Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Edgar Nomination, Nostalgia and Me

Today has been a great day. It started with a phone call from Sara J. Henry (author of forthcoming (Feb 22) Learning to Swim--read this book, please. It's awesome.) who was out of breath. "Amy! You were nominated for an Edgar Award!" she said. "Do you know what this means?" I didn't know what to say. I think I said, "Wow. I had no idea!" or something like that. Sara was the first to point out that Please Ignore Vera Dietz is technically a mystery book, and many have echoed that thought, but I never thought I'd end up an Edgar nominee. Once I hung up with Sara, I sat at my desk a while and got very very verklempt again (see last several blogs) and I had a huge bout of nostalgia and rummaged through my photo albums to find the one picture that can help me tell this story. It's kinda disjointed, but I'm going to try to stitch it together for you.

Part One
I've loved mystery books since I can remember. We had an impressive Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew collection at my house. I have a great picture of myself the year I was hooked on Meg mysteries--around my tenth birthday. Then I discovered a very well-used book in our family bookcase--an Edgar Allen Poe short story collection. I adored it. The same bookcase held Stephen King's short story collection, Night Shift which I read when I wasn't reading the Poe collection. I think I read those two books a zillion times between 5th and 9th grade.

Part Two
I've mentioned in interviews that I knew I wanted to be a writer for the first time when I was 14. But I think I, like a lot of writers, had more than one ah-ha moment about this before I finally decided to do it. After 8th grade, the next time I knew I wanted to write was right before I left college (the first attempt.) Then, in art school in Philadelphia (second attempt) when I was working on my final portfolio, I was taking pictures and writing essays to go along with them. I didn't show anyone the essays. But it was a way to handle being a photography major when I really didn't want to be a photographer. I wanted to be a writer. I just didn't know how I was going to make that happen yet.

Part Three
I got married soon after college and ended up in Philadelphia again. My husband and I had started making "the plan." "The Plan" was simple. Save enough money to somehow move back to Ireland (he's from there) where we would start a new life and eventually buy a derelict farm and maybe live off the land and do what we wanted. (Let me repeat that part because it's important. Where we could do what we wanted.) No big job stress. No having to live without health insurance and be worried all the time. No more 8am-7pm days working for people who paid us peanuts, treated us like cattle and didn't appreciate our awesomeness. We lived in the Art Museum area of Philadelphia, just off Spring Garden Street, but we both worked more than 15 blocks east of there, so sometimes, when we' d walk home together, we'd go past this place.

Edgar Allen Poe Historic Site 7th & Spring Garden Street, Phila, PA
That's the Edgar Allen Poe House. Or National Historic Site. Or whatever you want to call it. (I think I'll call it Major Inspiration.) There I was, 22 years old, trying to wrap my head around actually being able to move somewhere where I could do what I wanted and walking by that Poe house, with all those amazing short stories still alive in my head since I was 11. It made me face what I'd known for quite some time. I really wanted to be a writer. I still didn't know how, but I knew I would. One day.

Part Four
I shared this "I want to be a writer" idea with Mr. King and he and I would talk about our future--gardening, chickens, goats. Me making quilts and writing books and him making awesome furniture and the two of us free from The Man. That's the nostalgia that hit me today. Those moments in life when you allow yourself to dream and plan things that might not come to pass, but you dream and plan them anyway. When you can look back and see those moments clearly knowing full well that you achieved every one of those dreams, that's some strong freaking nostalgia.
Mr. King & the typewriter
For my 23rd birthday, he bought me a surprise present. We don't do presents, so this was a pretty big surprise. It was a secondhand typewriter. I was very happy. I opened it and sat it on my drawing table/desk and I typed a few things and then, over the next week, every night when I came home from work, I'd look at it from the couch where I'd be splayed out, exhausted. It would laugh at me. Mock me. Bully me. Until finally, I told Mr. King that we had to return it. We were supposed to be saving money to escape, I said. How would we ever reach our dream if we spent our money on things now? I asked. I felt horrible. I didn't want to return his thoughtful gift. But I also didn't want $80 of our money going to a thing I couldn't use yet because I was too tired from long days in a darkroom.

I'm not sure why, but I took a picture of the day we went to the store to return the typewriter, and every time I used to see it, I'd get upset that I'd been stupid. I probably hurt his feelings by making him return it and I was probably just protecting myself. Because I wasn't ready to start writing yet, and I'd feel embarrassed if that typewriter was going to sit there in the living room watching me not use it. And every time I walked past the Poe House after that day, I'd get this horrible, messed up feeling like I was running away or denying something or lying or that I was just wrong. I was just plain wrong. I've never told anyone this part of the journey because this feeling of sheer fail was enormous. This is going to sound stupid, but I kinda felt like I was letting Edgar Allen Poe down.

Part Five
The garden at the farm circa 1999.
The next two years of my life were hard. But we executed The Plan. First, we downsized and moved into a one-room, roach infested kip in Center City (where I no longer had to walk past the Poe House and feel like a giant loser) and saved our money. Then, we moved to Dublin, where, after the long hard Irish winter of 1994, I borrowed my sister-in-law's Swedish typewriter and sat down at a table in my bedroom and wrote my first novel. Then, we continued with the plan. Bought the farm. Lived off the land. We did what we wanted.

And now, January 2011, I am here. Last week one of my books became a Printz Honor book. Today, the same book has been nominated for an Edgar Award. Something tells me that Poe would forgive me for waiting a little while longer to start. Now I can see that sometimes, it's not the right time to do a thing. And sometimes, it is.

A huge thank you for all the congratulations you've sent in the last weeks. Every kind word has meant the world to me. And a HUGE thank you to the Mystery Writers of America for this amazing nomination. I am stoked beyond belief.


Heather Snow said...

Just wanted to say how fantastically happy I am for you, Amy!

Yes, timing is a big part, but so is determination and perserverance and an absolute dedication not to let go of your dream, even if sometimes life dictates you put it on hold for a moment. Thank you for sharing with us that these qualities pay off!

Go YOU!!!

Sara J. Henry said...

Great post - and thanks for the shout-out. (It was a lot of fun to be able to tell you the news!)

Maggie Desmond-O'Brien said...

Speaking as a Real Live Teen, it's so exciting to see an author who gets it getting the recognition she deserves. So I know it's just maybe been said before, but CONGRATULATIONS! =) Also, how awesome is it that you lived by the Edgar Allan Poe House? Even if it caused you much writerly angst?

bermudaonion said...

Congratulations! I am so excited for you!

Jennifer Buehler said...

Great post. I love honest stories of long struggle to achieve a dream.

Meredith Cole said...

Wow! What a great story. I'm so glad you're living your dream. And congratulations to you on your Edgar nomination!

Andrea Eames said...

Such a great post! Thank you. And huge congratulations.

Some Random Mother said...

Thanks for being so open, honest and real...its so true what you said about timing. When you were ready the stories came. Congratulations and soak up all of this light and deserve it!

K. M. Walton said...

I love reading all of your good news because you soooo deserve it. Congratulations to you.

JETaylor said...

Amy - I couldn't be happier for you and this is a wonderful look into your journey!

author... said...

What a great history. Congratulations again. I gotta ask though, are you still in Ireland? Still living off the land? Ahh, that sounds like bliss.

A.S. King said...

Thank you so much! It's really been a great month here at casa King.

author, I moved back to the US in 2004. It was impossible to maintain the self-sufficient lifestyle during Ireland's economic implosion. If we'd have stayed, things would be very very bad.

So we moved our bliss 2000 miles southeast.

author... said...

ahh. gotcha. do you still keep up anything like that incredible farm? i live in brooklyn where DIY and farm to table is all the rage. the only problem is finding space to grow a little basil let alone some proper vegetables.

Keith Cronin said...

An amazing story, from an amazing person. A well-deserved congratulations to you!!!

A.S. King said...

author--just spotted my typo. I meant southWEST not southeast. :)

I now live in the middle of a 50 acre black walnut tree forest. This means I am very limited as to what I can grow because black walnuts are poisonous to many veggies. I can't keep chickens, either, because we have coyotes. I'd recommend self-sufficiency to just about everyone. It's such a great buzz.

And thank you Keith and all you other kind people who have dropped in to comment. I was a little nervous to write this story because that picture used to really bug me, but now I feel okay about it. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your writing journey. Wow. I'm amazed and awed at how you got here. With two mindblowingly good books published and one up for an Edgar. Both books linger with you after they are read and make you think. Thank you so much for that. Congrats!