By Austin Aslan, author of THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, August 5, 2014 - Random House, Wendy Lamb Books
I hope you’ll forgive me. This blog post is a bit of an indulgence on my part, as it may only be remotely interesting to me; I’m setting out to chronicle nothing more and nothing less than a series of office visits. I don’t think my experience below is any more exciting or more special than any person’s first day on their dream job. It was a wonderful set of moments for me, though—the physical manifestation of a life-long dream come true. My only hope here is that it speaks to that special dream in all of us, and that it inspires us to believe that we can accomplish anything that we put our minds to.
I’m the son of a small town firefighter and truck driver from a rather remote part of mountainous central Arizona. It’s hard to properly put into perspective the jump from my very modest and myopic childhood to last July when I met with my literary agent at the bar of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. To bridge that gap, I’m going to have to rely on the sensibilities of your own experience or aspirations in escaping the orbit of your parents and the pull of your small town. Otherwise I’ll end up with a novel instead of a blog post. But I trust that most readers can appreciate the yawning vastness between those two different chapters in my life.
This is really a testament to the reality that the publishing industry remains a rare and precious commodity in this world: a completely blind arbiter. In the realm of telling stories for a living, I’m fairly convinced that getting into television or movies requires you to have a parent or another close family member already in the business. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but the rule is pretty steadfast these days. I would argue that it’s very much the opposite in book publishing. When my agent and later my editor signed me, they had no Earthly idea who my parents were, where I came from, what color I was, what stocks I invested in, what my religious beliefs were, who I dated, whether I was married or single, how many family members I had in the industry. None. They looked only at the words I had written down, and their judgments were focused like a laser beam only on that.
Looking back, one of the greatest insights of my life was long ago identifying writing as a possible way to escape my destiny. I know you know what I’m talking about. Writing is cheap. It costs NOTHING to put pencil to paper and go. A little more to get a computer, but that’s not a hard and fast obstacle. What other creative pursuit can you engage in with the potential of making a career out of it without spending a dime? Perhaps the question is slightly hyperbolic, but do you get what I’m saying? For the cost of a Number Two pencil and a notebook I can stop the globe spinning. I can blow up buildings. I can create and destroy entire lives, entire solar systems. I can make people cry and laugh and beg for more. It’s simply astounding. And I trusted the industry to notice me for my craft and nothing else. It worked! I’m living proof that it worked and that it can work for you, too.
This dream didn’t come true overnight. I worked hard at it for ten years over the course of six novels and other writing experimentation. It was painful and lonely much of the time, wanting to be an author so badly but not yet having the skill to pull it off. It took hard work and dedication and a psychotic level of belief in myself. But I did eventually make it work. I finally made it in the door. I got that call from a literary agent, and then that call from a publishing house. And then I found myself schmoozing in the lounges of historic New York hotels and talking shop with award-winning editors on the 9th floor of the Random House building! So fun to realize that dream, and to confirm how nice and human everyone is behind the fortress walls of the publishing industry. I hope you’ll enjoy my little romp down memory lane, here. For me, at least, it represents nothing less than the power of dreaming.
design that she came up with!