the Personal Memoir. It is 11:53. I know this because a woman comes into the conference room with a clipboard. She announces that she is looking for the following three people who will, due to a variety of reasons, unexpectedly have an agent's meeting after all on that day. They are to go upstairs at noon. I sit there and remind myself that there had to be at least ten plus people who had their original meetings cancelled. It will not be me.
I am name number three.
The chain of events that followed after that felt frantic to me. I am not the most spontaneous person in the world. I did not know which agent I was meeting with and she had not had the opportunity to even read my query letter until I sat down in front of her. I remember telling myself to breathe and relax so I could make the most of the experience.
It was a much bigger experience than I imagined. She thought the query was really good and that a publisher would pick up the book. What? My book? We discussed what the next steps would be. Then she is telling me to submit the query letter to her at the agency with a book proposal. Excuse me? I am the one who came here with a cancelled agent's meeting and now you are requesting a book proposal?
THIS was how it was supposed to unfold.
I don't know what is going to happen. I may submit the proposal and it will be rejected. I may submit it and it will be accepted. What I do know with absolute certainty is that no matter what, my book and I will travel our path together until we have reached our destination; wherever that may be.
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