Fear of Flying: Inside the Memoir-on-Submission Wind Tunnel

September 5, 2017 § 18 Comments


By Cameron Dezen Hammon

“What is it Mama?” my daughter asked, her so voice so hushed I could barely hear her. “What did they say? Mama?”

My daughter is not a quiet person. When she speaks, she’s usually heard. Maybe she was afraid of my answer. Or maybe I couldn’t hear her over the rush of blood in my ears, the slap of my palms on the hot steering wheel, the tepid air conditioner in my ancient Honda, barely keeping out the one-hundred-degree Texas heat.

I was in a Starbucks drive-through, my 11-year-old watching slime videos on her phone in the backseat. We’d just come from iFly, an indoor skydiving place on the Interstate 10 feeder road. My agent had sent my memoir out in early July to 45 editors, and since then I’d become an expert at choosing activities–like indoor skydiving—that prevented me from obsessively checking my email. I’d taken a two-day road trip through the desert with no cell service. I’d made a vision board (ok, I made three.) It’s hard to check email with glue on your fingertips. And I discovered flying. iFly offers two minute “flights” in a 90 mile-per-hour wind tunnel. Two-minute intervals during which I couldn’t do anything but focus on keeping my body steady, my mouth closed (no one wants wind-tunnel cheeks), and chin up. What better metaphor for the process I was in.

“Mama?” my daughter asked again from the backseat.

“They said no, baby,” I replied, surprised by the catch in my voice.

When my agent first sent my memoir out, a couple of editors reacted almost immediately with good news. They were taking it to editorial boards, getting additional reads. My book, This Is My Body, is about my conversion from the Jewish agnosticism of my New York upbringing to the Southern evangelicalism of my husband’s. It’s about the romantic and political turmoil that followed (hello, Trump,) causing me to strip my beliefs to the studs and re-build from the ground up. Because it’s a book about love that also deals heavily with the evangelical subculture and what it means for women, I knew it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. Spirituality isn’t exactly the bread and butter of New York publishing. But I dared to hope.

Idling in the drive-through, full of post-flying false confidence, I unwisely checked my email. “It was a classic editorial vs. publicity stand-off,” my agent wrote. “Publicity won… There’s a lot of consensus about your writing… but there’s a disconnect with the business brass about how to reach readers.” This was one of the few progressive religious publishers brave enough to take on books dealing with controversial, too-often ignored issues in the evangelical church. Their mission statement read like the mission statement for my life. And the editor had loved my book, loved my writing. They were—my agent thought, I thought—the perfect fit.

I felt a tide of emotions when that email came in. Shame. Anger. Fear. Embarrassment. I’m a writer; I know rejections by the boatload are part of this life. I’ve had rejections by the boatload. But I’d developed—or so I thought—a way to avoid being paralyzed by them. This one hit me with the force of the iFly wind tunnel. It took my breath away.

No one knows what goes into writing our books quite like our children, our lovers, our partners. Our butts get numb and our health suffers, maybe we lose our hair, keys, minds—while glued to the computer screen. But they lose us. Or mine did, at least for a time. For six months last year while juggling three jobs and somehow managing to not tank my marriage, I’d taken a collection of fragmented essays and turned them into a book, a book I’m proud of. My daughter—in her last year of elementary school, her last year of being a kid before entering that netherworld of pre-teen—patiently withstood my divided attention. She pulled me back—to her after school activities, her latest math test, her plans for the weekend—when I got that far-off look in my eyes that meant I was solving some timeline, dialogue or structure puzzle in my mind. But she also celebrated with me. We jumped up and down in our socks, sliding on the wood floor when I found out I’d placed an essay with a dream publication. We toasted with Sprite at our favorite neighborhood restaurant when I finally finished the first draft of the book, and secured representation with a fancy New York literary agent. What took my breath away was not only the loss of this and other opportunities to see my book born into the world (35 more publishers had also passed, my agent included in the email) but that my daughter, my cheerleader, nervously sipping her black tea lemonade as we pulled into traffic, was also experiencing that loss.

It’s true that it would been nice to impress the “business brass,” those people with the power to write checks that could potentially replace the crumbling siding on my garage, or upgrade the ancient Honda. But that’s not why I started writing. I started writing because the terror of not writing was greater than the terror of writing. Because the joy of writing something new, of applying ass-to-chair and performing the mystical alchemy of revision, of seeing a project—like this essay—from start to finish, that joy is better than almost any other I’ve known.

“All is not lost, baby,” I said a few minutes later when I caught my breath between traffic lights.

I know that,” she said, with her characteristic half eye-roll. As if nothing could be more obvious.

I choose to believe the right editor for my book is still out there. In the meantime, I’m writing. That’s what my daughter sees. And for now, that’s enough.

 

_____________________________________

Cameron Dezen Hammon is a writer and musician whose work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Brooklyn Review, The Rumpus, Ecotone, Guernica’s “The Kiss” series, The Literary Review, Houston Chronicle, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Seattle Pacific University, and is at work on a memoir about religious and romantic obsession.

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§ 18 Responses to Fear of Flying: Inside the Memoir-on-Submission Wind Tunnel

  • Keep the faith — writing your truth is a vulnerable, raw exercise; publishing another hurdle, but I’m praying and pulling for you! xo

  • With the quality of writing in this post, and your stellar bio, I have no doubt you will publish that book, plus others. Thanks for this brave telling. It is much appreciated.

  • bethfinke says:

    I feel your pain. Had a few similar experiences with my ms getting to editorial boards and then rejected, etc. If you are interested, please feel free to leave a message on my blog or find the contact page on my web site if you’d like me to send information on the small Indie publisher that just published my book, I think they might take an interest in yours.

  • Joanne says:

    I hope your book finds the right publisher. I’d love to read it.

  • I’d read this book in a heartbeat.

  • wcdameron says:

    I am so with you on this. I wanted every single editor to fall in love with my manuscript (and their editorial boards too.) My agent still says he “has a good feeling,” but while I wait, my writing feels stunted, as if the only reason I am writing is for a book deal. Thank you for writing this and for letting me know I am not alone.

  • Ugh, as someone who hasn’t even gotten an agent yet, this is hard to hear. I really hope your book makes it into the world. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things, and setting an amazing example for your daughter. Thanks for sharing.

  • Melissa Matthewson says:

    Thank you, Cameron, for sharing your experience! I’m in the process of trying to get my own essay collection accepted by an agent or press, and I’ve been on the verge of giving up many times. I appreciate your reminder about why we write at all. It’s hard to remember at times when we feel defeated. Keep faith! Crossing my fingers for you that it happens soon!

  • Patti M Hall says:

    It IS a wind tunnel, isn’t it? That’s a terrific metaphor. We don’t want to be waiting but we are waiting, and while doing so we don’t write (exactly), we aren’t busy (exactly) and I guess we aren’t living (if we aren’t careful). Half way through circulation I pulled my manuscript back because the consensus of opinion was so generously pointing to a rework. Now I’m reworking, and of course it will be okay, just like your wise daughter thinks! Great post, thank you.

  • […] via Fear of Flying: Inside the Memoir-on-Submission Wind Tunnel — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Virginia Boudreau says:

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing this piece; it is at once lyrical and poignantly precise. You’ve nailed those hard-to-articulate feelings we all experience on a daily basis and managed to capture the whole agonizing (yet wonderful) process. Best of luck with your endeavor. After reading this I have no doubt your work will find a home soon. I, for one, will be looking for it. Cheers to you and your amazing daughter! ..

  • nanamoon says:

    Try Canada…..

  • ascreamin says:

    Thank you for writing/sharing this. I can certainly relate to the family stuff. My 11 year old keeps assigning me deadlines for finishing a first draft of my memoir, which we keep adjusting. Good thing he’s flexible.
    I look forward to seeing your book in print in the future! Hang in there. Sounds like you will. Amy

  • So well written, as is The Rumpus article. Thank you! A joy to discover your work today. May your ms find its rightful home with the best editor at the pivotal moment in time

  • herheadache says:

    Reblogged this on Her Headache and commented:
    And, through it all, the writer keeps writing, inspiring other writers to keep writing too.

  • I had no idea there were comments here! Thank you! Thank you for reading and for these generous responses. Good to know we are all in this together. 🙂

  • Annie Scholl says:

    Just starting this process. Thank you for writing this. Cheering you on!

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