Just a thought… You are never strong enough that you don’t need help. [César Chávez]
I hope you had a great weekend! Something happened here that serves to remind me – and hopefully you – of the goodness in people and the power of just asking. Sometimes the answer is “no” but you have to believe that they will be outweighed by affirmative replies.
The toughest request I ever had (and occasionally still do receive, believe it or not) was to give my opinion on someone’s music. Because I hosted a music-based radio show for so many years, there may have been the misconception that I had a say in what or whom we played, or that somehow I could further the career of a newcomer. Many times, I was sent links or even CDs of people – young and not-so-young – seeking my opinion of their work and even help in getting it aired.
These were the pre-YouTube days when you did whatever you could to get your songs some airplay. I would always tell people that it simply wasn’t my place to judge their art and that I wished them every success following the regular channels at the time.
The way I understood it, a record label representative would meet with the station’s music director and they’d discuss whether or not the song would have the chance to get on the station. But then there would be listener polls or even focus groups and they, too, would determine if the song got played. If anyone still has the idea that a host just hears a song, likes it and puts it on the air, that is indeed the rarest of rarities and the stuff of old movies! So there’s a little behind-the-scenes insight for you.
My point is this: I know how uncomfortable I felt getting requests to weigh in on someone’s work because of the awkward position it put me in. So it makes it doubly hard for me to ask someone whom I respect greatly as an author to read my upcoming book (now in its final edit stage) and perhaps offer a blurb for it. But that’s what I’ve done.
The idea struck me when some of my best ones hit: in the shower. (Maybe it’s the lack of distraction?) Anyway, it came to me that I should contact Wayson Choy, respected and best-selling Canadian author of Jade Peony, Paper Shadows, Not Yet and All That Matters.
A mutual friend, Betty Thiessen (who passed away two years ago), introduced Rob, Lauren and me to the author. Wayson taught Betty in a writing class and they developed a close friendship as Betty eventually aided Wayson; she was credited in at least two of his books. Betty was a staunch supporter of ours, too, and would have guided me through this writing process over the last 18 months. Who knows, perhaps she still does…
I wrote to Wayson, asking if he could possibly give my book a read and offer a comment on it. I didn’t dare ask for his input or any advice while the book was being written; I respect his time and his talent far too much to seek his aid in my own nascent writing efforts. Besides, I have had the gentle, firm and knowledgeable hands of three amazing women at HarperCollins to guide me.
I told Wayson I understood if he was busy, if he just simply had a “no thanks” policy where this sort of thing is concerned, or if he couldn’t comment on a competing publisher’s book. I offered him every out there was. But I needn’t have worried!
Wayson wrote me back immediately, saying he’d awakened to Betty’s smile at 2:00 am only a few days earlier. (She guides him, too, I suspect.) He is offering not only to read Mourning Has Broken but to offer feedback on the book. And so, here we go. We’re still nine months away from publication but we’re soon to hold the first paper copy of this book in our hands for one final read. How lucky we are that so many hands have held ours as we get to this point!
Tomorrow: two more instances of hearing a “yes” when I thought I shouldn’t dare ask.