Sometimes life requires a leap of faithPRIME – July 2014
By Debbie Gardner
I'll admit, I always harbor a small amount of envy when I interview a published writer, as I did for this month's feature story.
Over the years I've been lucky enough to get a peek inside the writing life of many local authors, but I find I'm always especially jealous when I meet someone like Michele Barker, who has taken the leap from a day job and squeezed-in writing to a full-time career as a novelist.
Like many of the individuals who choose journalism, public relations or technical writing as a career, I, too, once dreamed of becoming a published novelist.
Shortly after college with my newly minted degree in English in hand, I gave writing a stab, polishing up a series of short stories I'd started working on while in school .
I'm sad to say I still have the many letters I received telling me that my stories were not quite what such-and-such publication was looking for.
While at my first job, a stint writing advertising copy for a local department store, I also tried my hand a longer fiction.
Those two works sit unfinished on the bookshelf in our home office.
My excuse has always been that life – ailing inlaws, aging parents, a late-in-life family – has gotten in the way of finishing those books.
But now I'm wondering if I've simply lacked the drive to keep going.
I don't know if I could have stayed focused on my writing for 10 years, the time it has taken her to complete both of her successful novels while working.
And I don't know if I believe in myself enough to make it through finding and agent and getting published.
When we were chatting about her struggles to launch her first book, Barker told me that though she was initially thrilled her manuscript for "A Difficult Boy" had one the PEN New England Children's Book Caucus Discovery Award, she soon became frustrated when the organization did not move forward with finding her an agent for the book by 2005.
"They had my manuscript for almost two years and I made a lot of revisions without getting a contract," Barker said. "then it seemed I was on the brink of getting a contract and they pulled back and did not take [the book]."
Barker said PEN's treatment of her manuscript really got her angry.
"I felt like if I had gotten myself an agent while the editing process was going on I would have either gotten a contract or had gotten a 'no' sooner," she said.
Striking out on her own, she then sent more than 135 queries out to literary agents and editors, receiving about 85 rejections outright.
'"Quite a number didn't even respond," she noted.
Finally, she was able to convince one of the agents who initially rejected her manuscript to represent her.
"I got the 'no" from him and I said, 'Thank you for reading the book. Let me know if there is anything I can do to improve it, that would make you change your mind', " she said.
She said about a week later he agreed to represent her. By 2006 he had a contract for "A Difficult Boy," and in 2007, after her editor returned "six pages of editorial comments," she made the needed changes to get her book published.
Sometimes to get what you want, you have to be willing to make that leap, take that chance, give that extra push.
Barker did that to publish her first book, and now has done it again to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing for a living.
"I have the luxury of a very supportive spouse," she explained. "And I think it was also having the confidence that if it doesn't work out financially, I will be able to find work . that is a hard thing when you're in your 50s, especially in this economy."
So perhaps I wasn't cut out to be a full-time novelist. Leaving the security of a paycheck to pursue a dream is a leap of faith I probably wouldn't have been able to make – not when I was younger and especially not now, with a son preparing for high school and college.
But I will take Barker's advice to look for a supportive writing group – one that follows the Amherst Writers And Artists (www.amherstwriters.com
) supportive prompt- writing methodology – should the book writing muse ever move me again.
Who knows, there might be a chance for me yet.