Being a writer can be a lonely business. Some people joke about the honesty of writing being a great way to lose friends and alienate people, but that’s not what I mean. Writing requires hours of research that is best done alone. Writing a novel brings you deep into a fictional world from which it can be hard to escape. Writing –even fiction- draws on sensibilities deep inside of you and can occasionally feel a little like getting undressed in front of strangers. It is an intensely personal experience, and can leave one feeling drained and sometimes misunderstood. For a long time, writing stories and chapters of unfinished novels, I felt there could be no one else in the world that felt this way. Oh, how wrong I was!
A few years, I decided to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference (http://www.sfwriters.org). As I sat in the Ballroom of the Mark Hopkins Hotel at 1 Nob Hill, perched above the beautiful city, I marveled at the new world that had opened up to me. Three hundred people chatted eagerly with their new friends and I discovered that there was a world of people that felt just as I did about writing, and that I was far from alone. The week changed my life forever, even though I didn’t sell my book. It continued with a writer’s workshop in New York City that same year – an opportunity to pitch that almost finished manuscript. I left without any takers, but a few friends richer. And I met the agent I knew I wanted to represent my next manuscript, a love story set in 1940s Norway that would become my first book. Two years later, I was back at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, with Steven, a friend from the New York workshop, and a few other writer friends. I sat in the lobby of the hotel at 2am exchanging stories (and strange animal sounds) with Lindy and Steven, two people whose input to my writing would be instrumental to making me a better writer. We would become, along with another Steve, and a few other friends, an online writers group called Virtual Muse. I also met Karen at SFWC – a writer friend from Richmond with whom I would grow very close over the next few years, whose “Italian lover” would become friends with my children and who would even visit us in Provence – twice (read about their first visit in her travel memoir Bonjour 40). In fact, Karen is here now, exchanging stories about finishing her manuscript, about tears and hidden joys. About a labor of love we call writing.
We went down to Marseille to pick up Karen and Ted (the Italian from Jersey) at the airport yesterday. One the way back, we stopped off in Aix-en Provence to stroll along the Cours Mirabeau. We ate lunch on a terrace across from a used bookstore. Karen pointed to two English books in a box, one by Grisham, the other by Baldacci. “Richmond writers”, she says. Coincidence? Walking back to the car, I stop, flabbergasted. There, a few feet away, are Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, two literary agents, the founders and organizers of the San Francisco Writers Conference. They’re in Nice for five weeks and invite us for lunch next Monday.
No, not coincidence. Serendipity.