I just sent an e-mail to the director of the University of Washington Press. I’m more nervous about it than I thought I would be, so I decided to blog about it, because all of you in Drawbridge Nation have always been a source of support and encouragement for me.
Whatever happens, I firmly believe that you can’t have great experiences without taking great risks. So wish me luck.
This is the body of the e-mail that I sent:
You don’t know me, but I’ve probably made you late to work on more than one occasion. I am a bridgetender for the City of Seattle. I operate the University Bridge on Roosevelt, but have operated 4 others in town as well. In fact, in my 17 ½ years as a bridgetender, I’ve worked on 9 different bridges in 3 different states, which is better statistics than any other bridge operator that I know of in this country. I’m rather proud of that, especially as a female in a male-dominated profession.
On my commute to work the other day, I was listening to NPR and I heard them do a book review of Life Between the Levees: America’s Riverboat Pilots. It occurred to me that there needs to be a book about drawbridges. People are fascinated by my job. I was even once asked for an autograph, to my shock and mortification.
After that book review, I rushed home to see who the publisher of the levee book was, and it turns out to be the University Press of Mississippi. Needless to say, my book probably wouldn’t be an ideal fit for them, but I think it would be for the University of Washington Press.
The good news is, the bulk of the material is already written. I’ve written a daily blog for more than 6 years. It’s called The View from a Drawbridge, which is “the random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.” I have more than 600 followers and I average 105 views a day.
Is this blog all about drawbridges? No. It really is as random as I claim. However, there is a drawbridge subcategory in there, and if you look at that, you’ll see that I have more than enough fascinating bridge stories to fill a book.
In addition, I’ve already self-published one anthology from the blog. A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It did not treat the subject of drawbridges, but it was number one on the Amazon best seller list for its subcategory for, oh, about three days.
One of my stories has also been featured in a StoryCorps anthology entitled Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, which caused me to be on NPR’s Morning Edition, and in O Magazine and Parade Magazine.
I realize that this is probably a rather unorthodox way to submit a book proposal, but I’ve lived a rather unorthodox life. I hope you’ll consider my idea. I certainly look forward to hearing from you.
When I wrote my book and created the website for it, I had to rent a post office box. I didn’t want to put my home address out there for the whole world to see. Granted, the odds of my acquiring a stalker based on a book about gratitude are probably pretty slim. (It’s hardly a controversial subject. Delightful, yes. Divisive, no.) But hey, you never know what is going to stir someone up.
But now I have this post office box, and the subsequent guilt that comes along with it. I chronically forget to check it. (I don’t like to neglect things, even if they are inanimate.) When I do get around to paying it a visit and peeking inside, it’s generally full of junk mail. I almost find this to be a relief. I’m not being rude to anyone except advertisers, and they don’t count, right?
But the other day, nestled among the discounts for the roof repairs on a home that I don’t own and the pleas that I bundle my television services when I haven’t had a TV in years, was an important looking envelope. It had probably been sitting there for weeks. It turned out to be my very first royalty check for my book. I have no idea why, but I wasn’t expecting it.
My first paid writing gig. I’ve been published many times before, in newspapers and magazines, and I have even been included in an anthology, but there was never any compensation involved. And now here was this check.
It felt like vindication; like the thing I love to do finally has value. But that’s kind of silly, because I’ve gotten so much value from the feedback of readers, and from the pride I feel when I publish a particularly well written post. The ability to express myself is also priceless. But these things are intangible. Here was this check. In my hand. Right here.
I took it home. I sat with it for a long time. I crowed a tiny bit on Facebook. Then I set about giving a fair share to those who had collaborated with me, and donated a dollar for every book sold to StoryCorps, since they’re the ones who sent me on this amazing journey in the first place. And what a wonderful journey it has been!
What was left of the check won’t even cover the rental of that aforementioned guilt-laden post office box. But just holding that check in my hand… that was an amazing feeling.
Since about the age of 8 I’ve been told I should be a writer. Indeed, I’ve had a few articles published, but nothing for pay. And of course there’s this blog, which is a creative outlet that I have found I can no longer do without.
In every job I’ve had I seem to eventually wash up on the shores of writer-land. Either I get volunteered to write the company newsletter or I’m asked to put together a contract proposal on the side. Currently I’ve been approached to join a committee and get involved in writing training procedures. Don’t get me wrong. I love doing these things. It’s just a constant source of amusement that I seem to always land in this place in spite of the fact that I honestly don’t see myself consciously paddling my boat in this direction. It’s as if I’m in some sort of writers’ Gulf Stream that carries me along without my having to navigate.
I’ve been told I should write for a living. To that I say, “Pish!” I like to eat and pay my bills. Many people have said I should write a book, and maybe I will someday, but there are quite a few hurdles I’d have to jump over before I could reach that goal. First of all, it’s easier to be struck by lightning than it is to be published these days. People are just not buying books like they used to. And even if you get published, the big publishing houses don’t seem to be promoting their authors that much anymore, unless you’re one of their all-stars.
Self-publish? Maybe. But then you have to be a phenomenal PR person, and persuasion has never been my strong suit. It’s hard to get the public’s attention, and that is a skill set that I don’t seem to have.
Also, anyone can put out an e-book or self-publish. Yes, there are a lot of good writers who do this, but you have to wade through an ocean of crap to find them, and most readers aren’t willing to do so. Believe me, I know several people who hare published and the product they have put out is an embarrassment to the written word. So there’s a stigma.
But the main roadblock to my writing a full length book is my utter lack of follow through. If you could only see my cluttered house you’d know that to be true. How could I write a novel when I can’t even be bothered to balance my checkbook?
And then there’s the confidence thing. I can’t imagine that I have enough to say on any one topic that I could hold someone’s interest for 300 pages. I mean, seriously, who am I? Yes, interesting things have happened in my life, and I’d like to think that I have a unique perspective. But when I contemplate trying to hold forth on that perspective for any length of time, I get no pictures.
Maybe that’s why this blog appeals to me so much. Each day I can write about something new, and I don’t have to plan that far ahead. I don’t have to develop a plot or come up with a story arc. I just get to do what I like to do, which is write. Just because you love to do something and have a knack for it doesn’t mean you have to twist it into a money making machine.
If I had all the money and time in the world, I’d pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree. I think that would be fun and exciting and I’m sure I’d learn a great deal from it. But I already have 3 degrees that have gotten me nowhere in life. I’m still paying off the last one, and I’m loathe to add a fourth to my wall of shame.
Maybe I do have a book in me. Maybe not. Maybe writer-land is actually a chain of islands, and I’ve been washing up on one of the small ones, like Molokai, instead of the big island of Hawaii. Who knows where the current will take me next. But I have to say, if it turns out to be my final destination, Molokai isn’t such a bad place to be.