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Craft essay in October 2015 Brevity
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On Longing, Love and Literary Awards

May 15, 2014

Tags: Literary Awards, Nautilus Award, Eric Hoffer Award

Here's the thing: the longing never ends. At least not for me. First, I dreamed of writing a book. Then finishing a book. Then publishing it. Ah, publishing - the end all, be-all dream. The one thing that would prove to me that yes, I really am a writer!

What I didn't know is that publishing is another beginning, another higher-stakes tunnel that you enter into blind as a first-time author where you grope in the dark, sometimes terrified, sometimes horrified, often confused. Your book comes out and there you are, standing on the tracks blinking in light of day, a bit naked, excited and ready to go- where?

Let's face it. We don't just dream of being published. We dream of being heard. And seen. Of being loved. Big time. You know what I'm talking about: The New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal. People. Us. Hollywood (Short Leash: The Movie with Winona Ryder playing me). And the big enchilada-- Oprah's Book Club (or at least "O Magazine".)

Then reality sets in. Nothing educates you about the publishing world than being published. My book, due to a fault of the stars, had many, many stumbles coming out of the gate, all of them completely out of my control; all of them making cutting through the clutter very, very difficult.

Margaret Atwood says putting a book out in the world is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. Some bottles surface onto the shores of great cities, where many people will read the message. Some end up on a the powdery shores of an archipelago. I think mine landed somewhere off Mozambique. That's just the way it is. Or was.

When I realized I was not going to be the next Cheryl Strayed (and Cheryl has worked a lot longer and harder than me to land where she has - deservedly so), I didn't take it very well. place I cried. I raged. I despaired when Short Leash was placed on the "Pets' shelf at Barnes and Noble next to "Dachshunds for Dummies." Then I found out how lucky I was to have a book on the shelves at all.

And as the announcements came down to pike for the Awards my publisher had nominated me for, I cringed at each listing that did not include me. When the exiciting news came for prizes I was shortlisted on, I crossed my fingers and held my breath. I waited for e-mails that did not come. And I began the long, hard process of loving my book and myself despite what anyone said or did not say.

Winning the Nautilus Award was wonderful - but it was a silver, not a gold. The Eric Hoffer Award was even more gratifying, knowing the standards of the Prize. But even then, not the Grand Prize. Something is always going to come up to challenge my doubt about my writing, my worth, my longing to be accepted and adored that goes far, far back to childhood wounds so deep I may never fully fill the hole.

As a Zen practitioner, I am reminded over and over to aspire to nothing special. "Don't expect applause," goes one Lojong teaching. The applause is good, I have to admit that. But I am beginning to see that it is the work that matters. The joy of finally being brave enough to think what I think and say what I say.

Sure, I'd like a gold star put on my paper - what kid wouldn't? It's a gift to be acknowledged by your peers. But it's also a real gift when you're not. All the accolades in the world mean nothing if I use them to define myself.

I think I'll be working on this for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, I am starting to get how it is all about the writing, how the act of putting words on the page affirms me in ways nothing else can. I am learning to find my own compass, my own ability to know what is good and important and enough.

As for the awards, I certainly wouldn't mind winning another one. Hear that National Book Awards? As I write those words, I'm rolling my eyes at myself. It's a very good skill for memoirist to have.


  1. May 15, 2014 7:05 PM EDT
    Janice, the literary awards are great and you will be honored in time. Until then, my friend, know that you are a gold star winner in my circle. The gals of Book,Food, and Friends book club are still in awe of your visit with us. We are waiting for your Book #2.
    - burmahill
  2. May 15, 2014 11:08 PM EDT
    Thanks, Burma. I had such a great time. You all made me feel so special. This is what I love about being an author, making connections with readers (and getting to eat some amazing food, too!)
    - Janice Gary