Jennie Nash, author of The Only True Genius in the Family, has kidnapped A Reader's Respite, thrown her in a closet with duct tape over her mouth (and more importantly, her typing fingers) in order to bring you a REAL blog post.
I wanted to be a writer all my life. I grew up listening to my dad (a professor of environmental studies) typing on his Olivetti electric typewriter, and there was something about that sound, and about a person sitting alone in a room writing words that someone in another time and place would read, that I loved.
I was an English major in college, got my first job at Random House, sold my first book at the age of 25, and went on to have a rich and varied career in publishing that included stints as a magazine editor, a magazine writer, and the author of two other books of narrative non-fiction. I worked hard, I was good, and I was lucky – a winning combination – but I never felt like a “real” writer. I never felt entirely legitimate.
My self doubt came to a head several years ago in Anchorage, Alaska. I had flown up there to give the keynote address at a breast cancer event. My second book, The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer, was a breast cancer memoir, and I did a lot of presentations after it was published. This time, however, I happened to know that the speaker who had given the keynote the year before, was Dr. Susan Love -- a world famous surgeon, the author of the book many breast cancer patients consider to be their bible, and on top of it, the woman who is pioneering an early detection method that has a very real chance of doing for breast cancer what the Pap Smear did for cervical cancer, which is to say, all but eliminating the threat of the disease. As I sat at the banquet table awaiting my time to talk, I thought, “What do I have top say that Susan Love didn’t say? What do I had to add to her expertise? Who do I think I am?”
My self doubt snowballed to such a size that I even thought, “I’m not even a legitimate breast cancer survivor, because I didn’t have to have chemo.” As if losing a breast and spending six weeks in wound care weren’t “enough.”
When my name was announced, I walked up to the podium, stood in front of the microphone, looked out over the ballroom full of eager faces and this thought came over me in a warm rush: I am a storyteller. That, I realized, what I had to offer: a story.
I gave a good talk – the kind of presentation when you know everyone in the room is cheering for you – and when I got home, I started writing a novel. It was the first time in my entire career I’d dared to write fiction. I finished the book (The Last Beach Bungalow), sold it, published it – and the feeling of pride and satisfaction was so enormous, that I felt what it meant to be wholly creatively alive, and I loved it.
I gave that same success to my character in The Only True Genius in the Family. It is my celebration.
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