Call to Arms

When Mike and I were dating, I would send him lengthy emails filled with nonsense I hardly remember. He hardly does either, because I just said, “Hey, hon, do you remember those long emails I used to write you when we first started dating?”

He gave me this odd look and said, “You mean, like the ones you send me now when you’re mad at me?”

Ahem.

What I do remember was that my subject line would never have anything to do with the body of the email — on the surface. But there was always another layer. I do specifically remember Mike telling me he loved trying to figure out the connection.

I was much more crafty in my twenties.

I read an agent blog once where the agent said she would be loathe to sign a teenaged writer. She said that your first book is generally what you’re judged by: for future sales, for reviews, for pretty much everything. It does seem this would be the case. If your first novel never rises above midlist, it’s unlikely you’re going to hit the New York Times Bestseller list with your next one. If your first novel tanks, it’s unlikely you’re going to have a next one.

But the agent’s point was that teenagers rarely have enough maturity to pull off a compelling novel. Sure, you’ll see teenage writers make it. Look at Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Her first book was published when she was 14. It was also written for the 12-14 age set, and her literary agent happened to also be her high school teacher. The book is decent, but the romance, the “adult” decisions in the narrative make the book read like it was written by a kid. She’s a good writer — I have several of her books on my bookcase, and I do enjoy them — but even though she’s in her 20’s now, I’ll always see her as a “kid” writer. It’s going to take something truly stellar to break that mold.

I wrote my first novel in high school. I even landed an agent with it, almost without trying. Now, of course, I realize what a significant thing that was. I wish I could go back to that 18 year old Brigid and take her by the shoulders and shake her fiercely and say, “Do not fuck this up.” But I did. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t start writing something new with substance. I didn’t look at writing as a potential career. I let the rejection letters roll in while I kept riding horses and starting nonsensical urban fantasy novels that no one would ever see. My relationship with that agent finally died when I was 19, because he was retiring.

During the last trimester of my pregnancy, I couldn’t write a word. I told Mike it felt like all my creativity was being used up. It probably had more to do with the fact that I couldn’t put the laptop in my lap without surfing sites about what my baby looked like at 30 weeks, or checking to see what people had bought on my baby registry, but I was convinced that all my creativity was heading right to my belly. (Nickel, I hope you’re grateful.)

The vampire novel I was writing during that pregnancy eventually got put on a shelf. It was crap.

Because being a parent changes you. You stop trying to be what other people want you to be, and start being what your child needs you to be. That affects you in all aspects of life. Work, your relationship with your spouse. How could it not bleed into my writing?

I stopped worrying so much about what other people would think. I stopped playing it safe in my scenes. In the vampire novel, I remember stressing so much over whether I could use the F word. Now, Jack says it on just about every other page. I finally realized that I just had to write what I wanted to write, and to hell with everyone else’s opinions. Putting your heart on the page means just that: hold nothing back.

Some teenagers can pull that off. I sure couldn’t.

Thank god I messed it up the first time around.

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