One of my least favorite classes in high school was chemistry with Mr. Ca-Ca.
In addition to his other problems, he was tremendously disorganized. Completed homework assignments vanished into the black hole of his office and never reemerged with a grade. He did not always remember where we were in the book and would lecture on the wrong section in a chapter, and on several occasions, he gave out quizzes to the wrong chapter entirely. Since we were forbidden to speak to him, this mistake could not be rectified. Students who tried were met with an outraged cry of STOP TALKING NO TALKING DURING TESTS and sent back to their seats.
The hours I had spent studying for Chapter 2 were of no use when confronted with a quiz on Chapter 5. A solution eluded me. Both of my parents were uninvolved in my schooling, and I am unsure that my father even knew what grade I was in. Should I ask for a transfer to the other chemistry section? Administration did not allow that. I looked at the quiz in frustration, knowing that I was going to fail and there was nothing I could do about it. All of that studying the night before was for nothing. I should have just watched TV.
After my publisher went bankrupt, I had flashbacks to Mr. Ca-Ca’s chemistry class. I was doing everything I should have been doing, and yet I’d failed again. Developing a career felt completely out of my hands, hinging on the whims of lightning strikes and a company’s balance sheets to which I was not privy. Once again, I evaluated my position. It was back to queries.
Everyone in my life had been thrilled about my book and mentioned it frequently, and I had to explain that it fell through. Then we would stand in an embarrassed quiet. This might happen four or five times at some event, the excitement, the explanation, and the silence. Once home, I would go to bed and stare at the wall. I wished that it were possible for me to do something else with my life, but I do not possess even a distant second to writing. It is what I do. It is who I am. I needed to come to peace with the possibility that writing for myself might have to be enough. I tried, but I couldn’t. Throwing myself into a five-book series that required much research, my queries continued to go out but more sporadically. Little came of them.
Then when I was 32, I won a writing contest. The prize was having my query and first chapter given a professional eye by an experienced and well-known agent. I was happy, as this agent represented my genres, and sent them off. She received them. Months went by with nothing. Having learned from my previous error, I sent off a polite email. No response ever came.
And then in November, I got a nibble from a very popular agent in response to my query. He did not want the partial but the full to the first book of my young adult fantasy series. I sent it off. There was no response. I kept up with his Twitter, in which he told everyone to be patient because he was behind. It was September of the next year when I sent an email asking about my full. He did not write back until January. Curious about why I thought my novel was for adults, he wondered if I would be willing to give it some minor tweaks to make it YA. He thought that it had strong potential for the YA market. I responded immediately that it was YA and I was very willing to put in whatever tweaks were necessary. Then I heard nothing until June, when I got a rejection. In the email, he said, “I just don’t know why you call this an adult novel when it reads like YA, and I don’t have time for the revisions.” His Twitter said VACATION!!!
I had now spent 12 years on this, and all I had to show for it was one book that no one could find. When people asked how my career was going, I said brusquely, “It’s not.” This was not going to happen, my dream of publishing. I was not getting lucky, and I can’t control that. Luck is a word I associate with the lottery, and if I knew someone had spent 12 years focused on winning the lottery, I’d think that person was absolutely insane.
I did not consider self-publishing, having always been told that it was the ultimate mark of a loser. People who self-published were the very same ones who’d once been writing atrocious Dear Mr. or Mrs. Agent queries and mailing in their feverishly written NaNoWriMo books for a six-figure advance and publishication. It would diminish my work in everyone’s eyes, and I hated to think that a book I spent years crafting would forever be on par with junk.
I could not bear to think of the reactions I would get. Few would be rude enough to say it, but the looks on their faces would do it for them. Hunter just wasn’t good enough for the Big Boys, and how sad! My compatriots had moved on through graduate school and into the professional world, putting initials after their names and becoming respectable, and I was essentially still in the same place I’d been standing since the age of 21. Self-publishing. It made me want to spit.
I was 34, still on Square One. Collecting rejections, waiting for my lightning strike, I began to avoid people rather than have to deal with what do you do? I write solely for my own entertainment! I never bothered to get on Facebook, in trepidation of being found by old classmates. What’s been up with you since graduation? Uh . . . well . . . One coworker liked to ask how long until I was on Oprah plugging my books, and I would smile and laugh with her but inwardly scream.
I grew older, in quiet despair.