Thursday, March 22, 2012

Luck and Magical Thinking--Sarah Porter

The experience of luck tends to make magical thinking irresistible: this stroke of luck is mine because I coaxed it into being; it came in response to my call. Perhaps, okay, it came very, very slowly, after years of desperate importuning, but hey, here it is! Personally, although I know it's quite irrational to believe that we can make luck in this fashion, I can never experience luck as truly random.

A few years ago I wrote a novel, Umber, and queried every agent who seemed remotely suitable. A few of them liked it but feared it was unpublishably weird. I began to feel despondent and to run out of plausible queryees. Then my friend K was internet dating and met person B, who was giving up on being an agent--because, it turns out, being a literary agent is almost as harrowing as being a writer. K said, "Don't quit yet. My friend wrote an amazing book!"

B was skeptical, as agents must be, but generously read it, and thankfully agreed with K. B said she wanted to help. I was thrilled.

Then B disappeared as abruptly as she had surfaced, and that seemed to be that. Various agents equivocated and hawed and could not decide if they wanted to represent me. I became depressed and broke and weary and began writing about mermaids.

After a year of this B sent an out-of-the-blue email saying, "My friend LOVES Umber! He wants to represent it! I hope you'll say yes!"

As you may imagine, I did not much consider saying no.

My new agent was also a K, for Kent, and he was awesome. Kent soon discovered that all those other agents had been horribly correct in their assessment that Umber would be pretty much impossible to sell. "Well," I told him, "I'm also working on a young adult book about traumatized killer teenage mermaids."

That was how I got a book deal--through preposterous, outrageous luck, with a little OK Cupid thrown in. And yet I could never escape the feeling that this luck would never have come to me without all the maddening and utterly fruitless groundwork I'd done; that, though I had never queried Kent, I wouldn't have found him if I hadn't sent out a hundred queries to other agents. My luck felt like a genie lured from its bottle by an incantation chanted (and chanted, and chanted) over many years.

But if it takes that much work to make your own luck by magic, then you might as well just go ahead and just make it by work. Or maybe work and magic were the same thing, all along.