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Nathan was thrilled with the woods. He found his voice and began barking orders in an accent I was never able to place. It was sort of a cross between Desi Arnaz and Kazu, the meddlesome martian on the Flintstone’s.
I stood by blowing on my hands and stomping my feet to keep warm when suddenly he turned to me, eyed me up and down, and proclaimed, “We need to tease her hair. I want glitter. Lots of glitter, and the clothes will have to go.”
“You want me to be naked?” I spluttered.
“Do we have some fabric?” he went on, ignoring my question and my obvious distress. “I see swaths of tulle billowing out behind her and hanging in the tree branches like a morning mist.”
“You want me to be naked?” I repeated.
Before I could do or say anything else, I was ushered back into the van where I was stripped down to my underwear and sprayed in glitter.
When I re-emerged, my chattering entourage became deathly silent. Jaws dropped open and I heard a few gasps as I crunched barefoot through the snow, wrapped in yards of sparkling gauze, with my butt hanging out, and wondering to myself, Did John Irving ever have to do this?
Nathan positioned me and began snapping away with his camera.
“You’re a wood nymph!” he cried. “Yes, you’re a wood nymph! You’re an ethereal spirit. You’re an incarnation of the sky. You’re real yet you’re not real at all.”
I don’t know how long we were out there. Eventually Nathan wrapped it up when my lips turned an unphotogenic shade of blue.
I came down with a bad chest cold afterward. It took me three days to get warm again. But worst of all, I never even got to see the pictures.
Before the article ran, I got the call from Oprah. After she announced on her show that “Back Roads” was her latest book club pick, EW apparently lost all interest in my ethereal spirit and axed the piece.
Oprah changed my life and the path of my career, and I am forever in her debt. Without her, there was very little chance “Back Roads” would have made the bestseller list no matter how much praise it received from the NYT or if I had agreed to jump out of cakes at my book signings.
I enjoyed my wild ride as a bestselling author. Since then, I’ve returned to being a serious author. I have the great reviews and the not so great sales figures to prove it.
Would I trade one of those rave reviews for one more best-seller? Sure. Would I trade all of them? Hmm.
Writers are people, too. Like everyone else, we want to be loved and respected. We want to be one of the popular kids, but we want to be the valedictorian, too. It’s a tough combination to achieve for a man or a woman.
The novelist’s motivation has a lot to do with whether or not he or she will ever be satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Some write to make money. Some write for attention. Some write because they’re so impressed with their own thoughts they feel they owe it to the world to put them down on paper.
Most novelists write because they have a story to tell and it’s that story and the way it touches and impacts the individual reader that determines, in the end, if a writer should be taken seriously or not. It’s a decision made in the privacy of the reader’s own heart and mind, and it has nothing to do with sales figures or reviews.
Who creates compelling, believable characters you can’t stop thinking about? Who tells a story that haunts you even after you put the book down? Who do you quote to your friends? Who teaches you something new about life by pointing out things you already know?
Is it the mega-bestselling titan of women’s fiction or the oft-reviewed, literary genius with a Pulitzer and a pedigree?
My money’s on the wood nymph.
Original essay link: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10321/1103748-44.stm#ixzz15w7XK8E4