Friday, November 20, 2009

My First Time

I went to Borders this week.

I perused. I walked the aisles. And because the section I wanted was all but elusive, I asked in my most authorly tone, "Where are the writing books?"

"Right over here," the associate gushed. "We've got books that tell you how to write, and even how to get published!"

Apparently I didn't look the part.

I smiled, even though inside I frowned, followed her quietly, so as not to ruin her fun in introducing me to the world of writing.

***

As I considered the titles, my daughter plucked a floor-level book from the shelves at my back.

"This is a little book, Mommy!" she called, throwing herself across the carpeted aisle.

Too caught in the dilemma of which Grammar Girl book to choose, I murmured an unintelligible response.

Oh, and here's Strunk and White's book. I've been needing that one.

"Mommy, it's a doctor book!"

I wonder if they have The Fire in Fiction?

But then awareness set it. The trance broke, my gaze falling to my four-year-old. Who was flipping through the penciled drawings of an adult-content book of, erm, positions.

"Sweetie! You know, since you're not a doctor, let's put that book back. Hey look! I have candy!"

***

I placed my treasures -- The Elements of Style, The Grammar Devotional, Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens, a cat book for my daughter and a bucket of pink Legos -- on the counter.

"Looks like someone's writing a novel," the cashier surmised.

I flinched. No one's ever been so bold. Such things have always gone unnoticed for me before. "Er, yeah. I'm writing my second." But it felt kinda good to admit it somewhere in public. Not online, here in my world of writing, or among those family and friends who already know. Just, you know, to a person.

"What happened with your first?"

Another flinch. "It had a publisher's interest last year, but they turned it down." Dangitall. I was losing confidence, associate by associate.

"Oh, I'm sorry!"

"It's okay. Really. I've learned a lot since then. I'm moving on, trying to write better."

We had a pleasant, two-sided exhange. Turns out she's a writer herself, published in magazines. She gave up on her dream of writing children's books years back, though. I found that so sad.

I said to her, "From what I've learned, perseverance is key." To myself I said, "Don't you ever give up."

By then my transaction was complete. We wished each other luck, and my daughter and I left, happy with our purchases.

It was the first time I'd gone into a store and openly sought writing books, the experience wasn't lost on me. It was my first effort at small talk about being a writer. With another writer. In a book store, a shrine to writers everywhere.

Kinda neat.

Except for the sex book thing.

42 comments:

Kristen Painter said...

Look at it this way. For every writer who gives up, there's a little less competition.

Yes, I know, brutal reality is my specialty.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

You're so brave to admit in public, to a stranger, that you are a writer!! I'm trying to do that with everyone I meet...of course when the opportunity arises...but it still gives me tummy butterflies!

I hope from your meeting that this sales associate will be brave enough to get back out there in the writers world. Us writers have to be cheerleaders and encouragers to others.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Great story...we always remember our first time! ;)

Jody Hedlund said...

Oh Janna, how funny!!!! I could just see the exact same thing happening with my 4 yo.!!

And I am SO proud of you! I don't know why we writers get that "cringe" feeling, but we do. And I'm learning slowly, that I need to just let it all out--be who I really am.

Yesterday I had several real life friends stumble across my blog for the first time. And yes, I cringed. But only for a moment. Then I thought, "Sheesh, why am I embarrassed about having them read my blog posts. They'll be reading a whole book in a year! I've gotta get over this!"

JKB said...

I had to LOL at the sex book. I can just imagine cringing there myself! HA!

And yeah, those words. I always feel a bit weird when I identify myself "in public" as a writer, but why not? I don't know. I always cringe inside.

*sigh*

CKHB said...

Ha! I love "hey, here's some candy..."

My first "outing" as a novelist was at a bookstore, too.

septembermom said...

That was a brave and honest exchange with another writer. I would probably hide behind my laptop and order the books from Amazon :) I think you may have helped that other writer by your conversation. Writing is such a solo activity. It's nice when writers can connect even for a moment.

Funny about the sex book. LOL

Anonymous said...

kill city...the flinches eventually cease as your body becomes acclimated to the experience (meaning the honesty not the positions) ;)
Sean

Jeanette Levellie said...

Janna: I am so proud of you!!! It gets easier after this.

Why did they put that dr. book on the bottom row, for gosh sake? You were smart to have candy with you!

Jen
Audience of ONE

Stina Rose said...

I used to hide my writing from the real world, till I found out that my husband was telling everyone. Now I go out to Choir practice and the first question that I'm asked is: "How's that novel coming?" It's too late to hide now, but I still cringe when the conversation keeps going beyond that. I also feel that cringe when a family member comments about my blog. I do wonder why that is. Shouldn't I be excited that they want to read what I have to say?

*giggles* about the sex book. I remember my brother doing something similar to my mom...only he was like 6 and those pictures caused a long conversation on the way home.

Barbara said...

Janna, just think of all the would-be writers who never take that step! Be proud of doing all the footwork you need to do.It'll all pay off in the end. Think about joining a writing organization, like Mystery Writers, or Romance Writers of America, where you'll meet lots of women (starting out and published, too)who will support you. And they have great workshops! I did it for so long, not so much any more. It totally helped me along the path.

Jill Kemerer said...

Kids pick up the craziest books! The more embarrassing, the more likely they are to grab 'em.

Admitting we write is so personal. I'm glad you encouraged the lady waiting on you. Who knows? Maybe she'll go back to her dream?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

That is pretty neat! I dread those conversations, but you handled it all pretty well--including the "doctor" book!

Natalie said...

The sex book bit totally made me laugh. You are brave to admit you're a writer (and admit rejection) in public. I still struggle with this.

Terri Tiffany said...

I loved reading this!I remember my first time buying writer's books--the clerk told me she was writing a novel too! I was only doing short stories at the time. Good for you for telling them what you do!!

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, this is such a great story! I think I had my first "outing" like that when I was home last year and bought a stack of writing books. I can't believe you didn't have The Elements of Style before this.

I love Grammar Girl and can't wait to read her new book. Ibis is reading the Tips & Tricks now.

Too funny about the doctor book. ;)

JLC said...

LOL - That was too funny about the sex book. I remember my daughter found a 'naughty' page in a rather un-naughty book (its actually a book on politics) and asked why the man had and extra elbow.

I just went through a 'new writer's' experience while on vacation. I told a few relatives about my short story being published in an anthology. Some asked if I would make any $$. (Erm.. no) Some were happy, and one even asked me, "What is an anthology?" *sigh*

Deb Shucka said...

Good for you!!!! The new energy can only help, right? Thanks for my Friday morning laugh-out-loud with your daughter's doctor book story.

Love your new picture!

Janna Qualman said...

Kristen - I find you refreshing and much-needed. ;)

Donna - I don't know, she seemed pretty jaded. Maybe!

LOL, Amy. True.

Jody - That's an excellent talk you gave yourself. Go you!

JKB - So it doesn't get any better once agented? Or even published? From what I've gathered, it's a personality of writers that doesn't ever fade.

CKHB - And it makes sense! :)

septembermom - Oh, yes! Me and Amazon are tight. *grin*

Sean! I can always count on you for perspective. ;)

Jen - EXACTLY my thinking! Epic FAIL on Borders' part. Those books should be on the highest shelf - and NOT within sight of the kids' section.

Stina - Hubs deserves a big pat on the back for supporting you so boldly!

Jan Cline said...

Great story. Well written too. I still choke on the words "I'm a writer." But it's true. If you had told me you were working on your second novel...I would have been very impressed. It's hard work.

Janna Qualman said...

Barbara - Thanks for the advice. I've looked into them before, but haven't yet found one that fits. Same goes for local writing/critique groups. Plus, thus far I've build up an incredible network and support system that works great.

Jill - You know, something I didn't mention - this woman said her mother is a successful author (back in the day of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series'), and that she's had to live with that her whole life. More sadness! Talk about the pressure.

Kristen, thanks. I think I did, too. :)

Natalie - Yep, admitting the pub rejection is what hurts the most. Not having gotten it, but owning up to it.

Terri - We need to hang out in bookstores more!

Melanie - I know! It's crazy I never picked that title up before.

JLC - "an extra elbow" :roll: Good for you, for talking about the anthology! (I guess we get the whole gamut, don't we?"

Thank you, Deb! And you're welcome, too. ;)

Janna Qualman said...

Thank you, Jan. I appreciate your supportive words.

thedomesticfringe said...

I'm laughing over your daughter's choice of books!

You're a fabulous writer Janna!!! No need to be shy over it. You should be passing out cards with your web address on it. ;-)
-FringeGirl

Jessica said...

You go, girl! Very sad about that writer though, but at least she's pubbed in magazines. That's cool.

I'm surprised you didn't shriek about the sex book. LOL I totally admire your calm response.

Kara said...

I am laughing right now, mainly because the book store with children usually ends about the same way!
Neat that you talked to another writer, I always cringe when they ask "So are you published?"

Karen said...

Janna, you probably made that chasier feel better, and may be gave her the spirit to keep on trying? We all touch each other, some how. I'm glad your daughter thought that was a doctors book and didn't ask questions...:)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Janna, congratulations on a huge step forward! I'm sure it will be the first of many. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Susan R. Mills said...

I had a similar experience at Borders. It made me excited and nervous at the same time.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Janna, maybe what you got at the bookstore was more than those books you went for. Maybe a nudge from above about starting a live group where you can meet and rub elbows with others regularly? My first writing group was held at a large B&N who advertised in their store paper for us for free. You could ask the cashier to join you in your efforts. There's nothing like meeting and critting in person. Think on it.

Janna Qualman said...

FringeGirl - You make my day. That is all.

Oh, Jessica. I heard a very loud shriek inside my head. It just didn't convert, thankfully. ;)

Kara - Whew! It's such a relief to know other parents go through this stuff, too.

Karen, me too. Now if it had been my six-year-old, I'd have been in a heap of trouble...

Thank you, Susan!

Susan - Borders! I tell ya, lady. I think it's a good place.

Angie - I will, thanks. There is something thrilling about the idea.

Tabitha Bird said...

Janna LOL! Oh girl, the sex book thing had me laughing. :)

and I agree with the little voice in your head "Don't you ever give up!"

Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

Nadine said...

Whenever I run into people who want to be writers but gave up years ago, it makes me keep going. Cause I know I don't want to look back with regret.

* Thank goodness you had candy!

Janna Qualman said...

Tabitha - I can appreciate the humor of that moment now that it's done and gone. ;) And thanks for coming here!

Nadine - That what I think, too, that I don't want regrets, least of all dealing with my biggest dream. And yes! I'm so glad I'd tucked that tiny pack of Whoppers in there!

Texas Playwright Chick said...

I started admitting I was a writer - well, a Playwright - loud and proud a few years ago. I had to, actually, that's how my husband started introducing me when I got my first little play published. Then I thought, H3ll Yeah, I'm a writer!

It gets easier....H3ll Yeah, YOU'RE a writer!!!!

Woman in a Window said...

Was that the LITTLE BOOK OF SEX? HA! My daughter had a run in with that book a couple years ago at one of her friend's houses. When she told me about it she said, "And you know what mom? That little book wasn't even really little at all..." Poor thing.

I don't think writers give up. I think it is who they are. There is no getting published or not getting published. There is simply a state of being, a way of seeing the world, and a need to translate it. I think I've said it here before, even if you or I were never to write another word again, we would still be writers. (I almost shrink to write that though - the word writer being so large.) It is who we are.

xo
erin

Need More Words said...

I was at a Jewelry party today and we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell what we did. I told everyone in that room, half I didn't know, that I was a writer. I was surprised at how easy it was. I think it has something to do with NaNo which has kept me writing everyday this month so I truly feel like a writer.
Diane

~Ellie Kings~ said...

You sure made me laugh Janna! I felt like a fly on the wall buzzing around Borders with you and your daughter. Kids are something, aren't they?! No need to worry, your second will be a hit! Then you can go back into Borders and boast a little about your display! :) xo

Janna Qualman said...

TX Playwright Chick - I think you're totally right. Sometimes we have to claim it out loud to really own it. Thanks!

Erin - This from what you said really resonated with me: "There is simply a state of being, a way of seeing the world, and a need to translate it." That's my truth, as a writer, right there.

Diane - What a perfect scenario! Good for you.

Thanks, Ellie, for expressing this belief in me. And yes, kids! ;)

Analisa said...

That is funny because I have gotten a few books on the writing subject, but never was asked was I a writer. Guess I don't look authorly either. LOL.

Recently in a meet and greet on my new job, we had to submit a picture and a fun fact. Mine fun fact was I love books so much I am now writing one, with a picture of me with a armload of books. After that I had several folks ask me what kind of book I was writing. People I think are kinda amazed that we even take it on. Childrens books I was told by a husband and wife team who write them is a very hard market to break into. They do educational books. I think it is sad when someone gives up. I always wonder did we lose a Lewis Carroll, a modern day Dickens? Keep writing. Keep trying.

Oh and I love the way your little girl thought it was a doctor's book. Good save.

Janna Qualman said...

Analisa - What a great meet and greet! And that's a great question you pose, too, about how many could have been incredible writers but have since given up.

colbymarshall said...

Hahahaha...that's hilarious! I have always wondered why those sections are so close together...

Janna Qualman said...

Colby - I know, right? Makes little sense.