MINING FOR MIRACLES
A couple of weeks ago, one of my blog readers remarked--in response to my piece about disappointment --“It isn’t over until you quit.” A simple enough idea and probably not original, yet with profound implications. Think about it:
That must have been the attitude of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini during his agonizing hours (months), of survival on a raft at sea. And later when he was tortured endlessly by the Japanese. Because of the account in “Unbroken” we know Zamparini made it back to the United States—only to face a new enemy: alcoholism. Yet he lived to be 97 . . . and when he was well into his nineties, one of my friends heard him give a speech.
Examples of not giving up keep coming to me. Three days ago I spent hours (in Boston) talking to my 55-year-old nephew, Jim Klumpp, who had just returned from a hike of 2,200 miles. For nearly five months he walked over 20 miles a day, the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. He wore out six pairs of shoes and could only take in enough calories by eating two Snicker bars before “dinner.” (The only part I would have liked.) One day he was so exhausted he consumed 10 Snickers in two days. And still he lost 20 pounds. And hey, he’s not a kid. Clearly I’m not the only one impressed. Jim’s daily blogs ended up with over 100,000 hits.
I have my own story of survival: at age 12, during a visit to Jones Beach in Long Island, I was swept into the ocean by a Sea Puss. The thing carried me so far out I could barely see any figures on the beach. With no idea what had happened, I believed I was going to die. Yet somehow, with zero hope, I kept swimming. After what seemed hours, the Coast Guard appeared with a 12-man rowboat. And even then, the boat came within inches of crashing into a rock jetty.
This event is described in my latest memoir, “The Tail on my Mother’s Kite.” Somehow the battle to find a publisher now looms large, though by comparison with the above stories it’s trivial. As I finished writing 263 letters to agents (16 different versions without getting an agent), I kept thinking about the lady who said it would be over only when I quit.
Which means I’ve decided not to quit. But how far should I go? Five hundred agent letters? (But no—not that many are left.) Direct queries to small publishers? Well, I’ve done it . . . but only a few take memoirs. And only one of those few answered my query—first with great praise for the manuscript, but ultimately a rejection. (Hence, the Blog: “Disappointment isn’t Defeat.”)
Here’s where you have to focus on tiny specks of good news: every agent who read the manuscript said great things about the writing. A few even offered hints about its failings—giving me the chance to make corrections. All the dozen friends who’ve read the manuscript loved it, showering me with hope (even knowing friends are supposed to love you).
Well, I’ve been through this before—the same scenario occurred with my memoir, “Higher Than Eagles.” After 14 years and three top-notch agents who couldn’t convince an editor, I finally found my own traditional publisher. Once published, the book acquired 5 movie options, including from Disney.
But hey, things change. If this book takes as long as “Higher Than Eagles,” I’ll be older than Zamparini.
So guess what? I’m trying unconventional stuff. With every New Yorker I meet I say, “In case you know an editor . . . ” I talk about the project to strangers, hoping I’ll meet somebody who knows somebody. I follow every lead . . . and sometimes imagine myself resorting to tricks and lies—which I might do, except I’m no good at lying.
Okay, there’s always self-publishing. But as a writing friend said, “Self-publishing will always be there. You’ve gotta keep trying.” Well, I am. I am. I am. I’m Mining for Miracles.