Today is the day. Second in Command is officially in the world! I am excited — and slightly terrified — but mostly excited for friends and family to be able to read something I wrote, to be able to hold a book in their hands and say, hey, I know the chic who wrote this!
The journey to this moment isn’t exactly as I’d planned, but whatever is, right? I was working on an blog interview earlier this week and reflecting on my wandering path as a writer. It’s definitely been in my blood since forever. I used to make up songs about the weird wallpaper in my parents’ bathroom, and there are an usually weird number of notebooks in our house that contain my random thoughts scrawled on the pages. I write. It’s what I do. Whether or not it’s any good has always remained a mystery. I never successfully wooed anyone with my poetry, but there was that time I wrote a haiku as a model for my seventh grade students entering into a local newspaper contest and ended up with the winning entry. I’ve accumulated my share of rejections from the industry, but as my husband is fond of saying, it only takes one yes in a pile of no’s.
The first novel I wrote wasn’t very good. I know that now. At the time I thought it was genius, having never been able to write an entire novel before that moment. I wanted EVERYONE to read it. I should have kept it to myself, neatly bound and stuffed into a dresser drawer. But I didn’t and had to endure a painful amount of criticism, most of which was rightly deserved. My second novel was better, but it just couldn’t deliver all that I’d hoped it would, and it too suffered criticism and rejection. (Note: I haven’t given up on her just yet, but she needs to age a bit, like a fine wine, until I figure out how to sort out the difficulties.) While I was in the painful throes of revisions with #2, an opportunity came my way. One of the members of my critique group is an editor and she was starting a new imprint aimed at reluctant readers. She wanted young adult books written in verse. Pitch your ideas to me, she said. Hmm, I thought. I could do that. She had a list of possible topics and one of them was a parent on deployment.
My mind went immediately to 2003. We lived in Silverdale, Washington, on an incredibly steep dead end street full of military families. My husband left in January for a three week underway and didn’t come home until late September. Our next door neighbors were a sweet family with three young kids. Mom served on a deployed hospital ship. Dad worked in Seattle, which from where we lived took over an hour to get to. I remember checking up on the kids once in a while and helping them with the yard work. (We each had about .08 acres of land. Seriously. You could have cut the front lawn with a pair of clippers.) Sometimes they had me over for dinner, and once I went to a school meeting for the middle son. There’s an unwritten agreement among military families: we look out for one another.
I wanted to tell a story about a family struggling through deployment, and I wanted it to be universal so that someone who has never experienced deployment could understand what the characters felt. Separation is hard. On everyone involved. And we all handle it differently. What if one character wanted to be strong on the surface even though he was hurting on the inside? What if another character was angry and needed to act out his feelings, even if it meant getting in trouble? I wrote a poem about two brothers who promise to look out for each other. Sketched it out in the back of one of my notebooks and then read it out loud to my writing group. They loved it, so I kept going. I asked my kids to help me with character names and worked on the pitch.
My idea was accepted, and from there I had deadlines, something I have discovered is very helpful in the writing world. Left to my own devices, I’ll write when the muse strikes, but give me a calendar with something due and I’ll sit at my laptop like it’s my job. Because it was, in a way. This was the first time I got paid to write.
So here we are, a year after turning in the initial draft, a copy of my book sitting next to me on the desk like no big deal. Only it is a big deal. My kids actually read it. A book I wrote. With my picture in the back. Youngest seemed most excited about that part and wanted to know if I realized all the stuff written in my bio. (I wish I had video taped him incredulously saying, “What? Featured in Adoptive Families magazine?!?”) Oldest, who disagrees with everything I say/do/recommend said it was, “Pretty good.” My parents haven’t read it yet, but they are flying from Florida into the icy winter grips of Buffalo to attend my launch party. And my late grandmother has been sending me signs all month. She’s proud, I think.
So yeah, I’m pretty excited about today. And I hope people like the book. But if they don’t, that’s okay. Poetry isn’t for everyone. But I hope it lands in the hands of a kid, or a spouse, or someone that feels the loneliness that comes when someone you love is far away — possibly in danger, and you are doing everything you can to keep it together for your siblings, or your kids, or maybe just yourself as I had been back in 2003. I hope that person reads my words and feels a little stronger. A little less alone.
Happy book birthday, Second in Command!!