Buddha, West Wing and the Crossroads Moment

The crowd was small, the venue, remote, and the time, awful –Friday afternoon before the 4th of July.

Looking back, the recent library reading to which I committed – and ultimately enjoyed immensely – reminds me of a poignant episode of, The West Wing, and of Buddha’s warning about two mistakes on the road to truth: “not going all the way, and not starting.”

In the flashback episode, Jed Bartlet is the little known governor of New Hampshire. Old friend Leo McGarry visits to plant the idea that his old friend should run for president. He has even written the slogan, Bartlet for America, on a cocktail napkin.

At the library, I spoke to a group of seniors, some of whom were pretty feisty. “So what do you think of the media?” one demanded. They liked the back story of how I self-published, and tsk-tsked at the way Bella manipulates men.  They liked the cover, which shows Bella holding the remains of her husband’s uniform, and a shot of the Capitol. As we said goodbye, I was unsure of how to measure success.

The notion that TV’s Bartlet could win the White House was as incomprehensible as, well, the idea that Bella could wind up a bestseller. We learn in the finale that the future prez had saved and framed the napkin. He gives it to a McGarry as a Christmas gift in one of the finest scenes of a wonderful show.

The power of the moment is in realizing that Bartlet would never have won the nation’s highest office had he not begun the journey, or quit along the way. We relate because all of us have stumbled upon such a crossroads moment and failed to realize its significance until much later.

How will I look back on my visit to the Hicksville Public Library two years from now? Did I strike a chord, plant a seed, win some followers? Somehow I feel it was an hour well spent.

Maybe you can relate. If so, please share a moment in your writing career that seemed minor at the time, but which turned out to be more important than you ever imagined.

18 Comments so far »

  1. Christine Nolfi said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 11:57 am

    Thanks for asking, Steve. My “moment” arrived just a few weeks ago when I noticed a flurry of email from book reviewers in my inbox. One by one, they were putting up 4- and 5-star reviews for my novel, Treasure Me, on Goodreads and Amazon. Immediately my sales numbers began to rise.

    I’ve noticed Bella is zooming to the top of the charts. I can’t wait to read your debut and wish you all the best in your career.

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Yes, Christine, I know exactly what you’re talking about. My challenge at times is to realize there’s not always a direct link between book sales and good reviews, or lots of followers on Twitter and Facebook. What makes sales jump? I’m not really sure. I only know that we have to keep trying, stay open to new opportunities, and lay aside preconceived notions about the path to success.

    [Reply]

  2. Kelly Hashway said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

    When I queried my agent, I made the mistake of querying early–before she was officially open to queries. I felt awful when she replied to my email stating that she wasn’t open to queries yet but that she’d hold on to it until she was. I seriously felt like the kid who didn’t pay attention and got called on by the teacher. It was an honest mistake on my part, but I felt I’d made a bad first impression. Little did I know, my agent read my query early, and as soon as she was open to queries she emailed me again requesting my manuscript. Very soon after–a matter of days–I got the call. So that one moment that I thought was a mistake on my part and that would never amount to anything, turned out to land me my agent. I couldn’t be happier about it.

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Hey, Kelly, I have to wonder if sending the query early was really a mistake. Sometimes we’re blinded by our impulses. Sometimes that’s a good thing…

    [Reply]

  3. Barbara Briggs Ward said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    You got me remembering this little moment in time Steve:
    A few years ago I was asked to participate in an event at an area elementary school. Adults in all walks of life were invited. Each of us spoke about 15 minutes and then the kids asked questions. I was there as an author/illustrator. Since my name is Ward I was near the end of the program so the kids were just a “little” restless. As I always do I first talk about my best Christmas present ever-a simple pine desk my grandfather made me. It had a single drawer and when I opened it I found a pad of lined paper and a sharpened #2 pencil. That-I say-is when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I go on to tell them how I taught myself to draw and how I have a table now just for illustrating. By the time I was finished speaking and a few questions were asked the kids were up and out of there.
    I thought for sure no one heard a word I said.
    A few days later I received a call from the school’s principal. A father of a little boy in second grade had called to tell her his son had rushed home from school that day all excited. Without a word he ran up to his room. The father went up to see what was wrong. He found his son picking up some of his toys and putting them on his bed. The father asked him what he was doing and the son replied he was making room for a desk. He wanted a desk so he could write stories and draw pictures just like that lady at school did when she was a kid.
    Lesson learned-You never know who you might touch as you go from libraries to schools to fairs to festivals.

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Fantastic, Barbara, and a reminder that as we go through the process – and through life in general – we’re also modeling behavior for those who come behind us.

    [Reply]

  4. Judith Marshall said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

    When my debut novel, HUSBANDS MAY COME AND GO BUT FRIENDS ARE FOREVER, won the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club, I thought I was on my way to getting published. But, in 2009, after more than 200 rejections, I gave up and decided to independently publish. Back then, there was still a stigma attached to doing this, but to my amazement, the book caught the attention of a film producer and has now been optioned for the big screen. What started as a fall-back position, turned out to be the right thing to do.

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    What an inspiring story, Judith! Thanks for sharing, and I hope you saved some of those rejection letters. I wonder if you were tempted to contact any of those who turned you down …

    [Reply]

  5. David Barry DeLozier said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

    Last summer some friends invited my wife and I over for an impromptu party to see their “synchronous fireflies,” a unique phenomenon that fit perfectly into a story I was writing at the time. I enjoyed reading your blog, learning of your book “Bella,” and watching your professional video trailer. Best of luck to you!

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Thanks, David, it’s really true that you never know where inspiration will strike. I think the key is keeping your mind open.

    [Reply]

  6. Fred Moramarco said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

    Steve: Any anecdote that can take off on quotations from Buddha and “The West Wing” has to be good. Of course it was time well spent–connecting with readers LIVE instead of this nebulous cyberspace. Your measure of success is that the audience responded to your book and your ideas, took home a presence of your image as a writer. Now they can put Steve Piacente in the pantheon of authors they can recognize–right alongside of Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, and Shakespeare. I don’t have a comparable story to share with you, but in the poetry world, live readings are commonplace and poems thrive when read aloud. I think segments of fiction do as well–I don’t know if you read from the novel at all at the event, but a short passage read aloud in the author’s voice is always a treat.

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Hi Fred, yes, I read a few excerpts and told some behind-the-scenes stories that the folks seemed to appreciate. For those who don’t know, please Google Fred Moramarco and you’ll quickly learn this is a man of many talents!

    [Reply]

  7. Wayne Zurl said,

    Wrote on July 10, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

    Hi Steve,
    Just a couple of weeks ago while workshopping a novelette called THE GREAT SMoKY MOUNTAIN BANK JOB on The Next Big Writer.com, I finished posting the third installment and I received an email from a publisher telling me how he liked the story, which was destined for submission to the publisher who has been producing my short books as ausio and eBooks, and asking if I would consider having it published along with a collection of my other novelettes as a hard copy anthology. “Yahoo,” says I. And I told him about a full-length novel (2nd in my Sam Jenkins mystery series)called A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT I was about ready to begin peddling to publishers. Send me a copy,” says he. A week later he offered me a contract. Getting “discovered” by a mainstream publisher while I was diddling around at an on-line workshop is like Troy Donahue getting “discovered” while working as a soda jerk in an ice cream parlor in Hollywood. I’m happy.
    All the best, Wayne Zurl

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    I’d think you’d be ecstatic, Wayne. I think there may even be a story worth writing in your tale!

    [Reply]

  8. P.I. Barrington said,

    Wrote on July 11, 2011 @ 5:23 am

    Mine was the first thing I ever wrote for a contest my school participated in with the local American Legion. I thought it was dumb at the time (I was in third grade)and I won in a blind numbered entry. Looking back I should probably NOT have run away from writing in order to chase down music!

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Ha, we’re going to cut you some slack, given that you were only in third grade, P.I.

    [Reply]

  9. AE said,

    Wrote on July 11, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

    Showing me a picture of a skull, A wise mentor of mine taught me about giving perspective in my writing. At the time I thought it a good lesson. Looking back, I’ve used that image to improve the message and the voice of my writing. So much gets lost in the noise of my field, giving my principals the voice of perspective means they get heard more often than not.

    A great and lasting lesson indeed!

    [Reply]

    stevepiacente Reply:

    Hm, out of context, that sounds a little odd, AE. Lucky I know what you’re talking about! Hope all is well; your principals are lucky to have you!

    [Reply]

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment

Name: (Required)

E-mail: (Required)

Website:

Comment: