Against All Odds
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
What is it about January that makes us doubt our dreams and huddle under the covers, sucking our thumbs? We’ve just come through the cheery holidays and made bold resolutions for the new year but by the second or third week of January it feels like we are rowing against the wind.
I just wanted to give you a good old “snap out of it.” I’ve long kept this list of against-the-odds successes. If I remember correctly most came from a Dear Abby column from years ago:
- He was told that his drawings were stupid and he’d never be a cartoonist – Walt Disney
- He was told he was a mediocre chemist and should try something else – Louis Pasteur
- He failed algebra – Albert Einstein
- Label him “too stupid to learn” and you have a Thomas Edison.
- Make him a hopeless alcoholic and you have Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Tell her she’s too old to start painting at 80, and you have Grandma Moses.
- John Milton, blind at age 44, wrote “Paradise Lost” 16 years later.
- Call him dull and hopeless and flunk him in the sixth grade, and you have a Winston Churchill.
- Punish her with poverty and prejudice and she became Golda Meir.
- Pit her against sexual discrimination and you have Madame Curie.
- Make him second fiddle in an obscure South American orchestra and you have Toscanini.
As an agent, I have story after story of success-against-the-odds. You regularly see Jill Eileen Smith’s name on the bestseller lists. I first read Jill’s manuscript about Michal, King David’s first wife, and loved it. I knew no one was buying biblical fiction at the time. No one. I took her on anyway. This was a manuscript she’d been pitching for close to twenty years. One day, at a writer’s conference in Oregon, I sat having coffee with an editor friend, Lonnie Hull Dupont. She turned to me and out of the blue, said, “I think I’d like to try some biblical fiction.” I must have sat there with my mouth open. I told her about Jills book and she laughed. She had met Jill at a writer’s conference almost twenty years earlier, read the manuscript, which then had David as the main character. She had told Jill to change the main character to the wives. It took Jill a while to come around but she had eventually rewritten the book incorporating Lonnie’s suggestion. Lonnie made an offer on behalf of Revell and now, some five books later (with another already written and five more contracted) it’s a wonderful success story.
But think about it. That January, eighteen years in, when no one seemed interested in her books, don’t you think it was hard for Jill to keep hope alive?
It may be a dreary January but who knows what is around the bend. And here’s a hint: at times like these, it is important to keep the Dementors* at bay.
*”Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.” (from Harry Potter)
How do you keep hope alive against all odds? Would you keep going if you’d had twenty years of rejection letters? And in these days when naysayers abound, how do you keep the Dementors away?