Friday, January 8, 2010
I wrote the first draft of Bloodroot in secret. I spent hours shut away in my bedroom with a notebook and pen, emptying the story from my head onto paper. It took almost a year to form a novel from the messy collection of character sketches and scenes I had accumulated. For a while after finishing that rough draft, Bloodroot was mine alone. I kept it to myself, not even showing it to my husband. Having poured so much effort and so much of my heart into the manuscript, I was nervous about sharing it. But there came a time when I felt a need for constructive feedback, so I applied to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2007. I was glad to be accepted, but a little intimidated by the notion of a workshop. I couldn’t have known then how the experience would change my life.
The Sewanee Writers’ Conference is held each summer on the campus of the University of the South. Over two weeks, I had the opportunity to learn about the craft of writing from authors like Richard Bausch and Jill McCorkle, benefiting from the advice they gave not only to me, but to the other writers in the workshop. I was lucky enough to meet with Jill for a one-on-one manuscript evaluation and she gave me some invaluable suggestions. Bloodroot needed revising, but Jill saw promise in my rough draft and offered to put me in touch with a literary agent once it was ready to be submitted.
Two months later, when I finished the revision, Jill introduced me to New York agent Leigh Feldman. Knowing that Leigh had represented Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, and Arthur Golden, who wrote Memoirs of a Geisha, I was nervous to have an agent of her caliber reading my story. I was over the moon when, on the day before I turned 32, she called and offered to represent me. Not long after that, she submitted Bloodroot to a list of major publishers. She explained it might take as long as a month for editors to respond, so I was happily surprised when she got back in touch after less than a week to say that Robin Desser, who is now my editor at Knopf, wanted to work with me.
Now Bloodroot will have a life of its own, and all I can do is watch what happens next. I look forward to all that’s ahead, but there’s fear as well. It’s hard letting go of the story I wrote in private and releasing it into the world. I have to remind myself to keep the creative part of being a writer separate from the public part. When I shut myself away with my notebook, I have to forget everything else and let each new story be secret again.