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
“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
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
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.
Kenower is Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine and a full-time
freelance writer. He lives in Seattle.