Last year I signed up for a six-month long master essay/memoir workshop at Denver’s only independent writing school, the kick-assish Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I laid down my good money and my essays for people I hardly knew so that they could tell me what they thought, and in turn I would tell them what I thought about their work. We squirm and giggle before each class, and make disclaimers before having our pieces read and critiqued. We apologize in advance for what we are about to submit. “It’s really rough,” we say, or, “For those about to read this piece of crap, I salute you.”
We turn in our stuff, dead trees be damned and wait for the slings and arrows, and of course, my classmates are not hiding in the bushes the next day to napalm me on my way to the car. Nor am I filling their gas tanks with sugar and figuring out how to do them bodily harm with their own manuscripts. We are nice and tender and supportive while being honest and helpful; the way I’d like to be treated with my craft and calling, yes, but it’s also the way I’d like to be treated in general.
It’s no worse than a lot of other vocations, but it’s a hard gig, this writing thing, and without role models, without community, it’s too easy to be too hard on one’s self. I made the mistake of trying to work in a vacuum for several years, and because I’m me, tried taking inspiration from the suite of quality programming at VH1. I would spend my lunch hour watching Beyonce Revealed, or The Fabulous Life of Christina Aguilera, or Behind the Music, shows that weren't helping me develop any sort of skill, but that started me on the important tack of thinking that success in the arts is possible. Period. The problem with these shows is that, while they do mention the struggles and sacrifices these stars-to-be had to make to further their careers and empires, it’s easy to overlook them. What we don’t see and can’t see in these glossy shows are the real doubts, the hurdles, and backbreaking, soul-breaking setbacks that artists must endure to bring their works to light. What we don’t get is the journey vs. destination philosophy. We get a lot of imagery, but none of it has anything to do with real heroism. Well, duh. What did I expect?
Once I’d drawn the conclusion that one can only spend so much time with VH1’s reality shows without risking brain injury, I imagined other heroes of the journey. Every time I pushed myself away from the desk and said, “This is too hard,” I would remind myself of Jane Austen, who had to use a well of ink and a quill by candlelight for god’s sake to do her writing, which was frowned upon in the first place, since she was shirking her other womanly duties like using her spindle and loom or something. But eventually I decided relying on Austin was lame, too, because to be honest, I don’t really identify with someone whose work I haven’t read since high school, and even then I was only pretending to read it. As long as I’m telling the whole truth, I should also say that the things I know about her are only secondhand; they’re bits and pieces of facts I’ve heard my well-read friends mention, and I’m probably making up a fair bit of it to fill in the gaps.
But forget all that, because today it’s with great relief that there’s a new hero in town, and her name is Patry Francis. She’s the author of the just-released novel, Liar's Diary. **UPDATE** Penguin Group, publisher of THE LIAR'S DIARY is offering a 15% discount if you order direct from them. To receive the discount, type PATRY in the code field.
To use the lovely and talented Susan Henderson’s words from LitPark (with permission), here’s why:
“What if you worked for years as a waitress and then went home at the end of the day to your husband and four kids, and in those rare minutes of free time, you dared to dream that one day you might write a book? This is the story of my friend, Patry - a story that leaves out years of false starts, revisions, and rejection slips. It's a story that writers know intimately, though the details are different. Every one of us is well acquainted with the struggle of getting a story on paper, of honing it and believing in it enough to send it out, only to receive rejection, or worse, silence for our efforts.
Imagine, after many years, you beat the odds. You finish that book. You find that agent who sells your manuscript. Your dream is about to become a reality. But just as your book is due to be released, you discover you have an aggressive form of cancer.
Patry's story struck such a deep chord with many of us, not just because she is our friend, but because those of us who know her or read her blog have relied on her company through the ups and mostly downs of trying to write and sell a book. She is our buoy. She has shown us time and again her great gift for shedding light in the dark. Even her blog post about her cancer showed this - in her greatest time of need, she was still somehow comforting all of us and showing us glimpses of joy. Patry is part one of this amazing story.”
What happened after that is like one of those holiday movies about giving and love that you can’t help but watch again and again, despite the corniness and what your cold-hearted husband might say. (As if he doesn’t cry like a baby during every episode of Little House on the Prairie ever taped.) Uh-hem. On New Year's Day, or thereabouts, author maven Laura Benedict wrote to author maven Susan Henderson, calling her attention to Patry's publication date. "Perhaps we could do a 'Patry Francis/Liar's Diary' blog-o-rama or carnival or something to promote the book?" she wrote. "I'm such an amateur at this stuff that I don't know what's possible."
Susan didn't give a moment's thought to what we might try to pull off, or how; Susan simply said, "Yes! Let's do it!"
“In less than one month, over 300 bloggers, writers, readers, and just big-hearted people signed on to take part in this day. I am overwhelmed and grateful for every single person who said yes or helped spread the word, but let me reserve some enormous thanks for the people who traded hundreds of emails with me to put this together: Karen Dionne of Backspace, Jessica Keener of Agni and The Boston Globe, Dan Conaway of Writers House, and Alice Tasman of the Jean Naggar Literary Agency.
What began as a personal gesture of caring for a friend became an astonishing show of community - writers helping writers; strangers helping strangers; and most surprising of all, editors, agents and publishers, who have no stake in this book, crossing "party lines" to blog, to make phone calls, and to send out press releases.
This effort has made visible a community that is, and has been, alive and kicking - a community that understands the struggle artists go through and rejoices in each other's successes. It's a community made up of many small voices, but - guess what? - those many small voices can create some noise. So while today is for Patry, it's also a symbolic gesture for all of you who work so very hard for little or no recognition, for all of you who keep going despite the rejections, and for all of you who have had illness or other outside factors force your art or your dreams aside. We are in this together.”
So Patry Francis, when I’m struggling or fighting with myself or isolating myself from what’s wonderful and right, I will think of you—and Laura, and Susan, and all the other friends I’ve met along the way. I salute you. And as my three-year-old likes to say, “Love you, mean it.”