When we attempt something bigger, higher, more noble than ourselves, there comes a time when it will require everything we’ve got. But what happens when we give it everything we’ve got ― and it’s not enough?
We call Mom.
It was after midnight. I was a single father raising my son who was 10 years old. I had taken nine months out of my life to write my first novel. The publisher, Doubleday, had sent an advance check which had covered rent and essentials like Fritos, Coke and Captain Crunch. I finished the manuscript and sent it in just before the deadline.
Soon after, I got a three page letter explaining that the manuscript was not publishable. I had created a nice story but had written it like a screenplay, not a novel. I had described everything in word pictures but had left it up to the reader to know what was going on inside my characters. This was a beginning writer’s mistake, and it was fatal. The editor said I had two weeks to rewrite the book or the contract would be null and void. He doubted that it could be done.
Well, this was my baby. Nine months in the womb, newly delivered ― stillborn. I began fixing the first chapter, determined to resuscitate my book. I knew my fictional characters. I knew what they thought and felt, and why. I began rewriting the drama from the inside. I polished that first chapter and knew I had hit the mark. But it had taken three days. There were twenty seven chapters to go and only eleven days before the axe fell. I did the math.
I fell apart like a two dollar suitcase, crashing physically, mentally, and emotionally. I began shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. It had taken everything I had. My best was not enough. The failure was all mine.
Did I mention that it was after midnight? Yes? Well, it was. I was in Dallas. I called my Mom in Anchorage, Alaska, where it was just after 10 pm. I told her everything. The first thing she did was the thing I needed most. She sympathized. She didn’t say, “Grow up, you whiney brat.” She didn’t say, “I always knew that just when you were at the brink of success you would probably fall flat on your face.” She didn’t call me “a losing piece of buzzard bait” ― which is how I felt.
She said, “Honey, I am so sorry. I don’t understand why someone who has worked so hard should have it end this way. It doesn’t make sense.” And with those words I knew I was not alone.
But then, my Mom said the words that have changed my life: She said, “Here is what I think you should do, son. Go back to the table and pick up your manuscript, hold it up in the air and say, ‘God, this was never mine in the first place. I have done all I can do. Now I give it back to you.’ Then put it down and walk away from it. Go to bed, sleep like a baby, and tomorrow get out of that apartment and play. Have some fun. Let it go.”
End of the Death Grip
I did exactly as my Mom suggested. Exactly. And I felt the world shift beneath my feet. I learned that there is a great difference between giving up, and giving something back to God. In a deep and profound way, I began to understand that I own nothing in this life. It has all been given to me. I am a steward, and on my best days, I’m a good steward. Nothing more. Since that after-midnight phone call, I have learned to release my death grip on life, and hold everything and everyone more loosely.
Honor Thy Mother
This story should end here, honoring Mom for the incredible blessing that she is. But a number of my friends know that Doubleday published my first novel, and they must be wondering how that happened under the circumstances.
The Rest of the Story
My baby lay in the grave three days while I ran and played. On the third day my phone rang and it was Dr. Miriam Herin in Charlotte, North Carolina, a former editor for Redbook Magazine who had been an advisor to me for years. She had just finished reading the manuscript and a copy of the rejection letter. She said, “You can do this if you don’t have to think about it. Fly out here. I will go ahead of you through the manuscript and mark in pencil the places where you need to write the internal drama. You just follow behind me and write.” Fresh from three days of play, I caught the next plane. For sixteen hours I wrote, then fell asleep on her couch. I got up and wrote for another sixteen hours. Then slept again. In seven days we polished the novel that sold 40,000 hardbacks, earned two book club selections, and won the Texas Literary Festival Award for fiction.
Award Winning Mom
Thank you, Mom. There is a big difference between giving up, and giving something to God. God, who ― by the way ― knows how to raise the dead. Only you, Mom, could teach me that, and here in your 90th year of life, I’d like to present you with the Texas Literary Festival Award. You earned it. You deserve it.
To be continued…