Today is the first day of my fortieth year. After three glorious days of hiking through the Black Forest, I’m sitting in a cafe in Stuttgart, the city of my birth, looking back on the many events that make up my life. My proudest moment happened in January of this year with the publication of my first novel, White Chrysanthemum. (Some might wonder why I wouldn’t have said my proudest moment was the birth of my son, but if I have told you the TRUE events of that harrowing night, you already know it was more of a horror story that I survived rather than powered through with some sort of conscious or heroic effort). My novel was published in January and will be translated and published in many more countries throughout this year. Looking back, it seems as though I was always meant to arrive at this point, although it took me quite a while to realize how to get here.
How does a hopeful writer become a published author? There are countless articles available on this topic, but I thought that since I have reached the wizened age of 40 years +1 day, I would add my sage advice to the pile.
In one word: Stubbornness. I’m probably the most stubborn person I know (besides my aforementioned son whose birth didn’t make the top of the proudest moments list–it seems progeny take on our most absolute, and not always best, qualities), and I believe that sticking with writing, through all the terrible criticisms I received over the many years from tutors, peers and strangers, helped me get here. Why did the terrible criticisms aid me instead of the flattering ones? Because the harshest critiques pushed me to do better. I didn’t get to slide by unscathed as some writers seem to do. It took blood, sweat and cliched tears to find my way here. The fact that it was hard and nearly impossible, yet I kept writing even though I doubted myself and my work, makes it my proudest moment because it almost didn’t happen. I almost gave up.
I lost faith in myself as both a human being and a writer. I thought perhaps what I was trying to do for all these many years was a joke, not a dream. Imagine if I had left it there and didn’t finish my novel. Where would I be today? That’s a horror story I hope no writer ever realizes. My stubborn streak kicked in, and I finished my novel through gritted teeth, even though I didn’t think I was worth it or that my writing was worth it.
Fast forward to today. Over 800 people have read my book and posted their ratings on Goodreads in less than three months since White Chrysanthemum was published. That is amazing–so amazing that sometimes I wonder if I am daywalking through the best dream ever. I have heard from so many people who now have a personal relationship with Hana and Emi and have learned more than they would have thought possible about the tragic history of the ‘comfort women’ during WWII and the haenyeo divers of Jeju Island. I am humbled by the responses from readers, lovers of history and supporters of women. It is wonderful to hear from you and read your thoughts on my novel.
So on this, my first day of 40, I offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who believed in me and helped make this novel happen, and to everyone who has read my book–whether you loved it or not–thank you for supporting a debut author and making her dream come true merely by reading it.*
A word of advice for aspiring writers? Be stubborn. No matter what obstacles you face in your life, never stop writing. That is a dream worth pursuing no matter how many pieces your life happens to have shattered into. Pieces can be picked up, lives mended, especially while holding onto dreams. For what else can lift us off our hands and knees and fly us to heights previously unknown but our dreams?
My fortieth birthday wish? If you have read White Chrysanthemum, please leave a review somewhere. Reading your reviews fills my writer’s soul! Goodreads, Amazon, bookstore websites, twitter, Instagram or even my blog or FB page are great places to leave them.
Thank you, thank you!!! 🙏🤗❤️
*My dream when I started this adventure into becoming a writer was that one day people would read something I wrote, and that my story would make them feel what I felt while writing it. My book often comes with a ‘box of tissues’ warning from previous readers. That makes me smile every time. 😊😭