Shortly after graduating from Goucher College’s MFA program in 2010, I was contacted by an agent interested in reading my thesis. This filled me with equal amounts of panic and joy, as I still didn’t feel like a real writer. A few months later he wrote that he loved my voice, but felt that I needed to take the story in a different direction—something that was less about me and more about the people I met. (Yes, this stung. Imagine if you will, dear writers of fiction, what it would be like to hear “we want you to change the main character” and the MC is you!) The insecure part of me wanted to do whatever it took to gain his approval and representation, but the realist in me said “no.”
I am not a journalist. I am a personal storyteller. It’s what I do and I knew in my heart that if I wrote his version, I would fail. I thanked him for the time he’d already invested and told him that I wasn’t the right kind of writer to deliver a journalistic exploration of death. He appreciated my honesty.
Fast forward three years. I turned my thesis into a memoir, Death Becomes Us, and entered it into the Mayborn’s writing competition. Not that I expected it, but I figured if I didn’t win first place with publication from UNT, my plan was to self publish.
On award’s night, it was announced that I’d won second place. When I returned to my table, David Patterson of Foundry Media asked if I would send him my proposal. The following Monday, I did. Thursday, I received a wonderfully flattering email from David that I now have taped to my desk. He got it/me. He understood what I was trying to do and, by golly, he liked it! I felt like Bridget Jones when Mark Darcy says, “I like you just the way you are.”
Isn’t that what we all want both personally and professionally?
So what’s the moral of this story? First, be true to yourself. Realize what your strengths are as a writer and let your anxiety-filled freak flag fly. (Okay, that’s just me.)
Second is patience. Yes, yes, I know. We all want things to happen as quickly as a Twitter post, but sometimes it’s better if we wait and work on our craft.
That’s the third lesson. Even with the proper MFA document in my hand, I probably learned more in my weekly critiques at the DFW Writers’ Workshop. I remember one session quite vividly as it changed my manuscript for the better. A. Lee Martinez said, “You need to decide who this story is about because it’s not working as it is.” Yep, it stung. But he was right.
So, has my world changed now that I have an agent? No, not really. I still can’t eat crayons and write rainbows, but now my morning writing sessions are a little sweeter. When I’m feeling stuck, I look at that email and think, someone got me.
And I have to admit, that’s a pretty cool feeling.
--Pam Skjolsvik, DFWWW Members since 2010