Why I Write
Let’s start on October 16, 2019.
It’s etched into my memory like a scar.
I’d survived three grueling years of law school, climbed to the top of my class, and landed a job as an attorney at one of the most prestigious firms. On October 16, I was just rounding out my first year as a brand-new attorney when the partner in charge of hiring associates took me to lunch.
“Look,” he said, waving his fancy croissant sandwich. “I wanted to tell you the truth because I don’t think you’re hearing it from anyone else. You know Jake and Megan? The interns? They’re better than you and they’re still in law school. The firm is offering them full-time positions and when they start? They’ll push you out. Everyone wants to work with the best and you?” He took a bite of his sandwich, smearing aioli in the corners of his mouth. “Well, to tell you the truth, you’re not good at writing. You’re not good at research. You’re only good at filling out forms.”
I should have felt angry. I wanted to feel angry, wanted to feel some bubble of rage to prove I was still breathing, that my heart was still breathing. Instead, I remember staring at my salad, picking at the poppy seeds in the dressing. I felt nothing. After the lunch, I called my husband and sobbed.
“I think I need to find a new job,” I said.
“Get through the rest of the day and we’ll start to look when you get home,” he replied.
So, I started to look.
And I started to write.
I’d been working on a witchy manuscript, but I threw myself into something new. I wrote into voice memos and phone notes, on scraps of paper, and pasted stickies around my bathroom with plot points.
Around this time, I also became obsessed with writing craft. Never mind the fact that I’d won a prestigious university writing contest. Never mind that I’d gotten fan mail from judges. I bought books on how to write. Over a hundred of them. I read them and read them and reread them so many times that even now I can sing them like lullabies.
The pandemic started. The world stopped. I kept writing. In the morning, in the evening, every spare second scribbling on scraps of paper, on the edges of legal briefs. A princess goes undercover with her enemy. Scratch that. Not a princess. An ordinary girl. Actually, let’s make her a healer. I want her to save the boy. A dozen notebooks filled and frantic.
I wrote a story about a nobody who because a somebody because I felt like a nobody and I desperately wanted to become a somebody.
I wrote HOUSE OF SMOKE. Then, I started querying.
If you’d talked to me in January 2023, I’d tell you I was so sure I’d have an agent.
My first ever full request turned into a revise and resubmit and I had a lot of other agents who wanted to see the manuscript. Twelve total. Which is... amazing considering some people only have one or two.
And then the rejections started pouring in.
One agent said she liked the voice but just didn't get into the story. Another said she didn't like how everything was resolved at the end. Four agents said, “Love this, but I didn't love it enough. Send me your next project!”
One night, I sobbed to my husband about how my book about not being good enough just didn’t seem to be good enough.
And then I met Danielle*, who was being housed by my friend Sarah E. as a part of an addiction recovery program for troubled teens. When Danielle said she wanted to be a librarian, Sarah E. waggled her eyebrows in my direction and said, “I know someone who writes.”
So, I let Danielle read the blurb for HOUSE OF SMOKE.
“It hasn’t been picked up by anyone yet,” I said. “At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it’s any good.”
Guys, this girl was so sure HOUSE OF SMOKE would be swooped up and was shocked it hadn’t been yet. Her blind optimism propelled me forward.
So I printed a single copy. And I sent it to her. I wasn’t there when she received it, but I saw the video, where Sarah E. gives her the present. It’s wrapped in brown paper with white polka dots. Danielle opens it slowly. You can tell she’s not used to receiving gifts. When she sees the title, she puts the book on top of her head and sobs.
She read it all night and all morning.
When she was done, she curled up on the couch next to Sarah E. and said she'd spent her life running towards an ideal that didn't exist, that never felt smart enough or pretty enough or popular enough. She said she felt like a nobody who desperately wanted to be a somebody. She said HOUSE OF SMOKE helped her feel less alone.
That’s why I write. It’s not for the accolades or the awards, though I’ve had both. Instead, I write because I’m not the only person who’s felt like they’re not good enough or pretty enough, or smart enough. I’m not the only person who’s felt like everyone is miles ahead of you, miles better than you, and there’s no way you’ll ever catch up. I'm not the only one who's ever felt like an imposter in her own skin.
If you’ve ever felt that way too, I hope you’ll stick around. Maybe we can help each other.
P.S. Email is the best way to keep in touch, so I'm dropping that here. Social media is nice, but who knows what's going on with the algorithm these days? I hope you'll consider signing up. I promise I'll make it worth your time.
P.P.S. - Do you want to know what happened to the interns who were supposed to push me out? Gone. I outlasted them both.
*Danielle's name has been changed to protect her identity.