Because of last-minute changes in our plans, a ridiculously inadequate guide-book, and the general lack of signage in the city, our trip to Rome was hasty and chaotic. Our "romantic" evening at the Trevi fountain put us in the middle of a carnival-like mob of tourists and panhandlers. We spent a huge chunk of one day wandering the sizzling streets around the Colliseum trying to find the way in. Much of our visit entailed staring at our impossible-to-decipher map, peering down streets, and saying things like, "I think the Pantheon might be this way. Or maybe that other way." But the confusion was punctuated by moments of awe--and it led to one of my favorite things about traveling: unexpectedly meeting writers.
It happened when we were accosted by a supermodel at St. Peter's Square. Seriously, the woman could have been on the cover of Vogue. Instead, she was selling tours of the Vatican. Her primary sales pitch was that the tour group already had reservations, thereby eliminating the need to stand in line in the blistering heat for two hours. That was reason enough for us. We paid the fee and followed the supermodel to the entrance.
Our guide, a young American man, was knowledgeable, charming, and funny, and he led us on a wonderful jaunt through the Vatican museums. He also turned out to be a writer. Not a successful one yet, but a real writer, by which I mean not just a guy who likes calling himself a writer, but one who sits down every day and churns out words and keeps submitting his work, even if it isn't getting published. Frustrated by rejections, but bolstered by some encouraging words from editors, he has self-published a short story collection, which he is selling on Amazon for 1 Euro (that's about $1.25).
When the young American found out I'm a writer and editor with a few books out, his face lit up like the gold paint on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel. He hemmed and hawed and flushed and then finally got up the nerve to ask if I'd be willing to read his work, let my friends know about it, maybe review it on my blog. I said I'd be happy to give it a look. "If you don't like it, just let me know and I'll give you your Euro back," he said earnestly. I told him there would be no need for that.
Years ago, when I was first starting out, I wrote to a newspaper columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle--someone I admired and read regularly. I'd already published a number of magazine articles, and I had a column in the Modesto Bee, but I was making a pittance, and I was still trying to figure out who I was as a writer. I told the Chronicle writer about my own column, how I wrote about environmental issues and had recently been writing articles against the death penalty.
I'm not sure what I expected back. Maybe a word or two of advice or a scribbled note wishing me luck. Maybe nothing. What I didn't expect was for him to publish a column a few days later about how stupid death-penalty opponents were. It was clearly in response to my letter, and even though no one else could have known that, it was enough to make me feel put-down and humiliated. That was the exact day I decided I'd always try to support other writers whenever I could, even if just to buy their books or offer an encouraging word.
I love the idea of writers helping writers. One of the great joys of having a bit of success under my belt is the fact that I can offer others a small hand. There's no reason writers shouldn't support each other. Writing isn't a competitive sport, and one writer's success doesn't diminish another's chances. J. K. Rowling's astounding rise, for example, didn't make it harder for those of us with fantasy novels in the works. If anything, it made it easier because it brought more people to the world of fantasy fiction. So there's no reason to be envious of other writers or threatened by their successes.
The way I see it, we're all in this crazy writing life together, whether we're getting published in all the right places or collecting a mountain of rejections, winning Pulitzers or merely fantasizing about them. If we all linked arms, maybe it would feel a little less scary.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...