For most of my life I had a dream to be the next Judy Blume — to win the “literary lotto” with a six-figure, multi-book deal. I wanted to be the glamorous romance writer Kathleen Turner played in the movie Romancing the Stone. I wanted to quit my day job and work full time as a writer.
In 2008, I thought my dream was in sight. My novel, Missing Tyler, was being shopped around the New York publishing world by a successful literary agent. But after several months of trying amid the worst economy in twenty years, my proven agent came up empty-handed. No one wanted to take a chance on a new author who’d written a teen novel about grief.
My agent had mentioned Little, Brown Books. I told her I knew I sounded presumptuous, but Little, Brown Books would likely turn down my novel because it was too similar to Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. Sarah and I had met at a writing retreat and were amused to learn of the deep similarities of our books. Sarah had just received a two-book, six-figure deal from Little, Brown.
The rejection letter arrived. “We’d be very interested in Tamara Palmer’s book had we not just published …”
I had called it.
I knew in my core that I had blown my chance. Sarah and I had both picked up on the same big magic of the universe with our inspired stores, a concept I explored in depth in my post The Consciousness of Ideas: Big Magic and the Creative Process. While I dragged my feet getting Missing Tyler finished, professionally edited, and picked up by an agent, Sarah had outpaced me by months and landed a publishing contract. She grabbed the success that could have been mine. I had lost my shot.
The other day, I was thinking about Sarah. I haven’t seen anything new from her in years. Last I heard, she was using a pen name and pursuing self-publishing to step out of the young adult genre in which she was so well known. Her website hasn’t been updated since 2015.
I started cataloging experiences that likely never would have happened had I “made it” the way I’d wanted and gotten that contract that Sarah received. I probably wouldn’t have made the career pivot to coaching. I probably wouldn’t be leading women’s retreats, probably not publishing the diversity of books and essays that I have.
When you sign with a big publisher, they become your employer and curate your brand. I would have had to continue to produce young adult novels and would have been pigeonholed into a very specific — and, now that I think of it, limiting-life — path.
Look at Judy Blume or my other hero, Madeleine L’Engle. Do you know that they both write/wrote adult novels? Madeleine L’Engle is mostly known for the A Wrinkle in Time series and Judy Blume’s adult books don’t have anywhere near the reach as her young adult titles. We like the writers as we know them: authors for teens. (I’m not the biggest fan of the A Wrinkle in Time series, but Ms. L’Engle published a ton of YA books about young love that are some of my very favorite novels from my tween years.)
With the wisdom that comes with age, I’m realizing that perhaps not getting what I wanted was a huge blessing in disguise. My life would look markedly different had that path unfolded. Would it be better? Worse? Equal to? It’s hard to know, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the latitude I have with my creativity could only be found because I’ve ventured out on my own path. Missing Tyler is a YA novel and deeply inspired by Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes. But Finding Lancelot is not only not YA but is, in fact, a bit uncategorizable: It’s romance, chick lit, historical, and fantasy. It truly doesn’t fit into any one category. And now, with Truncated, I’ve ventured even further afield with adult-themed romance.
People ask me: “If you could make it financially as a writer, would you give up greyzone?” The thought makes me sick to my stomach. What I’ve built with greyzone, coaching more than 1,000 people over the past decade, is deeply connected to my life’s work. My purpose isn’t just to be a storyteller, I’m here to help people make sense of the world, to guide them toward more clarity. Maybe that would have come with the writing. Maybe I would have started to teach writing. Maybe there’s another path I can’t see from this spot. But as I return from the Soul Alignment Retreat I just hosted, I can’t help but gasp at the thought of not having this and so much more in my life.
We talk about hindsight being 20/20. Today, I’m deeply grateful for the creatively rich and deeply connected career I’ve built where I can be a writer, a retreat leader, a coach, and community builder — grateful my soul knew what I needed and guided me in this direction.