by Linda Rodriguez
I had a dream for many decades, a dream that I would write novels that would be published by a major publisher to great reviews and win many honors. And for many years I had to put that dream on hold for lack of time as I worked a demanding and fulfilling job while raising a family. I still wrote whenever I could and still had my dream.
Poetry was shorter so I started writing poetry in those bits and pieces of time I could steal, and eventually some was published and then more. Finally, I had two books of poetry published to good reviews and even some awards. I was happy, but… I wanted to write novels, too.
Ultimately, I had to leave my job for health reasons. After a period of getting my health stabilized, I had time to write, and I wrote a novel. This novel won a major competition and was published by a major Big Five publisher. It got tons of great reviews and won some national honors. I was happy with my editor and publicist and loved my book covers.
My publishers were happy with the sales—for a first book. It didn’t put me in line for the New York Times bestseller list any time in the near future. And my publishers even wanted more books, but they didn’t want to pay much in the way of an advance for them. The whole industry had gone this way of drastically smaller advances, it seemed. I began to fret about sales, following the BookScan numbers and Amazon rankings all the time. Even as everything in my dream came true, I became depressed and stressed about my sales and my future.
A good friend, a literary fiction writer who teaches in an MFA program, came to town on book tour, and my husband and I took him to dinner. As usual, we spent the night talking writing and the state of publishing. This is what writers tend to do, I’m afraid. He asked me about my book, and I told him about the Barnes & Noble Pick of the Month and the national book club selection and the reviews. But, I added, not wanting him to think I was more successful than I was, it wasn’t translating into real money. My friend looked at me and gently said, “Linda, what you’ve got is what every MFA student in America wants and most of the faculty, too.”
And he was right, of course. I had been phenomenally lucky. Instead of celebrating and enjoying all that wonderful good fortune, a dream come true, I had allowed myself to fall into the trap of moving the goal line until it was once more out of reach. I wasted all the goodness of part of that year with that silliness.
Then, just as my third book was published, I discovered I had cancer and began a nightmare of multiple surgeries and treatments, not to mention terrible side effects and lifesaving but pain-inducing and energy- and strength-draining medicines. I haven’t had one undrugged night when I could sleep the whole night long since. I couldn’t do necessary social media and in-person events to promote my book during that time. I couldn’t write for much of that time. I couldn’t even read for a good chunk of it. I berated myself for wasting so much of what should have been the happiest years of my life now that it once more seemed out of reach.
But I am determined to do no more of that. I’m finally cancer-free, though I still have to take the meds and treatments for a number of years to make sure it doesn’t come back. I’ve stopped being a patient and am once again a writer. I’m living the dream I always wanted—my books in reader’s hands with great reviews and up for awards. I no longer care what the BookScan numbers are. I’m enjoying this dream come true right here and now.
I’ve decided that my focus needs to be on writing the best books I can and doing all I can to see they connect with readers. The rest is out of my control, so I can’t waste my energy worrying about it. I’m just going to be happy living the dream.
Have you ever found yourself moving the goalposts as you accomplish some desired goal or make some long-desired dream come true? Have you ever let the things you can’t control mess with your emotions to the detriment of the things you can? What have you learned in these kinds of situations?
Linda Rodriguez’s third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear, was a selection of the Las Comadres National Latino Book Club and a Latina Book Club Best Book for 2014. Her second Skeet mystery, Every Broken Trust, was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club, International Latino Book Award, and a finalist for the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and an International Latino Book Award. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” has been optioned for film. Find her on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LindaRodriguezWrites, and on her blog http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.