Tunnel to Prairie: Escaping My Story

The perennial pitfall of being human is getting stuck in shitty stories. These stories are like dark tunnels: Once we’ve entered, we see no choice except to keep going, hoping that maybe, if we’re lucky, the chute we’re in will intersect with one that’s a touch taller or wider. We forget that the tunnel roofs are mere sod-clumps, through which we could easily bust, to the fresh air and full sun of the prairie.

I am wondering, this morning, about the tunnel I’m in with respect to book publication, and what the view might be from the prairie.

For years I assumed I’d get an agent, who’d sell my book to the Big Five; all I had to do was write the best query letter ever, and revise my book till it shone. My query must have been pretty good, since it did win me quite a few requests for the manuscript – but none of those reads turned into offers. After an agent who’d given extensive feedback rejected my revision, saying she still didn’t have a vision for the book (meaning, I presume, an idea of how to sell it), I began to doubt its market prospects – maybe it did not have potential for wide appeal, or maybe it had the kind of potential only its author could see.

I revised my expectations. I entered a couple contests, queried a small press seeking Southern stories. One judge said no; the other is set (I believe) to decide by September; the small press has sent my full manuscript out to its panel of reader-advisors and will get back to me sometime.

So, I’m in limbo. I don’t wish to self-publish. I hope for news, every day.

The stock advice, for those shopping manuscripts, is to start something else. I’ve done that; I’ve been writing other things. Still: I wonder what I’d see, if I sought a bigger frame.

Stuck in my tunnel, I’m a lone writer, fighting other writers for limited space on a publisher’s list, on bookstore shelves. I obsess over whether I’ll edge them out, in the races I’ve entered. That light a long way off? Is it brightening? Dimming? Pulsing? Will it flicker out, before I reach it? How far must I trudge? How long must I wait?

Now I’m looking up. I’m seeing that the tunnel roof is matted with roots. I’m raising my hands to touch it, then shove it upwards. I’m surprised to find it gives easily; I glimpse a sliver of light! I push harder. Pop! goes the sod patch. I see sky. I hoist myself through my makeshift hatch onto a sea of grass.

I’d thought I was alone – but the prairie teems with writers, readers, writers who love other writers, writers who love to read. They neither race, nor wait in line; with dancing grace, they – we – interweave.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my memoir, Mating in Captivity, in which my twenty-two-year old self enters a cult with a radical take on sex and relationships. Learn more here.



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