Why am I always in NYC when the lights go out?
In August 2003, during a two-day whirlwind trip to the Big Apple with my daughter, Jocelyn, it was hot, humid and sweltering. The day we left, you could barely cross the street, what for the traffic, the cops and the pedestrians. Just a few hours after that, though, the lights went out when a huge power outage occurred. I think we had just gone through the Holland Tunnel, when everything went black.
In March, thoughts of that earlier journey were with me as I began mentally planning my itinerary for this trip, in the hope that I would be able to do some networking, as well as get my foot in the door for some future freelance reporting assignments at some national magazines.
I anticipated taking that trip in late May or early June. I was forced to postpone it when forces larger than myself intervened, however, in the way of pneumonia, the ‘flu, and a few family factors.
So now it’s nearly August and I’m just now in the Big Apple … where Con Edison can’t seem to figure out how to restore power to about 20,000 very hot and angry electricity customers who have been without lights for more than a week. (Thank goodness I’m staying in the Bronx, with some good friends.) Again, the lights go out when I’m in town. I don’t know if someone’s trying to tell me something, or what.
Well, in spite of having to delay my trip here, some pretty significant things have happened along the way, and the timing turned out perfectly. (Which would explain why I’ve been less than diligent in posting to this site as frequently as I wanted to … my apologies to all of you!) First of all, I learned in June that my book (the rough draft, since it’s still not published) took first place in this year’s annual West Virginia Writers Competition. That means I not only earned my very first dollar for a project that began back in 1988 when I started writing simply for my own personal satisfaction (using my dozens of diaries for source material), but also that Richard Currey, the author who judged my entry from among the 72 entered, must think I can write.
Richard Currey, for anyone who doesn’t know, hails from Parkersburg, West Virginia, although he (like me) found himself living in the Washington, D.C., area while still a child. And, he has gotten incredible praise for his own writing. From Currey’s web site, the Dallas Morning News had this to say about his work:
“When Richard Currey writes, he speaks the truth. The poetry of his language, his wisdom, and his compassion, sets us free. His journeys into the human heart are like tiny miracles…”
So the fact that Currey looked at my book and deemed it worthy of such an honor … well, it’s just very humbling. And it also tells me that I need to keep trying.
Part of being a writer – and news reporters are even worse at this (or they used to be, before the trend began for them to become the news!) – means that you are the person behind the scenes. You have pen in hand, notebook drawn, ready to fire with your ink the first time your subject speaks. But as an author (albeit, an unpublished one), you have to step out of the shadows and tell the world: “Here I am. Look at what I’ve done. I have something to say that no one else can.”
I’ve had a hard time doing that. And that needs to change. For in January, with the Sago Mine disaster, I realized that my story is not just about me or women like me. It’s about a people – an Appalachian people – and how their blood, sweat and tears are making their own lives more difficult than they ever needed to be. In turn, other people, in other occupations throughout the country, can glean something from the story those of us with connections to the coalfields have to share.
The reality that I must change my stance from being behind the scenes, to being in the scene, hit me when I received, unsolicited, a fabulous letter from a woman who once worked “as an editorial reader in the New York publishing world.” She pointed out that my book has a great potential to empower others, and as I read her words, I was struck by how important this story – my story – is.
At the same time, I finally received word that one of the top experts in his field (and a retired special agent from the FBI) has agreed to write the foreword for my book. Before last week, it was up in the air. Now, it’s been confirmed.
Then, the other day, a New Yorker himself told me to get off my duff and publish my book. You see, when my trip to NYC was delayed, I was fortunate enough to learn about the Backspace Conference, held at the Algonquin Hotel here in Manhattan just over the weekend. It brought agents, editors and authors together for two days of some of the finest networking I’ve been involved with in quite awhile. Among the people I met and spoke to was Joel Fried, another author (and quite a funny one) who heard about my book and made me promise to get my queries out to agents right away, so he can come to my first book signing in West Virginia.
So the last few days in the Big Apple have been intense, to say the least. And I’m not even talking about the power outage in Queens.