We’re so pleased to announce Liza Nash Taylor as a regular WU contributor! You may remember Liza from her guest post, On Being a Debut Novelist at Sixty. From her bio:
Liza was a 2018 Hawthornden International Fellow and received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts the same year. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine; Deep South, and others. Her debut novel, ETIQUETTE FOR RUNAWAYS (Blackstone Publishing, 2020) is listed in Parade Magazine’s 30 Best Beach Reads of 2020 and Frolic’s 20 Best Books of Summer 2020. Her second novel, IN ALL GOOD FAITH, will be published in August.
We love this first official post from Liza, which takes the long view of her journey and highlights the importance of perseverance (WU’s Official Favorite Word!). Welcome, Liza!
Adapted from a series of blog posts on one writer’s path to becoming a late-blooming novelist.
It’s late February in Virginia, and freezing rain has been falling on and off for several days. This morning, the birds huddle in and beneath the boxwood bushes near the feeders, feathers puffed, waiting it out. The openings in the feeder tubes are clogged with ice, and loose seed in the trays has frozen. A lone dove basks in the steam of the heated birdbath, but for the most part, today is not a good day to be a bird. I wonder, do they think of spring? Of plump larvae and juicy worms ahead? Getting published, I’ve learned, is like waiting for worms. Waiting being the key word here.
Seven years ago, I was in my early fifties and a fledgling writer. Having embraced a new passion I was taking every writing class I could find and I had “finished” (ha! Finished! [snort]) my first historical novel manuscript. I wanted to see where this writing thing would go.
I wanted to soar, but first I needed to hatch.
In an attempt to make up for lost time I applied to a semester-long course through Queens University in Charlotte, called One Book. I was fortunate to be paired with an experienced New York editor from a major publishing house. She read seventy-five pages of my manuscript before our first workshop. After friendly introductions among our group, she said, “Now then. We’re going to start with Liza’s submission, because we can cover a LOT of ground here.” My antennae went up. She went on the elucidate, “…because a lot of these mistakes will apply to everyone’s work.”
I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and sob. But no, after my work was chuckled over, mocked, and dissected by said editor, our group had to go out to lunch together. Over salads, I looked across the table at the woman who had just flayed my submission and I said, “Wow. I feel like I’ve just been on an intervention on What Not To Wear.” She smiled.
This was my first exposure to eviscerating criticism of my writing. I deserved it. I needed it. I was crushed, then defensive, then humbled/weepy/tremulous, and finally, determined to do better, dammit. It had been a long time since I’d felt this sort of life-changing inspiration and a long time since I’d been able to invest my time into something more creative than a child’s mermaid costume. What I discovered over the course of our six months together was that each time that editor smacked me to the ground, she also taught me how to get up again. I learned a lot from her. Next, I took a year-long novel class, working on the same manuscript. I tried essays and short stories and had a couple of things published. I applied to a low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and I sent out my first agent queries, then I waited to hear.
Some agents never responded to my queries, some responded four months later, and a couple replied quickly to ask for a full manuscript. One replied in six minutes, asked for the full, said she “couldn’t wait to read!” Well, apparently, she could, because it took 4-1/2 months for her to say “no, thanks, I didn’t connect with the character.”
In early 2016 I found an agent who offered to work with me on an exclusive revise and resubmit status. In my naiveté I expected a single round of revisions, then things would start to happen. Right?
Not so fast, missy.