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Alison Taylor-Brown

The Village View

Alison Taylor-Brown has an MFA in Fiction and a lifetime of teaching experience from preschool to university levels. She began the Community Writing Program for the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow and now directs The Village Writing School, whose mission is to foster the development of area writers through workshops, writers' circles, and coaching. Her column, Notes from the Village, appears weekly. To talk to Alison about your writing goals and dreams, contact her at alisontaylorbrown@me.com or 479-292-3665.

It's never too late to persevere -- trust me

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When I first started this column, I promised to tell my story. I share it as a person who, after fighting his way out of quicksand, holds out a branch to say, "Don't give up."

My greatest dream was coming true. My first novel, a three-generational saga based on the life of my great-grandfather, was acquired by Donald Hutter at Simon & Schuster.

Donald Hutter was a legend in New York publishing, having been editor in chief at Holt, Rinehart & Winston before becoming executive editor and vice president at Simon & Schuster. One could not have asked for a wiser mentor. My agent was George Weiser, who represented Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. Weiser was the one who told Brown he should be writing thrillers.

I was 30 years old, an Ozark mountain native who had never been to New York City, when I went to meet my agent and editor. As Weiser hailed a cab (my first), words like "TV miniseries" and "British rights" darted by, iridescent as hummingbirds in the sun. Weiser told Hutter I was the best new writer he had seen in 10 years.

Six months later, like Icarus, my wings melted. As my book went into production, Hutter parted company with Simon & Schuster. My book was orphaned, and the new editor didn't pick it up.

Back then, I didn't understand how individual editors champion a book. If my book seemed good to Hutter, shouldn't it seem good to the new editors? But in reality, it was like an unfinished knitting project. Who wants to pick up another's handwork?

I was devastated. For a year, I couldn't walk into Barnes & Noble without crying. My mother had put a big article in my hometown newspaper: "Local Book Sold to Simon & Schuster." A decade later, people still stopped me on the street to ask about it.

I gave up. I should have gone to New York and lit a fire under my agent, who, distracted by the new market for international thrillers, had lost interest in my Ozark saga. I should have tracked down Hutter and made use of his contacts in the industry.

Instead, I crawled away.

And then, I moved on. I enjoyed my family, my Ozarks. I started a company, grew it, and sold it. I started a school to teach English to immigrants.

But I never stopped writing. I wrote a novel about the intersection of the native Ozark culture with the back-to-the-land hippies. At home with the flu, I wrote a third novel in two weeks, the words pouring out of my codeine haze.

But I never submitted anything. I bedded my manuscripts down in boxes in the closet. I wrote because I was only truly happy when I was writing. Someday, I thought, I'll write for readers. Someday I'll live a life in which writing is front and center. Someday. . .

Then, in 2007, I suffered an inner ear concussion from faulty airbags. My sudden hearing loss was disorienting. I felt old and fat and deaf and even more isolated from the publishing industry. How could I break into a world that had eluded me when I was young? I would never make it now, unless I called up my deepest strengths and faced down my fear, my inertia, my lack of faith.

I bought hearing aids and applied to three MFA programs. Though all accepted me, based on excerpts from those closet novels, I chose a small New England program where I learned about the craft of writing. I also learned about the publishing industry, platforms, and personal branding.

Now I have a manuscript under consideration by a major publisher and another in progress. I have a great job helping others to find their voice. I'm surrounded by writers. I love my life.

It's a different writing world than the day when Weiser, Hutter, and I hailed that cab. But one thing remains: If you've got a story to tell, it's never too late. Never too late to persevere, take a chance, be the person you imagine. You're never too old, fat, or deaf. Trust me on that.