I started writing Homefront in the winter of 2004, just before Christmas. I’d been driving a cab in Tennessee and quit the job so I would have time to write.
While driving, I’d listened to NPR every morning and every evening (it was a 12-hour shift) and had heard countless authors being interviewed. I fantasized about one day being one of those authors. But it wasn’t a realistic fantasy; it’s like dreaming of being on Oprah. You can be pretty sure it’s never going to happen.
I stayed home every day after quitting driving and started writing my first book on a laptop my mom had given me . A few months into it, after finishing 80 single-spaced pages (so, half a book), I deleted the whole thing and started over. From page one. New characters, new names, a new story, a new p.o.v.
The rewrites, revisions, loooong query process (which covered me in enough rejections to make for a less romantic version of the rose-petal girl in American Beauty), and ultimate self-publishing decision – which meant formatting, more revising, more formatting, cover design, waiting for ISBN approval, etc. – took until February of 2007.
After that, it was all about marketing. I started small.
Flyers. MySpace. Bugging people for reviews and blurbs. Waiting. Sending letters to local newspapers. If I were going to get Homefront noticed by the “big” people (like NPR), I needed something–reviews, notice, praise–to go along with the book when I sent it out.
I became an obsessive marketer.
Truly obsessive. I was never so sick of a book cover, so sick of a project, so sick of my own name. I’d watch commercials that have J.Lo and Beyonce advertising anything from socks to celery sticks, and I’d think, “How can you not want to shoot yourself in the face?”
(I imagine it’s different if there’s a publicist doing it for you. All you have to do is show up when you’re told, and then leave. The rest–the pushing of your name, your product–is done by someone else.)
Anyway – I’d been doing everything I could possibly think of to get Homefront out there. Had the reviews not been good, I’d probably have given up. If a book simply isn’t being picked up by an agent or publisher, there must be a time the writer comes to terms with the fact that it might be awful and then lets it go. But, reviews indicated Homefront wasn’t awful, and because of that, giving up would have felt like…well…giving up.
Even so, I did eventually sort of give up, because just before moving to Connecticut in late 2007, I’d had enough of the book and enough of myself. I wanted to start a new project, and it’s difficult to write something new when your head is stuffed with an old story (for me, anyway…I tend to be all or nothing, sometimes). I figured the only way to get into the new book was to retire my efforts toward the old.
Setting it aside felt great, even if I hadn’t managed to get the book the kind of attention, or serious consideration, I’d been hoping for. It was like taking off pajamas I’d been wearing for a month. Combined with moving to New England–which I’d been wanting to do since 1996–giving up on Homefront made me feel like I really was starting fresh. Finally.
But not for long.
When I got to Connecticut, I didn’t find a job right away, so there was little to do during the day. I thought, if I just write one more query…maybe it would be like those stories you hear: “I was this close to giving up, I sent out a last-ditch query letter, and BAM! It was picked up by the agent, then by Little, Brown, and now I’m a multi-millionaire best seller!”
I sent out the query. It was rejected.
I wrote internet radio shows and got myself a few interviews. (I’ll show you, rejectors!)
After about two weeks, I found a job at a newspaper, my first reporting job. Which meant I had a lot to learn and a lot to focus on that wasn’t Homefront.
While listening to NPR in Conn. the way I did every day on my way home from work in Tenn., I “met” Faith Middleton. (I always had NPR on, not only because I liked the station, but because even if I were in the mood for music, the stations there didn’t offer much. And my 1992 tape player was eating my 1996 tapes.)
“Hm,” I thought. “A local NPR broadcast. Local. Local local.”
I’d already sent a copy of the book to NPR’s Morning Edition (and even more “yeah, right” shows – hey, ya gotta try) and had heard nothing, but not hearing back had become so ordinary that I didn’t (and don’t) even flinch at being ignored anymore.
I sent an email to Faith Middleton, told her about the book and about why I thought it was important, and she wrote back the same day to say she’d like to have me on.
Faith Middleton. Of the Faith Middleton Show. On NPR.
This was NPR.
And, all right, so the station was not NPR (national) but WNPR (local), but WNPR is heard in three states. And it only took a little reading up on Faith Middleton to know I should be incredibly, incredibly honored – and feel extremely fortunate – for her to have said ‘yes’ to me.
Her bio as posted on the Connecticut Public Broadcasting website:
Faith Middleton has twice received the “Pulitzer” of broadcast journalism, The Peabody Award. Middleton also is a recipient of the Ohio State Award. In May of 2008, Faith received the Mark Twain Award from the Connecticut Press Association and Humanitarian Award from The Children’s Community Programs of Connecticut.
Joining the ranks of Helen Keller, Richard Rodgers, Arthur Miller, and Dr. Henry Lee, Faith was recently the recipient of the Distinguished Public Service Award of The Connecticut Bar Association. Now in her 29th year as the host and executive producer of The Faith Middleton Show, Faith is heard in prime-time six days a week in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York on WNPR, as well as on the Internet at wnpr.org.
I drove to New Haven a few weeks later and saw the inside of the WNPR studio.
To listen to the show (and the interview), click here. (Her whole show is good. If you’re interested in her interview with me, it’s about 2/3 of the way through the podcast.)
The point of this long entry, I suppose, is to illustrate what can happen when you not only believe in what you’ve written (and receive the reviews and the feedback you need to assure you the work is truly good, and not just something you and your friends like), but also how achievable at least the small dreams are when you are willing to be indefatigably, sickeningly, uncomfortably, and brazenly persistent.