Picture This

A while back I wrote about the Law of Left Field, which describes how things and events of great value come to you suddenly and from places you never expected. “Out of left field,” as the expression goes. Here is an example of that, and of how powerful it can be when you visualize something — and dare to believe in that vision: If you’ve browsed my site, you’ve probably seen that there are more than a dozen titles on my Books page; at current count, nineteen. Ten years ago, there were none. This is the story of what happened to turn zero into nineteen. In late 2004, I was contacted (out of left field) by an old friend named Gary, whom I hadn’t talked to in many years. Gary and his wife were working on a book idea. They had an agent and strong interest in some publishers, but needed help. Would I be able to work on a proposal with them? And what would it cost? I named them a price. Gary made a counter-offer: What if they paid me a down payment of, um, nothing … but brought me in as a partner in the book itself? Okay. I started working on the proposal. On February 1, 2005, exactly ten years ago this coming Sunday, I finished our book proposal. I sent it off to Gary, who gave it to the agent, who sent it to editors in New York … and then we waited. And waited. Months went by. So far, no nibbles. Meanwhile, I asked Gary for a favor. He had promised that he would...

Perseverance

This is the toughest part. Last summer I worked on an amazing book project, a memoir of a well-known public figure who struggled privately for decades with addiction and alcoholism, even as he lived publicly in the limelight of television and politics, and who eventually triumphed. Throughout the fall we worked on revisions, making the manuscript as perfect as we could. It’s an incredibly inspiring story; it was an incredibly inspiring project. Now comes the hard part: this month our agent takes it to New York to sell it. Why so hard? Because this is the part where I sit back and wait. Can’t do a thing. Out of my hands. It’s like when your children go off to school. You’ve done your best, done all you can, and now it’s in the hands of God, fate, and the universe. (And, in this case, my agent.) The toughest part about it is that we already got several rejections back in the fall, when we sent out the first draft to a few editors. (As I described here.) Do we find that discouraging? We do not. Why not? It has to do with what is perhaps the single most important aspect of writing: Perseverance. I’ve been here before. In 2010, we sent a book proposal for a different project around to publishers in New York. The proposal included a sample chapter, a few excerpts from some of the later chapters, and a complete outline of the book with summaries of each chapter. Here’s the response we got: Editor 1 at Publisher A liked what he saw, but “couldn’t get any support in-house.” Editor 2 at Publisher B said, “I just don’t...

Reflection

When water turns ice does it remember one time it was water? When ice turns back into water does it remember it was ice? — Carl Sandburg I’m reading a remarkable novel right now, The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (same dude who wrote Cloud Atlas). In it there’s a character who has lived dozens and dozens of lifetimes over the centuries, carrying the same essential person and memories from life to life, yet also accruing the experiences and circumstantial impact of each as he/she goes. Reading Mitchell’s descriptions of experiences his character had through other guises and in centuries past, I was suddenly struck by how oddly familiar it all felt. No, I’m not going to pull back the curtain and reveal that, in fact, I was a Babylonian princess in a past life. You don’t need to go to something as esoteric as reincarnation to resonate with Mitchell’s intoxicating prose: The way his character reflects on prior lives feels exactly like what it’s like to reflect back on the me of earlier chapters in this life. The nineteen-year-old brown-rice-and-seaweed-eating symphony cellist … that was me? That ten-year-old kid in shorts playing kickball in the quiet suburban New Jersey streets; that unsuspecting forty-three-year-old having his very first conversation with that woman sitting next to him in church (having no idea that he will propose to her ten years from now)—who are those people? They seem to occupy a completely different era and lifetime than the one I’m in today. It reminds me of something Red, the Morgan Freeman character, says in that wonderful film, Shawshank Redemption, as he...