Kath here. Today’s guest is literary agent and author Jean Naggar. Jean was born in Alexandria, Egypt. She grew up in Cairo, moving to England, and then New York City, where she currently resides. She is the founder of the prominent Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Village Voice and Publishers Weekly. She is the mother of three adult children and grandmother of seven. Now, she is at last exploring her childhood dreams: to write. Her memoir of a magical childhood, SIPPING FROM THE NILE, My Exodus from Egypt is available now. Short-listed for 2011 Eric Hoffer Grand Award, Chronogram Magazine said SIPPING FROM THE NILE is “Prose as densely woven and vivid as an oriental carpet.”
Please enjoy Jean’s post with us today.
The rock stars of my youth were the writers of the books I read. I dreamed that I, too, might one day grow up to be one of them. I never imagined my adult life would offer the privilege and pleasure of working with writers I admired, helping to birth their books, walking beside them down the path of many fulfilling years.
After navigating the shape-shifting publishing industry for more than 40 years, I realized the time had come to dust off my childhood dreams. Venturing along the very same trails I cleared for others, I crossed into the diaphanous world of seekers, trying my hand at taking the advice I gave to so many, for so long: rewrite, and rewrite again; listen to comments and only follow what resonates; let time go by, put your manuscript on a back burner: your subconscious will continue to work, and your editorial eye will sharpen with distance.
I questioned whether I could discover in myself some of the skills I so admired in others? Would I be able to find a voice distinctively my own? I so loved words and the ways that words can build worlds, release memories, weave experience and fantasy into stories that power the imagination, create characters more alive than flesh and blood in the minds of readers. Would my long-time love-affair with words suffice to make me a writer?
Plunging into a boundless ocean, I tread huge waves without a compass. I am in this alone, writing for the sheer love of it, writing for myself, stealing secret moments from my obligations and life in the world.
What could have possessed me to imagine myself a writer? My years of working with writers only made me fear my own vision. I doubted I could ever measure up.
I was alternately embarrassed at having put myself out there, and proud of my work, proud of writing, rewriting, wrestling with words and structure to create something unique.
Having been taught to believe that one should never blow one’s own trumpet, I nonetheless instantly became a poster-child for self-promotion, hurling my technophobic self into social networking on behalf of my newborn book.
What did my years as an agent bring to my writing? I had the publishing contacts, of course, but because much was expected of me I feared it would always be too much. My life as an agent opened doors, but I knew that only the work itself would command attention – or not…
Writing is a solitary vice. I learn patience.
I complain that I can’t understand why people take so long to read my work and get back to me. I hear echoes from the past. Better to take time, I hear myself respond again and again. Let the work sit for a while before sending it out into the world. But I obsess over the overwhelming need for an objective view of my work, drowning out the voices of yesterday.
The eyes of my near and dear glaze over as I talk about my writing. My listening ear has turned into a starving voice.
OMG, I must have shed my agent’s skin.
I always felt my authors’ pain, but now I own it. I am not with them, I am of them. I am vulnerable. I fall in love with anyone who loves my book. I seek comments, but cringe if they are harsh. I gave my all and have invited the world in to comment. I want everyone to read my work and to love it as I do. I am aflame with the joy of the writing.
This book, this child of my heart has transformed me.
I am a writer now.