MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Sunday, November 30, 2008

NEW AEI CLIENT, NOVELIST AMY HANSON

Guest post by novelist Amy Hansen

Before I started writing fiction, I had never experienced passion for a profession. Upon receiving a Master’s degree in English, I worked first as an assistant editor of a philosophy journal then wrote newsletters for a teachers union. I was good with words the way some people are good with their hands; it was my employable skill. Teaching high school also seemed like a reasonable occupation, so I went back to university for a certification and—in an effort to take a final class from a favorite professor—enrolled in a course entitled Intro to Short Story Writing. I’d never attempted to write fiction, but I st
oked my spark of an idea into a story that was voted best in the class. While my peers’ reactions were gratifying, it was the action itself of crafting character and plot that altered how I thought of myself. I was no longer just someone to whom writing came easily; I was someone who aspired to write.

I began teaching, and in my spare time I composed story after story. They flowed out of my fingers, and eventually I had enough for a collection. I began to query literary agencies and received many rejections before I got the call. An agent at a fantastic firm loved the three stories I’d sent, said he was shocked someone hadn’t signed me yet, and then asked me to send the entire collection. For eight weeks I checked my answering machine during prep periods and lunch. The phone was next to me on the couch, at the dining room table, and when the call finally came—he loved the stories but didn’t think he could sell them—I was devastated. I continued to write, though not as furiously, and was glad only a small circle of people knew that my hopes had been crushed. It pained me to think that I might be the cliché high school English teacher with a half-finished Pulitzer contender in a drawer.

NOVELIST AMY HANSON

After four years in the classroom and countless nights at my desk at home, a very different dream came true. My husband and I adopted a baby girl from China. Impending motherhood refocused my spare time to nesting. Fiction fell off the radar as real life seemed imminently more interesting. We made the trip and amidst all the joy and wonder and terror, I awoke one night in our hotel room in Guangzhou with the first line and plot of a novel. I tiptoed into the bathroom, feeling for the hotel pen and paper on my way, and wrote it down. No longer a teacher but a stay-at-home mother, I spent two years of nap times writing that book. As much as anything, the process kept me sane in my new world of playing on the floor and mommy-and-me swimming and The Wiggles. It was something I did just for me at a time when that was an eroding commodity. It was also something I—mostly—kept to myself. My husband, my mother, my best friend, my writing professor: they knew. But it wasn’t something I’d talk about at dinner parties or playgroups. I quietly queried agents again while returning to teaching part-time when my daughter started preschool. I had a few close calls, but this time when the rejections came, I wasn’t devastated. I noted the criticisms. Any remarks that came from more than one source I filed away, hoping to learn from my freshman effort, because I was already formulating my next book. And then came the shift: I no longer thought of myself as someone who wanted to write. I was a writer. I had been a good teacher and enjoyed working with teenagers, but I knew writing was where my energy and focus was meant to be. Luckily, my husband—thus far the sole patron of my art—agreed. That year in the classroom was my last.

The novel I wrote over the next eighteen months is the one that—after two more years of queries and rewrites—eventually led me to Ken Atchity. I spent my time at the computer, working, and attended a few conferences and workshops, where I was able to meet other writers. A recommendation from a conference organizer and my willingness to rework my manuscript for Ken led me to signing a contract with AEI.

I’ve since finished another novel and am in the early stages of the next one. The realization and declaration of what I am—a writer—occurred just over four years ago, and what I do—write, write, stare at a blank screen for hours, and write again—has transformed from crafting stories in semi-secrecy to having two novels out with publishing houses. In proclaiming first to myself and then to anyone who would listen that I am a writer, I took the most important step toward the next goal: paid writer.

The arts—be it fiction, theater, dance, or music—is, to my mind, the most competitive industry in the world, and simply stating you are a writer, actor, dancer, or musician doesn’t make it so. But if you don’t think of yourself that way, no one else will.

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