Tamara Ellis Smith and The Call (and a few hundred others)

I’m lucky today. It’s my turn to talk about the call.

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Yeah, this was me alright…

For me, as is true for many writers, I think, the call was a part of a much longer process. My agent sent out my middle grade novel manuscript at the end of February 2014. By the second week in March we had high interest from one editor. She made an offer a few weeks later. Then a few days after that we had another offer. So that meant that the manuscript was going to auction. Whoa. On April 3, 2014, after many emails back and forth, as well as a few phone calls with my agent, I had a book deal. My the call was from my then-brand-new-to-me editor, who phoned me literally minutes after we sealed the deal. That moment was all about my heart racing, my breathing loud and dog-like pant-y, and my vocabulary instantly limited (Oh my gosh, Oh wow, Oh man, Oh oh oh…). It was spectacular.

But it isn’t what I really want to talk about here. I want to talk about, not the call but, instead, the calls. Plural.

It took seven years for me to get that aforementioned call from my editor. Seven years of revising, sending the manuscript out, revising again, sending it out again. Seven years. This is not long in the grand scheme of life, I know this, and it is not an atypical time frame for a first book deal either. But regardless of these facts each year, each month, each day, and, truly, sometimes each minute was filled with the deafening sound of the clock ticking and—this sense of longing.

eldon-dedini-oh-filled-with-hopeless-longing-and-you-new-yorker-cartoonMy longing took up residence inside me, somewhere near my heart, lodged against the curve in my ribs. I felt it in my heartbeat, I felt it when I breathed. I’ve written about it before (here and  here) so I won’t go on and on, but I do want to say that after a lot of contemplation and conversation, I finally figured out how to be with my longing. Much easier said than done, but so profoundly worth the effort. Because, in the end, longing is not a bad thing. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world (think a slightly-too-sharp object stuck under your rib), but if it is given a place to call home, longing kind of smooths itself out, and is even kind of sweet looking as it rests there. Longing lets us know what matters in our lives. It keeps our dreams in focus. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.

It also reminds us, plainly and simply, that we are human. Each one of us feels longing after all. And if we choose to, we can share our version of it, listen to other people’s versions of it, and connect. Writers spend a lot of time alone, right? Of course, right. We need it to do our work. We even like it. But our secret, in my humble opinion, is that we desperately need our connections with other writers, and other people too. For me, this connection—and especially the one centered on longing—became, quite literally, a lifeline during this long process.

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One of my friends made this bed for my longing so that I didn’t have to hold it inside anymore!

Those connections happened on a regular basis, in the form of calls and emails with my grad school-mates, my agent, my agency-mates, my local friends here where I live, my husband, my family, and even my kids. These amazing and generous souls kept me afloat as I worked and waited and worked some more. They offered me advice, ideas and critiques. They gave me support, empathy and energy. On more than one occasion, I lost faith in my ability to do this—this thing that I so deeply longed to do—and they told me: You don’t need to hold faith right now, I am holding it for you.

And after the call—oh my gosh—well, then there were more calls and more emails from those same folks who had held my hands, offered me their shoulders, and looked me sternly in the eyes, only these were full of congratulations, affirmations, and amazement that I had finally done it. I don’t quite know how to articulate this clearly and strongly enough, but these calls gave me a breathtaking understanding of the ways my writing, my community, my daily life and my very self are woven together. For all of those seven years that I had been working on my manuscript, I had also been building a life.

This epiphany brings me to my knees.

 


 

ImageTamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015. She is represented by the incredible Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and can be found on the web at www.tamaraellissmith.com andwww.smithwright.blogspot.com.

 

 

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28 Comments

Filed under Faith, Patience, The Call, Uncategorized

28 responses to “Tamara Ellis Smith and The Call (and a few hundred others)

  1. Lindsey Lane

    This post brings tears to my eyes. LOVE.

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  2. This is so beautiful, Tam! Now I really can’t wait to read your book.

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  3. Amazing generous souls. That phrase describes so many people in this business, not the least among them you. May every call from now on be one bringing good news and great things.

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    • tamaraellissmith

      Oh Jeannie…I wish the same for you. And yes, amazing, generous souls. You are one of those…yes yes yes.

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  4. I’m in love with this: “Longing lets us know what matters in our lives. It keeps our dreams in focus. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.”

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    • tamaraellissmith

      It took me a long time to forge a relationship with longing that wasn’t rife with frustration and foot-tapping and tears! Thank you for this, Penny…

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  5. You are so right about the long path to publication being not only about the book we create but the community we build around ourselves. Great post, Tam!

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    • tamaraellissmith

      Right, Jenn?! It still overwhelms me, in the best way, how rich a community we have. Like this group here?! I feel so lucky…

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  6. Rebecca Van Slyke

    Tam, I remember listening to your grad lecture on the vibrant triangle several years ago and knowing then that you’d make it! I, too, have a generous community surrounding me that holds onto my hope for me when I lose it. I’m so glad that you are a part of that community!

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    • tamaraellissmith

      Hey Rebecca! Oh thank you. That’s one of the most incredible parts of all of this, don’t you think? That we can see that future for each other? I’m so glad we’re in this community together too…and I CAN’T wait to get copies of your books…

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  7. This brought tears to my eyes, too. You inspire me to put those feelings of longing and humanness right next to me, and the direct result is that I’m finally tackling this first draft of a wip that I’m scared of and have been procrastinating about.

    I’m going to keep this post open all day! Thank you, Tam!!

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    • tamaraellissmith

      Ann…I miss you like crazy! Yes, put them right at your side and as you write don’t worry if you bump them a little… they are resilient all right! 🙂

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  8. Tam, Many thanks for this description of longing and connections. Great post.

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  9. kevanjatt

    Penny PK pulled the same quote that jumped out to me. Beautiful. I’ve been guilty of believing “longing” was a waste of time—instead I should be “doing.” But that is silly, right? Longing makes the doing.

    Great post, Tam. But unlike others, I was not brought to tears. No, really….

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    • tamaraellissmith

      I’ve been the worst perpetrator of that belief that longing is a waste of time, Kevan…so then, on top of feeling it, I was taking time and energy hating feeling it… sigh.

      Thanks for this, Kevan. And the tears?! Ha! I’ll break you somehow… 🙂

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  10. I absolutely love the work of writing, of course, but I think the communities we build as we go along on the journey are truly my favorite part of being in this business. It just seems to attract the very best kind of human beings, doesn’t it? You are one of those, for sure, Tam, and I’m so glad you’re here. Welcome! This is a beautiful introduction post, as I knew it would be. Oh, and don’t believe Kevan for a second… he was probably blubbering and sniffling more than any of us. 😉

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    • tamaraellissmith

      It does, Laurie! The very best, warmest, kindest kind of people. You are one of those, oh yes… you know how I feel about you… 🙂

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  11. Man, I loved this post. So beautiful … and RELATABLE!! I still “long,” even though my novel will be out this fall. I long for readers to love it, for success, for more of my stories to find their way into the world. I long for thick skin so I’m not bothered by criticism. I long for lots of things, but mostly to make more friends just like the ones you’re talking about here. They make the whole lonnnnnng journey worth it 🙂

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    • tamaraellissmith

      They do make it worth it, don’t they? Man, I really really feel that, daily. Thank you for this, Amy. And you are so right. There are so many more “longings” to come…

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  12. Lindsey Lane sent me to this post, and it more than lived up to her billing. You all have created such a wonderful community, and each of your successes is seen as a success for all. I know many of you, and I know that you’ve motivated each other to become better writers, and all of us readers are better off for it.

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  13. Tam, it was so fantastic meeting and talking to you at the retreat, and this post just confirms what an incredible person you are. I can’t wait to read your book–I long for the day! Welcome to Emu’s.

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