Mixed-Up Files friends!
Hard to believe, but I’ve been here blogging with the wonderful folks at the MUFs as one of the original members for more than six years now. Yes, six years! A lot has happened during that time — I moved overseas and back (yay military life!), watched my kids go from little to not-so-little (*sniff!*), and went from being an unpublished, aspiring author to someone with almost a dozen books out in the world. It’s been quite a ride so far!
But, as I’ve learned in the last year with the publication of my debut YA novel, there’s an awful lot of work that happens after your book hits the shelves. (You know, once you’ve collected yourself from the floor after spotting that thing you wrote in the Barnes & Noble… ). I’ve been busy doing book signings, conferences, school visits, festivals… (No complaints, though! I absolutely love getting out and meeting readers!)
Of course, I still need to write… :). So, for that reason, I’ll be taking a break from blogging here. But before I go, I’d like to share my journey to becoming a published author. It’s a question I get a lot when I speak to groups. It’s a bit personal and a bit long — but I hope you’ll stick with me until the end.
I guess you could say, like most authors, I’d always dreamed of being a writer… someday. I wrote a lot as a kid, studied literature in college, went on to be a journalist, etc. And there was always that little voice in my head creating stories, nudging me to write. But the truth of the matter is, the thought of actually sitting down and writing a book, of putting myself out there open to criticism — well, it terrified me.
(Besides, life has a funny habit of getting in the way. New jobs, marriage, first kids… I’d always quiet that little voice by telling myself I could write that book later — when I was older/wiser/less busy/not afraid. I’d get to it someday.)
Then, my dad unexpectedly got sick.
It was ten years ago. I was a new mom with a young son when out of nowhere my dad fell ill. One day, he was vibrant, healthy, active; the next, he was struggling to breath, suffering from something called “idiopathic constrictive bronchiolitis.” Which, was basically a fancy medical way of saying the small airways in his lungs had become irreversibly inflamed, making it impossible to exhale — and nobody knew why.
It was progressive. It was debilitating. And there was no cure.
With my brother and my dad, my hero.
At the time, I lived outside DC, my dad lived in Vermont. I traveled to see him as much as possible, taking him to consult with doctors and specialists — always hopeful they’d find some way to help. Various experimental medications were tried, some with side effects that seemed worse than the disease. Swelling. Fatigue. Brittle bones. Physical therapy didn’t help. The only hope was a lung transplant, but he was ultimately deemed to sick to survive the surgery.
In the meantime, my brother was in the middle of his own someday — visiting our dad as much as possible while finishing his medical fellowship in upstate New York, and getting ready to come home to Vermont and get married.
We all kept hoping for a miracle. That Dad would get better. But as his health grew progressively worse, Dad became focused on just one goal: to get to his son’s wedding.
June came, my brother’s wedding weekend rolled around. It was a semi-destination type event at a resort on Lake Champlain in Vermont — the quaint sort of place with paddle boats, no televisions, no cell phone signal. My dad arrived, confined to a wheelchair, tethered to an oxygen tank. There were hairline fractures in his back, side effects of the heavy steroids that kept him breathing. But he was still optimistic, still smiling, still fixed on his goal. He bowed out of the rehearsal dinner that night — the one he’d paid for and helped plan — to save his energy for the big day.
He was going to make it to that wedding.
The morning of the ceremony, a huge storm blew across the lake — the type that topples trees and downs power lines. It would later seem incredibly symbolic that the oldest tree at the resort was uprooted that day. But at the time, we were all busy getting ready, hurrying to the church, having our pictures taken. A groomsman was charged with making sure my dad and stepmother got there safely.
But as the final guests arrived, my dad wasn’t among them. Time slowed to a crawl as we began to panic. There were several frantic calls to the resort, and to cell phones that went straight into voicemail because there was no service.
We all feared the worst.
Finally, we saw my dad’s car pull into the parking lot. I can’t even explain the relief that washed over me as the groomsmen rushed outside and wheeled him through the blustering wind and rain to the front door.
My dad had done it. He made it to the wedding.
And as he crossed the threshold, rolling safely inside, out of the storm — his head gently dropped to his chest.
And he took his last breath.
It was probably the most profound, sad, and life-changing moment I’ve ever experienced. In one instant, the lens through which I viewed the world shifted. It was the day I truly realized that time is finite, and I had to stop waiting for “someday.” It was the moment I realized I could be afraid, but I couldn’t let fear keep me from moving forward.
If my dad could make it to that church — if broken bones and oxygen tanks and wheelchairs couldn’t stop him — I could write a book.
So, I did. I wrote a book. And then I wrote another one. And then I wrote three more before finally landing an agent. That was eight years ago. And it took almost three years from then to land a deal with book packager Working Partners and see my first book published, and three more before my debut with Disney sold. It wasn’t easy.
But, if my dad could make it to that church — I could handle the rejection, the tough reviews, the waiting to hear on a submission.
I could make it to my own personal church.
And so can you. As I tell people during my speaking engagements — whatever your goal, wherever your church, whatever your destination, you can cross that threshold. You can make it.
Just don’t be afraid to take that first step.
So as I sign off here, I’d like to thank you for being part of my journey the last six years! It’s been a wonderful, inspiring ride so far. And, of course, I wish you all nothing but the best on your own travels through life!
(p.s. For those who are wondering, my brother did get married later that day, on the dance floor at what would have been the reception hall, circled by the guests holding hands, with my cousin singing Ave Maria a cappella. It was the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever attended, without a dry eye in the house, and I know Dad would be proud.)
Jan Gangsei won’t be blogging on the Mixed-Up Files anymore, but she’ll be hanging out in the comments every now and then, and you can find her at www.jangangsei.com, and on Facebook and Twitter. Someday, she might even post something on Instagram.