My first true mentor was author Jean Brody (Gideon’s House, A Coven of Women, Cleo). I met her when I first had the guts to join the Cambria Writers Workshop and read my work out loud (picture if you will: hands trembling as they try to hold the printout; hammering heart; much pausing for life-giving oxygen).
She wasn’t an “easy” or “soft” mentor. In fact, I once stayed away from the group in despair when she announced that all my authority figures came off as stereotypes. I respected her knowledge so much that I allowed it to crush me.
Why did I go back? Because I got a phone call from a group member, asking if I’d left because I wasn’t getting the kind of help I needed. She went on to say that I was doing good work and she’d hate to see me drop away. Want to venture a guess? Right. Jean Brody.
So I returned, and learned a lesson about hearing criticism.
Are you wondering where the bookstore is going to enter into this blog about bookstores? Well, here it comes.
Jean Brody also owned and operated the Cambria Book Company, a small independent shop in Cambria’s West Village. So if I needed mentorship, I knew where to find it. And what better place than a bookstore?
In the window she kept a selection of books by local authors. Under the glass of the counter were great cartoons related to the book business. The shelf that comprised the front of the counter held recommended reads, books that Jean felt her customers would love. And behind the counter, a rack of special orders waited for her special readers.
I’d bring in my rejection slips, especially if I found them confusing.
“What did he mean by that?” I’d wail, reading her the cryptic editor’s comment.
“Oh, it’s all nonsense,” she’d say. “Pay no attention to any of it.”
“Why do I keep banging my head against this wall?”
“You have to be crazy. You just have to be crazy for this line of work.”
“Oh. That’s good, I guess,” I’d say, feeling a little better. “Since I’m obviously not outgrowing it, it’s nice to finally be in a line of work where it’s considered a plus.”
Sometimes I’d read a novel or a story that was so good that it made me doubt myself and my own work. I’d bring it in to Jean and say, “I couldn’t have done this!”
“No,” she’d say. “You do something different.”
A mere 122 rejection slips later, I began to publish some stories. How did I weather so many rejections without giving up? If you’re still wondering, go back a few paragraphs.
Within a few years, I was one of the local authors with books in the window, and the special order shelf behind the counter held copies of my books, to be signed and inscribed by me before pick-up. Jean would call me when she had such an order, and I’d make it a point to drop by.
Then Jean moved to Northern California, and the little Cambria Book Company was no more. Now there’s a bead shop in its place, which was very handy when I broke the wire on a beloved bracelet. But, waiting for it to be restrung, I deeply missed the little bookstore.
I’m writing this blog because of National Bookstore day on November 7th. And I’m glad it’s (almost) National Bookstore day. It felt good to remember.