Last week, a really nice article appeared in the New London Day, about–of all things–me. Back in the late nineteen hundreds I used to read the Day on an, ahem, “Daily” basis, as a student at Connecticut College. So the story seemed somehow more significant than the others that have appeared in newspapers around the country.
The hook was last Saturday’s book signing at the Mystic Seaport bookstore. Even after so many events this year (and a few in 2008), an invitation to the Seaport is a special honor.
Better yet, the article (entitled “Sailing into a Writing Career”) also cleared up a dilemma. At book signings, the question from readers and fans that I struggle with the most is this: “How did you go from Olympic sailing to writing fiction?” Whether they’ve come to meet the author of a story about a twelve year old and the Great Hurricane of 1938 or a 21st century Olympian, the juxtaposition of the two – in the same body – is confusing, even to me. Someday I’ll write a book about going to the 2004 Games, but one thing’s for sure–Oliver’s Surprise ain’t it.
Thanks to journalist Kristina Dorsey (who has never met me), now I have the link between Olympic sailing and writing fiction: Self-motivation.
As I told Kristina on the phone, “Nobody is making me sit down to write fiction that may or may not be published.” And nobody forced me to buy three boats, fundraise, find sponsorship and teammates, and go on the road 200 days a year for a very un-guaranteed reward. Success at the top end of my chosen sport requires a great deal of personal sticktoitiveness, and I sure can’t justify it from the financial end.
Hmm, that sounds a lot like fiction writing.
Many of us put a lot of time and effort into things for which we don’t get paid. Or at least, we don’t get paid ENOUGH to financially justify all that time and effort. Most people call these things “hobbies.” For better or worse, I’ve now taken two “hobbies” far beyond the usual scope of the word –and found success in both. As one of my Jamestown acquaintances told me a year ago, “It’s not fair that you got to go to the Olympics and now you’ve gotten a book published too!” The least I could’ve done, she seemed to be suggesting, was get something published ABOUT my Olympic experience. I’ve often thought that would’ve been easier; an obvious leap from sailing to writing.
How nice, then, to have a random reporter figure out that it’s the same aspect of my personality driving both forms of success. Olympic sailing and fiction writing require the same thing: A dogged devotion to craft that has nothing to do with making money, one that probably couldn’t survive within a (potentially more lucrative) 9 to 5 mentality.
I spent three hours at Mystic Seaport last Saturday, handing out bookmarks and chatting with visitors from all walks of life. I sold twice the number of books expected and spoke with close to a hundred people–by far my biggest and best signing yet. And even though I was wearing my booksigning uniform (the Team 2004 podium jacket), only two people asked about the Olympics–one because she’d read the newspaper article. In that setting, I was simply the author of the book lying on the table between us.
Now that I finally have an answer to the question, are people going to stop asking?