There is a broken Lego set on the table, and I can feel a few pieces under my feet, the small ones, the kind the vacuum sucks up without any regard for the incomplete set it has just created. There is an open newspaper at the other side of our large dining room table, and there is my wallet with a one dollar bill folded in the clip. It is a quiet morning, an early summer morning, and through the windows I can see the barely rustling trees that line the alley, the gray-blue humid sky, and the wooden framework above our small back porch that needs to be painted.
Maile is in the kitchen, washing and cutting strawberries. The water makes a pinging sound on the metal sink. She is barefoot, still in her summer pajamas, a kind of airy, blue dress, light as a breeze. It is just the two of us in the open kitchen-dining room.
I hold up a book I’m perusing, a book I’ve read many times before. Stephen King’s On Writing.
“Listen to this,” I say. “I love this story.” Stephen King writes,
My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden (and washing sheets at New Franklin Laundry during the summer vacation). If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories on the front porch of our rented house on Pond Street or in the laundry room of our rented trailer on Klatt Road in Hermon was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me. Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given.
“Sounds like you,” I say to Maile, smiling. I continue reading.
I had a phone call…My wife, sounding out of breath but deliriously happy, read me a telegram…CONGRATULATIONS, it read. CARRIE OFFICIALLY A DOUBLEDAY BOOK. IS $2500 ADVANCE OKAY? THE FUTURE LIES AHEAD. LOVE, BILL.
I think of when I received the email that The Day the Angels Fell had found a publishing home at Revell. I remember sitting down in the study, my back against the wall. I tried to read that email to Maile, but I couldn’t read it without crying, so I just handed my laptop to her, and she sat down beside me and read it, and she started crying, too.
At some point while I’m reading King’s book out loud to her, Maile comes over to the table and perches on the bench, right beside me. She crosses her legs and puts her chin in one of her hands.
“That story about Stephen King and his book makes me want to cry,” she says quietly.
“Wait until you hear this part.”
One Sunday not long after that call, I got another one from Bill Thompson at Doubleday. I was alone in the apartment.
“Are you sitting down?” Bill asked.
“No,” I said. Our phone hung on the kitchen wall, and I was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “Do I need to?”
“You might,” he said. “The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for four hundred thousand dollars.”
…I hadn’t heard him right. Couldn’t have…I was still standing in the doorway, looking across the living room toward our bedroom and the crib where Joe slept. Our place on Sanford Street rented for ninety dollars a month and this man I’d only met once face-to-face was telling me I’d just won the lottery.
That was Stephen King’s story, but I know it. I can feel it. By now my own throat is aching, because I can imagine what that must have felt like. I am filled with happiness for Stephen King in that long-ago year, when he received such good news. Good news. We are all yearning for good news, aren’t we? We all have that desire in us, to see that we are making our way in something that we love to do.
I close the book and leave it on the table. I trace the wood grain with my finger. Somehow, Maile and I are far, far away from that kitchen.
“What in the world are we doing?” I ask Maile in a whisper, and while I don’t get any more specific than that, we both know what question I’m asking.
Why do I spend so much time writing books? Why is she querying agents over and over again about her own quiet, beautiful book, not stopping in the face of rejections? Why do I keep freelancing when sometimes the checks come and sometimes they do not? Why do we spend nearly every waking moment reading books, talking about books, writing our own books?
Can a life made out of words be enough?
Maile leans over and puts her head on my shoulder, her hand on my leg. Her hair tangles in my beard.
“We’re chasing our dreams,” she says, and her voice is rich with happiness. It is enough. That’s what she’s saying.
We sit like that for a long time, or what feels like a long time, the hot summer morning pooling around us, children waking and coming downstairs, asking for breakfast, the city waking up. Poppy and Leo climb like monkeys up onto the stools beside the island and start eating the berries Maile has cut, their mouths curling in the sour-sweet. Poppy giggles.
“These are new berries,” she says in her squeaky, almost-three-year-old voice.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, they are.”
* * * * *
My next book releases in only five days. Five days! After all this time, Light from Distant Stars has arrived. I’d be honored and pleased if you’d preorder it from any of these booksellers (or perhaps your own local bookstore not listed below):
Aaron’s Books, Lititz, PA – call 717-627-1990
Barnes and Noble
Hearts and Minds Bookstore
If you don’t have the money at the moment, you’d be doing me an incredible favor if you contacted your local library and asked them to order it. Then, you can read it for free.
11 Replies to “Some Thoughts on New Berries, Stephen King, and Chasing Your Dreams”
Never heard this about Stephen King’s beginnings. Wow. Your description here rocks. I ordered your new book yesterday and look forward to reading it. Keep pushing on and keep driving the Uber as long as it takes. Best to Maile’s efforts.
Can’t wait for my copy to arrive next week.
Or, if we can spare the dollars, also buy a copy for your local library so others have the amazing opportunity of reading Shawn Smucker’s work.
Your words are important Shawn…the world needs them. (and Maile’s too)
Thank you, Donna.
Reminds me of how hubby has always spoken of my constant encouragement in his profession… chasing a dream. That’s what it’s all about.
There’s no substitution for encouragement.
So beautiful, Shawn. Thank you for trusting us enough to welcome us into your kitchen at dawn. And, yes. A life can be made out of words. A rich life.
Thank you, Ingrid. You’re welcome in my kitchen anytime :)
Wow, what a beautiful description of your morning. Chasing dreams is SO hard…and playing the comparison game to someone else who “won the lottery” while chasing theirs sometimes helps spur us on but mostly ends up discouraging us I think, me included. When I read that story of Stephen King’s, I was hit with a double dose of discouragement…1) my husband and I have been chasing dreams for years and have yet to hit the lottery. We’ve worked our tails off and have made what feels like baby steps in the right direction is all. 2) have I been the supportive wife the whole time? My answer would like to be yes, but I’m afraid there’s more “no” than I’d like mixed in over the years. Could my husband say what Stephen King said? I don’t know for sure. But yet we continue on…and we question almost weekly, sometimes even daily, “What in the world are we doing/thinking?” I think if the questioning is present, it means we’re on the right path…I heard Diane Von Furstenberg tell Sara Blakely in a recent IG post “Only losers never feel like losers.”
I don’t really know you , but when I read something like this I, I feel like I do . Has anyone ever told you that you have a unique way with words ? Well , you do . I have read your books , and ordered your new one . I am looking forward to reading it . In my humble opinion , you are a great writer !
Shawn. Again. Thank you.
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