Saturday, September 29, 2012

From the Trenches: Lucky Day

What does it take to be an award-winning, best-selling, much-loved author? In looking at the stories of those who have walked the path of success (without falling on their faces), certain qualities shine through: grit, stubbornness, hard work...and luck. 

It helps to write something new and interesting and great...but a stroke of luck can completely change your fate. Just ask one award-winner who came within inches of never being published at all. 

A Wrinkle in a Perfect Plan

Madeleine L'Engle was born in 1918 and spent most of her childhood in New York City, where many writers have been inspired. She wasn't much of a student, and received poor grades. Madeleine preferred writing in her journal, creating poems and making up stories. It was a habit she took with her to the French Alps, where her family moved when she was 12.

She studied English in depth at Smith College, where she continued working on her own writing. Upon graduation, Madeleine moved to Greenwich Village in New York, and worked in the theater. By the time she me and married her husband Hugh Franklin, she'd already completed two novels. 

The manuscripts collected dust while Madeleine established her family, but whenever time allowed she was writing and working at her craft. The family returned to New York after a few years, but not before taking a 10-week cross-country camping trip. It was during this family adventure that she would come up with the idea for her most famous novel. She named it A Wrinkle in Time, and completed the book in 1960. 

She would have lots of wrinkles to iron out of her way before she would see it published. 

Lucky Day

Excited about her novel, Madeleine began submitting it to publishers. She was rejected...repeatedly. More than two dozen rejection letters came back to her. The book was unlike anything else on the market, and that frightened the publishers. Having a female protagonist in a sci-fi novel, in her own words, just "wasn't done," and her novel was "too different." 

Her agents gave the manuscript back to her, and it looked like her chances of being a published author were dead. But the fates changed when Madeleine attended a tea party at her mother's house and happened to meet John Farrar...of the publishing company Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She gave him the manuscript, and he loved it. Farrar decided to sign her to the company at once.

A Wrinkle in Time has been in publication ever since. It won the Newberry Medal, spawned a series, and remains one of the most popular children's books on the market. If she'd missed that party, maybe none of that would have ever happened, and we still wouldn't know about Mrs. Whatsit and her charming friends.

Madeleine L'Engle worked from the trenches in secret and for many years, constantly working on her craft and fitting it into the pages of her life. She wrote a great book, and no one cared until she was lucky enough to have a chance meeting with the one man who did. She was eager enough, and smart enough, to seize opportunity when it presented itself, and that's why we know who she is today.

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