Back when I was in college, I wrote a novel. I called it The Lotus Eaters, and it was an odd story about a brother and sister (adults) who lived with their frail, eccentric, stray-animal-collecting mother in the Lake District in England. Their father abandoned the family when the kids were young, moved to Italy, and remarried. The siblings and the mother plod along through their humdrum, dysfunctional, insular lives until one day their step-brother turns up on their doorstep. The step-brother is a manipulative, handsome, and pretty unlikable person but, despite her best efforts, the sister falls in love with him. This destroys the brother, who is already mentally fragile, and who has an almost incestuous obsession with his sister. Anyway, none of it ends very well for anyone.

I would peck away at writing The Lotus Eaters on my word processing typewriter in my dorm room. I spent two years working on it. When it was finished I was so proud of what I had done, despite the fact that the guy I was dating at that time casually commented that the title was “pretentious” (and maybe it was — I had named the book after Tennyson’s poem – good grief). But somehow, in the intervening years, the manuscript ended up in a box, shuttled between moves, across states, from apartments to houses to homes. Eventually, it came to rest in a rubbermaid bin in our crawl space. I was never happy about that fact.

I pushed the book out of my mind until one day almost five years ago. I was sitting in the library, waiting for my daughter to finish leafing through a book, when I looked up at the “New Releases” shelf and saw my book on the shelf. I gasped. I felt like someone had slapped me. I snatched it off the shelf. Of course, it wasn’t MY book, but Tatjana Soli’s beautiful debut novel, by the exact same name. I almost cried. All the while I had been raising my babies, putting my writing on the back burner, dreaming my dreams about someday sitting down to write another novel, and someone had soundly, brilliantly, beaten me to it — taken my title and, along with it, my book. That’s exactly what it felt like. I fought back tears as we left the library. I felt defeated, and cheated. How could I possibly have time in my busy day to carve out even one hour to write? And, even if I did, what was the point of it, anyway? Other people got published — not busy working moms like me who needed every spare moment they had to hold it all together.

Of course, Soli did not take the title, nor did she take my book! But that moment in the library changed my writing life in big ways. I could sit around and wait for others to write their stories and send them out into the world, or I could pull myself together, stop making excuses, and make amends to my first novel by sitting down to write another. And then another. And one more, until I could get my words out there, and share a story with the world. That’s the way it is with dreams: you can do nothing but sit and dream them until they make you crazy with longing, or you can roll up your sleeves and do what you have to do to make them happen.

I’m so glad I was sitting on that library bench that day, staring idly at the spines of all the books in front of me. I have been thinking about that day a lot lately, now that my wonderful and very own literary agent has sent my book out into the world on submission. I don’t know what will happen, but I like to close my eyes and imagine my book sitting on a library shelf some day, spine facing proudly out.

Advertisements