A Working Writer’s Life, Part 1

Candice RansomOne Sun­day morn­ing in May, 1970, I sat on the mus­tard-col­ored sofa in our liv­ing room with the Spring Children’s Books issue of the Wash­ing­ton Post Book World. I stud­ied the reviews as some­one who intend­ed to have her book reviewed in that pub­li­ca­tion, prefer­ably the Spring 1971 issue. The back page fea­tured an ad for Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard’s new list. “My pub­lish­er,” I decid­ed, because I liked the titles of their books.

I was sev­en­teen, grad­u­at­ing from high school in three weeks. Even though I had to get a job instead of going on to col­lege, and I lived in the sticks far from New York’s pub­lish­ing hub, I was dead seri­ous about becom­ing a writer of children’s books. I’d been sub­mit­ting my work to pub­lish­ers since I was fifteen.

Forty-sev­en years lat­er, my much old­er self can still feel the scratchy fab­ric under bare legs, still see morn­ing shad­ows tent­ed over the sparse­ly-dec­o­rat­ed liv­ing room. I think, “Where did that kid come from? How did she have the nerve to even dream such an out­landish thing?”

I didn’t come from a read­ing fam­i­ly, but I read any­way. I read and read and read, any­thing and every­thing, even in bad light, even in no light, until words crawled like ants on the page and my moth­er swore I’d ruin my eyes. When I ran out of stuff to read, I scrib­bled my own sto­ries with myself as the main character.

In my sto­ries I was smart and clever and brave, not stu­pid in arith­metic, not slow in games because I couldn’t remem­ber the rules, not afraid of heights and water and espe­cial­ly heights over water. Writ­ing sto­ries gave me power.

Candice Ransom books readBooks gave me even more pow­er. I could go any­where, be any­thing: an ouzel bird nest­ing behind a west­ern water­fall, a mis­fit Min­nipin who res­cued all the vil­lages in the Land Between the Moun­tains, or a nosy old woman who stowed-away on a rock­et ship to Mars.  Why shouldn’t I be part of the world of mak­ing books? There was no oth­er choice, noth­ing else I want­ed to be, edu­ca­tion or no edu­ca­tion, sup­port or no support.

That sum­mer I traipsed off to the first day of my sec­re­tar­i­al job, where I made his­to­ry by break­ing all the Xerox machines on each floor of the twelve-sto­ry build­ing. My eye was on a big­ger prize: At 25, I’d be a best-sell­ing children’s book author, maybe have my own sec­re­tary. I only began to have doubts that the uni­verse might not quite be on my side when I turned 24, still a sec­re­tary (for a dif­fer­ent com­pa­ny), and had sold exact­ly one tiny arti­cle to High­lights for Chil­dren, which was nev­er even published.

Then I met the man who would be my hus­band. He sup­port­ed my dream. I quit my job on a Fri­day, bought a desk that Sat­ur­day, and start­ed work­ing the fol­low­ing Mon­day. I kept office hours and put myself on a Five-Year Plan — if I hadn’t sold a book in five years, I’d quit and go back to being a sec­re­tary. The thought of break­ing more Xerox machines lit a fire under me. I sold my first book in two and a half years (though not to Lothrop, Lee and Shepard).

I was in! I did it! Then I wait­ed with my hands fold­ed for pub­lish­ers to knock my door down for my sec­ond book.

[Con­tin­ued in Part 2]

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Melanie Heuiser Hill
6 years ago

This is WONDERFUL! Thank you for shar­ing – such deter­mi­na­tion is inspiring!