Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Point of it All

by Michelle Gagnon

The last few weeks have easily been among the most challenging of my writing career. I've been on tour, which sounds like great fun until you actually have to spend the greater part of a month away from your family, surviving on granola bars and coffee since events invariably take place at dinnertime and I haven't yet figured out how to work meals around that.

Plus for the first time I had an event where no one-not one person- showed. I realize that happens to most authors at one point or another, and I'm not claiming to generally draw crowds. But still-it was disheartening.

My publisher announced a new vanity-publishing imprint that caused quite a bit of furor (more on that here). And the ensuing back and forth consumed time and energy that I really couldn't spare.

Especially since I've been juggling the marketing of THE GATEKEEPER while rushing to meet an extremely tight deadline for my next book.

And, for the first time in my writing career, I stalled out.

One of my main characters was trapped in a very dark, hopeless place. And I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to extricate her from such a desperate situation. Not outlining had suddenly come back to haunt me for the first time. I was fairly certain I'd written myself into a corner.

As I dragged myself out of bed to catch a 6AM flight, it struck me as an apt metaphor. I'd spent years of my living striving to get to this point in my career, and for the first time since signing a writing contract, I wasn't enjoying it. I know that before I was published, listening to writers whine about their hardships always induced a snort- but there are occasional drawbacks to getting what you want. And as I shuffled through security yet again, it all seemed pointless. I felt trapped by deadlines, tour dates, and all of the ancillary nonsense that sometimes goes on in this industry. I was mired in the same place as my character.

Funny how life works sometimes. I opened my inbox to find this email:

My husband was a fan of yours. He entered one of your contests a year or so ago and won the book "Tunnels". You autographed the book and it meant a lot to him. He was reading the second book "Boneyard" when he was placed in hospice. He was very sick and he so desperately wanted to finish the book. I tried to read to him but he wanted to read it himself. He never got the chance to finish your book but I just wanted you to know how much he enjoyed them. Thank you for sending the autographed book. I, too, am reading your books and looking forward to next one's debut, Thank you for making the last months of his life just a bit happier.

I really can't express how much this email meant to me. It's easily the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my work-and it's absolutely more than it deserves. So the next time I find myself descending into that dark place, I have this lovely note to serve as my reminder. I am so very fortunate to be healthy and whole, doing what I'm doing.


  1. Isn't it nice how sometimes when you need a little something to pick you up, it happens?

  2. I agree, Michelle, those fan emails can sure make up for living in the La-La-Land called publishing. The ones that really blow me away are from other countries where the writer has to work at communicating in English. But they still took the time to write. It's nice to get a royalty check now and then, but when you touch someone else with your words and they take the time to tell you, that's the best payment of all.

  3. Yes, I am always amazed and touched by reader mail that seems to come at just the right time. We don't know all the ripple effects of our fiction, so when we hear of one such effect, it's a marvelous thing. Reminds us of the cool alchemy that is the writer-reader connection.

  4. If it makes you feel any better, and I don't suppose it will, I interviewed a very well-known and successful thriller novelist for ITW on Tuesday and somewhere along the way I said, "So, do you enjoy touring?"


    I had to laugh. "Well, that's honest."

    Some people do, apparently, but I suspect most writers find it a headache, particularly given the current joys of air travel.

  5. What a wonderful note!! And don't be discouraged on the book-signing- I would love to go to one sometime but I have never seen any advertised where I live.. maybe it just wasn't publicized to the people who would've gone?

  6. Thanks, everyone. I think the book signing was just one of those things-I remember a famous author once talking about signing at Costco (Robert Crais, maybe?) Apparently he spent the day directing people to bathrooms and explaining why he wasn't serving food samples.

    In a few hours I board a plane to Seattle, the last flight of this tour. I'm looking forward to spending the holidays at home.

  7. You are blessed and a blessing. Rare combination.

  8. Hi Michelle,

    You made me think. Really think. I can't stop writing--it's a passion. Something that burns way too strong inside of me. My heart won't let me quit.

    You got me thinking if it's worth it. If I make it, will my family be a part of it or will they not be invloved(such as in with touring). But then again your email you shared touched my heart.

    Gosh, what more could you ask for than touching a dying person's life!That touched my heart and I wasn't even the author:)

    I guess when it's meant to be it's meant to be, and our purpose in life clearly shows in other ways.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Michelle, What are touching note and yes, making an impact on a reader's life makes it all worthwhile. Hang on in there - I know how touring can be exhausting and while trying to meet a deadline it must be doubly so!

  10. Martha- I couldn't agree more. If my books manage to provide at least a brief respite from a person's troubles, then I've achieved more than I ever could have wished.

  11. That's the kind of letter that will truly keep one going in the dark times, Michelle. Really beautiful, thanks for sharing.

  12. Wowsers.

    Busy girl.

    Great letter.

    Keep Chin up.

    Who Dares, Wins

  13. I have confidence that you will find a way out. I want to read that next book. Then I can look at this place and see how you extricated yourself.

    What about going 2 or 3 pages back and re-writing from that point? Maybe doing it fresh will get you past it.

  14. Thanks so much for saying so, Marilynne. That's a great suggestion.