Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Reading, A Writer in the Family (no, two), A Coincidence (or not)

I'm a hugely pragmatic person. Planning, facing reality, hard work--these are my guideposts. Write, revise, rewrite, submit, submit, toss rejections aside, learn from it all, repeat.

But once in a while, I'm reminded of something my father often said: "Dream a little."

My father has been gone for eight years. Friday, October 17, is his birthday, and he would have been 88 years old. In a striking coincidence, I'll be reading from my manuscript on that day, essays about the relationship that developed between the two of us after he died.  

The event is part of Live Literature, at Montclair State University, where I'm lucky to be teaching this semester. A fiction writer will also read, and then we'll both be taking questions from the audience – students from many writing classes, other members of the campus community, and perhaps alumni gathered there for Homecoming weekend.

When I was invited to read that day, I cringed a little at the timing, then recognized the opportunity for what it was: confirmation, not coincidence. Affirmation, not accidental. And, okay, maybe I'm choosing to see synergy where there's only a planning perk. Maybe I'm just lucky.

All his life, my father, forced to quit high school in tenth grade to help support his parents and siblings, longed for more education. Seeing both his daughters graduate from college gladdened him. A frustrated writer, he squirreled away short stories and poems. He read always, and every morning when I reach for the newspaper, every night when I reach for a book, I think of him, teaching himself about the world, one book, one newspaper, one article, one word at a time.

My father, who loved Las Vegas and eventually retired there, believed his birth date, 17, was lucky. He always inked that number when playing keno and tossed a chip on it when at the roulette table, frequently winning. He lost a lot too. When he was assigned a hotel room with both a 1 and a 7 in it, he assured everyone that it would be a good room, a great vacation. And if at first it wasn't, he made it so.

The words about my father started spilling from my pen less than 18 hours after he died, on an airplane pushing west from New Jersey to Vegas; I didn't stop for almost five years, not until a memoir-in-essays emerged. 

Like a lot of writers, when I began seeking traditional book publication, I started a spreadsheet tracking my progress through the rounds of submission to small literary publishers and university presses. There have been a few terse No's, some This-is-lovely-but-not-quite-lovely-enough No's, and a few in-between No's. That's okay. I'm pragmatic that way. Learn from the rejections, then toss them aside, submit, submit.

As of this morning, I have queries out to 15 presses, and two additional publishers have requested, and are now reading, the full manuscript. I'm not sure what a Vegas odds maker would have to say about those numbers. But to me, that's 17 possibilities. Lucky? We'll see.


Cathy said...

What a wonderful tribute to your father, who would be so proud of all of your personal and professional accomplishments. So his "17" is now your "17" and, as you speak at MSC, he will be with you. I wish I could come listen to you. Do spouses of professors count to be able to come? :-) Wonderful post, Lisa.

Lisa Romeo said...

Thanks Cathy, that's very sweet. It's open to the public. Details in EVENTS tab at top of blog! Would love to see you there.

Amy Morgan said...

I so enjoyed this, as I've enjoyed every post about the relationship between you and your Dad. Makes me wonder about the numerous ideas/stories I've had since my mom passed. Very few written, most not. I should start writing I guess and see where our relationship goes. Best of luck on the upcoming reading!

Shaun Hunter said...

Lucky seventeen, or as many as it takes, Lisa. I want to read your book.