Careful What You Wish For
by Bill Kenower
This article’s titular advice is not a warning to which I would have paid much heed until very recently. How recently? Saturday, July 19, 2008, at approximately 5:30 PM, on the third floor of the Seatac Hilton, on the second-to-last day of the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference—to be exact.
But let me backtrack a bit. In January ’07 I left a job I’d been meaning to leave for about the last fifteen years. Having already tried martyring myself for a couple decades, I decided I would not rush into any sort of work that did not thrill me. I had my writing, but I wanted something else. I liked to be around people.
A few months after leaving the job, my wife asked, “So, Bill . . . What exactly do you think you’ll do?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Because I didn’t. But I had started writing a blog recently—about writing and life in general—and I liked doing that very much. “I really like that blog,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind doing that.”
“Write a blog for a living?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’d also like to interview people.”
“I’ll bet you’d be good at that. Maybe you could get a radio show.”
“Maybe,” I said. “I don’t know.”
A couple months later, still doing nothing, I met Pam Binder, president of the PNWA, and she told me she wanted to start a magazine for the organization. “Oh,” I thought. “I’d like to do that.” So I told her I was her man, she said, all right, and then all that was left to do was figure out how to make a magazine.
Skip ahead a few months, and it’s July and time for the 2007 PNWC. I and 450 other writers were sitting in the Seatac Hilton ballroom listening to J. A. Jance deliver that year’s Key Note Address. As I listened to her, I thought to myself, in the sort vague way I sometimes do: “I’d like to do that. I want to be on that stage talking to these writers.” Not that there was anything wrong with what Jance was saying, I just felt I had something I would like to say as well. I didn’t know what, but I was sure I could come up with something.
Seven months later the first issue of Author was launched, for which I had interviewed two authors and written the first of my monthly blog essays. Over the next five months I would interview dozens more writers and write more essays. Then came the 2008 PNWC.
We decided it would be a good idea to have a session at the conference on Author. Great, I said. The presentation went fine, and afterwards, Pam approached me with an idea. That night was the big Awards Dinner in the ballroom. About 450 attendees would be there for dinner and to see who won what. How about if I did a ten or fifteen minute presentation on Author? We could project the website onto a big screen. Wouldn’t that be great?
Sure, I said. This was at 10:00 AM. I still had meetings with two agents, an editor at Tor, an Editor for Writers Digest, an editor for Writer, and a lunch with Bob Dugoni. At 4:30 I collapsed in the PNWA’s hospitality suite on the third floor of the Hilton. I had about an hour to figure out what I would say. I tried writing things down, but I never write things down. I tried pacing around and talking to myself. It was hopeless. I was going to have to wing it.
As I left the suite at 5:30, feeling the anxiety of performance building in my stomach and wishing I just had a bit more time to prepare, it hit me: This moment was exactly what I had wished for. The magazine, the essays, the interviews, and now the speech, in the Seatac Hilton ballroom, in front of 450 PNWC attendees—this was exactly what I and wished for, if only vaguely, a year before. In fact, because the PNWA only holds its conference once a year, the opportunity could not have come any sooner.
That was when I quit worrying. I would be fine, I told myself, because I had gotten what I had asked for. Writers, it seems, spend a lot of time wishing for things—publication being only a small part of it. To write is to imagine, and to imagine is to dream. That the line between dream and reality is sometimes straight and short can be a little unnerving. It is in those moments that you feel most acutely that the unfolding of a dream may have no more to do with good luck and coincidence than does a flower blooming in the spring.
Bill Kenower is Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine and a full-time freelance writer. He lives in Seattle.