True Story

The moment when a stranger says your characters’ names, her voice laced with affection and intensity and familiarity, the moment when you realize this thing you have created is on the verge of leaving the small nest of your imagination and taking flight into the world. That moment. That exhilarating, terrifying moment is the stuff of writers’ dreams.


A year ago, I turned to my husband and said, “I will finish writing this novel because finishing is the right thing to do. I will finish it because I need to know I can. Once it is finished, it will go the way of most first novels: buried at the bottom of a drawer, remembered with a chuckle of affection. It will be a learning experience. But it will never see the light of day.”


I did indeed finish what I’d started, but I fudged a bit on the bottom-of-the-drawer part. I couldn’t extinguish the light on a story that had brought me so much joy and hair-yanking aggravation. I asked others to give me honest feedback on its potential and through their critique, I found the courage to rewrite. Through the months of revision, the same spirit which compelled me to finish the novel pushed me to the next steps: to see if I could find someone who believed in it enough to champion its publication.


Early in the summer, I spent a few agonizing weeks assembling a spreadsheet of literary agents to query once I’d finalized the edits. Narrowing a thousand possibilities to a list of 250 or so, and from that to a first-tier group of 105 was, frankly, awful.


But I knew the true awfulness awaited: the trickling out of my query letter, the trickling in of rejections. Wondering each time, is the really worth it? Everyone says first novels are learning curves, experiments, but really, they’re crap. Was I setting myself up for certain heartbreak, when I should just let it go and move on?


Whatever the answer to that question might be, I wrote in my day planner on the fourth Monday of October, Send first 5 query letters. As if I would forget. Really, I just wanted the satisfaction of effacing the command with a black Sharpie.


Late October, I set sail for the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. The week preceding the conference had been . . . challenging. Within a twenty-four hour period my husband’s job was upended*, my hard-drive curled up in a corner to die, and a bout with the flu had me wanting to do the same.


As I sat on the ferry that chugged from home to Whidbey Island, I thought, “Only car trouble is left.” The ferry docked, I turned on the ignition, and—I kid you not—a fire-engine red service indicator illuminated.


Just get me to the conference. Please. On the car seat beside me was paper proof I’d reserved a pitch spot with an agent months ago. Because of crispy fried hard drive, I had only a copy of my query letter. My memory of my two-minute pitch was as scrambled as those circuits on my laptop.


I arrived at the conference, but the agent I was scheduled to meet did not. There went that plan. I crashed the pitch sessions anyway, determined to tell someone my story.


Six pitches. Six manuscript requests. Come Monday morning—that fourth Monday of October—I sent out six copies of my novel. And then I drew a thick black line through that to-do item in my calendar. My lovely spreadsheet, over which I’d so labored, would just have to wait.




I did it. I did this thing. My story seduced not just an agent, but a publisher. In one fell swoop, between breakfast and lunch two weeks to the day I pitched my heart, two voices on the telephone said, “We love your story. Let us share it with the world.”


My novel is now in the hands of those who believe in its potential. And perhaps by the end of 2015, it will be in your hands, too.


True Story.


*happy ending there, too. My sweet guy received a promotion.

2014-11-16 07.55.46

Bridging the Possibilities Copyright 2014 Julie Christine Johnson

29 thoughts on “True Story

  1. When I first stumbled across Chalk The Sun I was so pleased to find a reader and a blogger who loved similar works that I too had loved. I so love a writer who really reads and who so clearly benefits in their writing from their avid and deep reading.

    And then over time I have come even more to love the way you write about not just what you read but the experience of reading and the practice of writing and the joys and suffering of just living through all of that.

    And then you are a Francophile!

    I absolutely can not wait for your book to make it to publication day, it feels like I have been waiting a long time already, I could have been, perhaps should have been, telling those publishers and agents “Listen Here! this is a sure thing! They are so fortunate to have been gifted your story, so negotiate hard or get someone to help you, because its going to be a big success.

    Enjoy! Congratulations Julie.


    • Oh Claire. What beautiful words. You have been here from the beginning and that means the world to me. I feel like I’m just starting to learn what my words and voice can do. This story is just a start–something to build from. I’m terrified to release it to the world, but trust that those who know their way around this industry will work with me to make the novel the best it can be. And it’s up to me to continue working on becoming a better writer-every day. All this AND remembering to simply have fun– it’s only a book. 🙂

      Thank you for the wonderful comment, for sharing in my joy and for being such an incredible support to me! XOXO Gros bisous


  2. Ahh Julie, reading this makes me so happy! I knew about the news, but hadn’t had a chance to read the blog about it. And this. Brought tears to my eyes. I think because yes, I’m happy for you. But also, somewhere inside I felt–look it happened to her, maybe it can happen for me, too. I wish I’d known you through the writing process of this book. I wish I knew more about your story. But that will happen soon enough. Because you know I’m going to be one of the first to go out and buy it!


    • I treasure this so much. Thank you.
      This year has brought so many beautiful things my way, but it is the human connections that have the most meaning and will endure. I don’t know if I will ever shake the feeling that I’m an imposter, that this is all some cosmic mistake, but I do know that whatever grace I’ve been granted, I want to share. I’m so glad to have found you!


  3. Many, many congratulations and a huge hug. I knew from the first moment I read your blog that you were going to get to this point. You have worked so hard and kept going through life events that would have knocked down those with less guts. I am deeply touched by this well-deserved success. Now get to work and keep writing. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margaret, I can’t tell you how much it means to mean not to be walking this road alone. Thank you for your encouragement and faith. And you know me too well. It’s been hard to knuckle down and focus these past weeks, but I’m plowing through. Working on a new novel has been great therapy for all the anxieties I have about the future. It’s all about the work-the rest is distraction. ❤


    • Jessica, I’ve been watching your journey this year and have learned from your example (and I never did send that e-mail to ask you about publishing with She Writes!). Your spirit and generosity are an inspiration to me!


  4. I’ve been following your blog, popping in and out for the last year. Love what you are brave enough to share with us all. Congrats! Good luck falls upon those who deserve it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom, thank you so much! I’m just waiting for the publisher to announce something official. We’re still mucking around with changing the title.
      The light here gives me so much to work with. My runs are constantly interrupted by photo ops 🙂


      • That’s so cool! If it’s your “Refuge of Doves,” I hope they go with it, as I think it’s a pretty good one. But then I haven’t read the book, so can’t speak to it in context…


  5. Aah, the post I’ve been waiting for. I can only imagine the magic of this long-awaited and well-deserves moment. Sincere congratulations, Julie. The journey continues!
    Bianca 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, dear one! That’s exactly it– one more step. I start to twist myself up in the details-the ones I know, the ones I imagine-and I remind myself that’s it’s all a wonderful journey and each step is one I must take in wonder and gratitude.


    • Thank you! It’s been a nutty, exciting ride and it’s only just begun.

      Hah- funny you should ask about that title. It’s currently being cussed and discussed. At the moment, we’re running with THE REMEMBERING, subject to change. Welcome to Publishing!


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