This weekend in L.A., I had to take several slow breaths before walking over to Leonard Marcus. That doesn't happen to me much.
My life (of constant moving) has forced me to talk to people I don't know all the time. But this was different. I was meeting someone who had changed my life. Someone who had inspired me---in the more powerful archaic meaning of inspire which is: to breathe life into.
At a low point in my life, I had given up on writing. I had been rejected (in rapid succession) from an MFA in Poetry program and by a national first novel contest. I had spent many months studying career books, taking quizzes and journaling, trying to come up with some other way of navigating this life other than writing. My manuscript had gone out after months in the drawer...and been rejected.
But...I owned a copy of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, written by Leonard Marcus. I had devoured it with intense longing, as if I were eavesdropping on love affairs instead of business letters. The correspondence between this legendary editor and her many writers was in the language of passionate devotion, to words and books and young readers. I could swear up and down that I might succeed at another career, but those letters made it achingly clear what I would be giving up if I did.
So when I saw the contest announcement for the first Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest at HarperCollins, I entered my not-perfect, not-even-quite-a-novel manuscript. As I wrote in my journal that day, I had to "keep hope alive."
When I won the contest, I didn't write in my journal for several days. I couldn't even admit to myself that my dream had come true. But it did. That manuscript became my first book, Letters From Rapunzel. And it would not have if Leonard Marcus hadn't breathed life back into me months before and shown me, on the page, what I truly wanted and needed.
So, I took those breaths and walked over and told him so. Because how many times in your life do you ever get to tell a person such a thing?
P.S. Jules and Eisha: thank you for challenging me to do brave things.