He was depressed throughout the six-week class. A prominent author in Charleston, he had won awards for his short stories and now led a workshop at the downtown public library for aspiring authors. I had participated in the group and benefitted from mingling with others who shared my love for the craft. I was amazed at the different genres represented--historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, poetry--a plethora of creativity sitting along the walnut conference table. Throughout the class, though, I sensed the teacher was "not all there." He would bring an exercise, but rarely showed enthusiasm or provided feedback--his affect flat. I surmised he was tired, as he talked of his rigourous schedule teaching at the local college and parenting his small children. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, as I'd read some of his work, and it was really good. I wanted to write as well as he did.
That sixth and last class, I determined that I'd work up my courage and provide the instuctor a copy of my book. It was 2010, and I'd self-published my memoir, An Ocean Away. I'd spent the money to have it professionally edited and then spent another significant amount to have it published. I was proud of my efforts and believed I'd given it my best shot. I was excited to give my book to this author I certainly looked up to. I waited until all the other students left the class and walked up to him and said, "I wanted to give you a copy of my book. I sense you know the effort it takes to get a book published." The man, looked at me, his gray-blue eyes somewhat distant, and said nothing. He took the book, flipped its pages and threw it in his brief case. Finally he said, "A lot of people are self-publishing these days." He didn't say thank you. He walked out of the room. I stood there, bathed in the ugly florescent lighting, his arrogance wafting through the room like a toxin.
For the next few days, I kept going back to my experience with this author. I felt dismissed and humiliated, my vulnerability wasted. But I didn't cave into his virulent response. I knew that I loved writing. I wouldn't give up just because of his noisy coldness. I would keep my dream alive to keep writing. I would plunge through the ice.
Recently, a friend and fellow writer, George Flynn, 81, gave me a copy of his newest book. George writes historical fiction. His knowledge of WWII is probably close to genius status. His latest book, Operation Hermes,George Flynn is an amazing work. When he gave the book to me, I realized I was holding something precious. I knew, in part, the work that went into his book. Now after publishing three books, no one other than a fellow author, knows the grind and sweat and re-writing and frustration and time it takes to get a book out.
After my experience with the depressed author, I vowed I would never disregard anyone who was vulnerable enough to share their writing with me. There is always something to gain from someone's viewpoint, even if it doesn't resonate with yours. And so I began reading. I loved the name Finbar McGreavy that George gave one of his characters. I appreciated his cover art. His descriptions are spot on. I scribbled a snail mail and told him thank you. "Keep writing, George," I said. "Keep writing."