A Real Writer by Rebecca Frost
I’ve wanted to be an author for about as long as I can remember. When I was in kindergarten I read my first book out loud – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, so my parents knew for sure I hadn’t just memorized it – and I loved writing little stories every month in elementary school. In fifth grade, we had to read them out loud to each other and I remember one of my friends saying that she liked mine best because they sounded like “a real writer” wrote them. That was the best compliment ever, since I really, really wanted to be “a real writer.”
I’d meant it as a fiction writer, the next Gail Carson Levine or Philip Pullman or J. K. Rowling, but that’s not how it happened. (Although the fact that it did indeed actually happen still doesn’t quite seem real!) In August 2016 I got an email out of the blue from someone named Susan, who told me she was an editor at McFarland and Company. She’d come across my dissertation online and was wondering if I had a project that she could help me with.
So … that’s not how it usually happens. Generally, you get your Ph.D. and then aim for writing a book maybe five years later. Maybe more. And then there’s the time spent looking for a publisher and getting someone to accept it. I had an idea, sure, but in my head it was the book I’d be writing in four years or so, not an idea I’d be summarizing and sending off before the day was out. Or a book contract to be signed within a few months, or a manuscript to be delivered within a year. The speed at which The Ripper’s Victims in Print went from initial email to published book was astounding.
The actual process of preparing a book-length manuscript for publication is exhausting. There’s a reason some people work as professional indexers, for example – some of us just aren’t cut out for it. The final step before you actually get your printed book in your hands is sending back corrections to the proofs and the dreaded index, which I returned to Susan in early January 2018. I’d spent the Christmas holiday with highlighters and pens, trying to pull it all together and meet the deadline.
The first time I actually went to Beth Millner Jewelry in Marquette, as opposed to window-shopping the website, was after I’d sent everything off. I wanted to mark the occasion: my first book. Me, a real writer. That needed something meaningful. I wanted to go in and get something, specifically the Summer Twig Ring. I was a woman on a mission.
I chose the Summer Twig Ring intentionally. The book didn’t happen overnight, as quick and miraculous as the whole process seems. I’d been working toward it, researching for it, and thinking about it in the back of my mind – building toward it without actually making any visible progress, the way a tree in winter prepares for leaves while looking like empty branches. All of the energy is there, being gathered and stored and put to good use, but the result isn’t seen until the proper time, when the seasons change.
In my mind it’s sort of a warmer version of the iceberg, where all other people see is the tip – the final product – and not everything that went on underneath: the researching, the outlining, the dried-out highlighters, the drafts that get torn apart and put back together again, all before anyone else ever sets eyes on what I’ve written. The years in school that meant I could do this in the first place or all the back-and-forth between me and my committee members before my dissertation was approved. All that work going on underneath the surface but, even though it’s not seen, it counts. It’s still happening.
And the twig, unlike an iceberg, also has another message: that it’s okay to rest. Winter isn’t a time of being lazy or of unnecessary sloth. The twig needs time to just be a twig again before it produces leaves again, and spring – like the next idea – always comes, even if the winter seems long.