Rumors of Water: A Small Audience

Forest dream!

My son and I have been talking about his future. He stands just a few of his 38-inch inseam steps away from adulthood and important decisions — where to study, what to study, what to do when he’s done. The calendar is unforgiving, each day bringing him closer to his final year of high school.

Last week he sat down on the dark side of my office. I leaned back in my squeaky orange desk chair and noticed how the light from a single lamp bounced off his eyes as he looked at the ceiling, then the floor. Books and work piled up on every open surface and three computers gaped open, churning away over something very serious. Smart-looking certificates on the wall entitling me to a handful of letters after my name made my office seem the ideal place to find wisdom on the big questions of life.

Fingers laced behind his head, he pumped his powerful arms like bellows and pushed out a long breath. “I don’t want to screw it up, Mom,” he said.

“I just . . . I don’t want to end up like you.”

The sage aura enveloping my office vanished like smoke in a rain shower and I decided sometime soon I would replace the burned out light bulbs.

Oh, I knew what he meant. He doesn’t want to do things the hard way. He wants to get it right the first time.

When I was my son’s age, I wrote a weekly column for The Milbank Herald Advance, our county paper. Famous with the blue-haired ladies who drank coffee in the cafe at 10:00 every weekday morning, I left my town of 3,000 to study journalism in the university with a goal folded up on lined paper in my back pocket: a best-selling book and syndicated newspaper column by age 40.

Midway through college, I made what my son considers to be the biggest mistake of my life. I marched into the registrar’s office and declared a new major: political science.

I murdered my writing dreams in their sleep.

My son knows it. And he worries that a reasonably bright person could do something so stupid. I had my reasons. They even made sense at the time. But twenty-some years and a winding career path later, I work here in the shadows of my basement office to breathe new life into them.

L.L. Barkat encourages me with a story of her daughter hosting a cooking show in the foyer of their Tudor home, not quite a television studio complete with a large network audience.

If we are worried about our writing future, because at the moment we seem to be standing in the foyer with a make-shift table of old cooking tools and a magic-marker sign to announce our show, we shouldn’t worry. We are exactly where we need to be. Tomorrow we might move to the front porch and entertain a few neighbors as well. This is also exactly where we need to be. The key is to keep working with small audiences, while gradually making forays into slightly larger arenas. Right now, Sonia is in the foyer, exactly where she wants to be . . . (p. 108)

Books and newspaper columns are not on my radar today, but for the past four years I’ve come back to giving the words a place to go, keeping a small blog and making a few meaningful connections along the way. Every once in a while I try something new, and every once in a while I notice a someone pulls up a chair in the foyer. Some days, I even think it’s exactly where I want to be.

It’s anaphylactic,
this shock
the poison juice of a
forbidden fruit
dribbled down my throat
so the silver tape
constricts til I need
a longer sort of breath.
Look, just rip off
the cap, don’t fuss
for the vein, Quick!
ram it into my thigh,
right here, on the outside
Break the pen already,
release the epinephrine
words into my stream.


We’re discussing L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water, chapters 21-26 on Publishing. How have your publishing goals changed over time? How do you develop a small audience?

If you’ve posted on the book this week, please be sure to drop your link in the comments for us as well. Join us again next Wednesday for our last post in this series, chapters 27-32 on Glitches and Time.

Photo by Vinoth Chandar. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Lyla Lindquist of A Different Story.

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  1. L. L. Barkat says

    I cried when I read this. Right here:

    “But twenty-some years and a winding career path later, I work here in the shadows of my basement office to breathe new life into them.”

    What a beautiful thing… that you are returning to some very precious dreams. Is it any coincidence that you had to descend to that basement to begin surfacing?

    Love this post for so many reasons. (The dry humor of the opening was just perfect.)

  2. says

    I think the basement as symbolic is worth a little excavation. And there’s a real comfort level for me here in the shadows, too. It’s a good place from which to manage expectations.

    Of course the wit was dry. 😉

  3. says

    “I murdered my writing dreams in their sleep” was like a gut check. You cannot imagine what I envisioned with these words. Self-sabatoge, life gets in the way, who knows what number of things gets us off track. Taking a step back is as bold as taking the first step, at least it was for me. I have gone “small” since dropping my “book”, I started a blog, I read LL’s book, I took a deep breath and slowed down my process, tried to write a poem, read your work, other’s, and just reconnected. If you change the light in your basement, you will find a lot of company with you.

  4. says

    I love that your office has a dark side. :) (When I read that, I heard Darth Vader breathing sounds.)

    I’m glad you had that path. It would’ve turned out a different story :) if you didn’t switch majors. I used to wonder how things would’ve turned out for me if I knew about my desire for writing in those college decision days, but I’m glad I took the engineering, stay-at-home mom, home education days before I took the writing path. It’s richer this way, I think.

  5. says

    Your chair is orange? Somehow it makes me happier just knowing that. I’ve toyed with the idea of posting a picture of what my writing desk looks like. I thought it might explain a few things, like how I so often misplace my modifiers.

    I loved this chapter in L.L.’s book–the cooking show, the practicing small (wait, that sounded a little too Ann Voskamp, didn’t it?)

    I nearly cried during this, too–the part about the thirty-eight inch inseams being steps away from adulthood.

    Dream murderer.

  6. says

    Dry wit isn’t intended to evoke that reaction, Megan. But I get you… 😉

    Elizabeth, with me, it was willful and premeditated. I couldn’t even get off with manslaughter. But you know, they have these rehab programs now… I shouldn’t probably say that Laura is running a halfway house… Stepping away from that for a second (whew), I think there’s a lot to be said for stepping back and regrouping. That being willful and premeditated too, and figuring out the next step forward. I like the ways you’re doing that. (Starting with Rumors of Water really makes it hard to say no to it, don’t you think?)

    Monica, it’s funny you and Elizabeth should both mention the light bulb. I just changed it earlier this morning. My poor aging eyes just couldn’t take the dim light from the one lamp anymore, though I have to admit I prefer it a little shadowed in here, and finding my world for the moment reduced to the space opened by the glow. I have a lot of appreciation for where life has taken me, and through what experiences along the way. That’s actually what my son and I were talking about before he blurted out that high praise for my life’s work. 😉 That it just doesn’t all happen in this straightforward and planned way, no matter how well you map it out from the start.

  7. says

    Nancy, it’s orange. As in late-70s/early-80s orange, a hand-me-down from my mom and dad’s accounting office back in the day. It squeaks and it won’t roll worth a hoot. But it cost me … nothing. My favorite. It’s a nice match to my old library table I use as a desk when I’m sitting and the industrial shelves I turned into my stand-up workspace.

    Maybe you should host a little show-us-your-office game as a housewarming at your new place.

    This section had some of my favorite images of the whole book, not the least of which was Laura carrying Sonia to the beach. (Something I cannot do with the guys in my house with 38-inch inseams.)

  8. says

    For such a long time I’ve been going back over the past, questioning choices and wondering if I took the right path – the one He wanted me to take. Over and over, in one way or another, He seems to say – “Don’t worry. I will get you where I want you to be – in spite of yourself.” I often wonder if we can miss it altogether – the one thing He created us to do. I think I’ve decided that we can miss some of it, but that He will get us there one way or another. It may look a little different, but it will be fit.
    You are such an inspiration to me Lyla.

  9. L. L. Barkat says

    Halfway to where? :)

    It’s a great house. Hot drinks. Laughs. Whispers. Shouts.

    You make me laugh, Lyla. I should say that you’re the one who stepped out (more than halfway), and that’s when I noticed you. I had no idea you had these dreams, which is partly why I got teary-eyed when I read this piece. To think, that your forgotten (and begun-to-be-reclaimed) dreams and mine would converge in this place… really touched me.

  10. says

    Dismembered, but I don’t think ever forgotten. 😉 I’m grateful for this place and your invitation into it.

    Linda, I suppose a lot of folks would disagree with me, but I’m not so sure he has a one-path for us. We’re too prone to miss the turns or wander off to look at something behind that bush over there. I think sometimes he’s happy to keep cutting the branches up ahead of us and clearing us somewhere to keep walking. As long as there are mortals involved, I think it’s always going to look at least a little different at the end than it did at the beginning. Maybe that’s why I appreciated so much this part of what L.L. said: “We are exactly where we need to be. Tomorrow we might move to the front porch and entertain a few neighbors as well. This is also exactly where we need to be. The key is to keep working …”

  11. says

    What a beautifully written post, Lyla.

    Here’s my “found poem” created from words in your post (I couldn’t leave you without one today):

    The Best-Selling Story
    for Lyla

    In my squeaky orange
    desk chair I burned

    out writing dreams
    in the shadows

    of my basement office.
    I knew the aura

    of blue-haired ladies
    murdered in their sleep,

    the unforgiving way
    the light bounced

    and vanished like smoke
    from smart-looking eyes,

    what big questions got
    left in my back pocket

    when something serious
    declared a large audience

    the goal. I want to breathe,
    get pushed past the words,

    be here making connections,
    my fingers laced in my son’s,

    our future the best
    -selling story on my radar.

  12. Sheila Dailie says

    I love the freedom and honesty between LL Barkat and her daughters and her delight in them! So different from my mother who told me that I was too smart to ever be a good teacher!

    This cusp of adulthood is a special time for some significant parent-child/man conversations. And sometimes I still feel like I’m not totally sure that I am where God planned for me to be, but I’m learning to listen better. (Now, as for always following through on what He asks?…)

    A beautiful post, full of thought-provoking ideas, Lyla!

  13. says

    That Maureen – she’s a poetic volcano.

    When I first started my blog (2008), I had an audience of one — me. I conned some friends into reading it. And then my first official follower signed up — and he was a published author. Over time, the tiny audience became a small audience. Occasionally, when I do a guest post, the audience grows. But I always keep my smalla udience in mind when I write — these are the people I’m having a conversation with, and I cherish each one of them.

    My link for this week’s discussion:

  14. says

    I am so very grateful our paths have crossed. Someday I will hold something of yours in my hand then? Write…. dream…. believe.

    and my very goal-ish thoughts have changed. and I’m not sure what they are now. but my audience is larger and I’m not sure if that’s part of it in some way. I can call myself a writer now at least, unpublished and unpaid. So that’s something. I believe whatever it is that I do has mattered to enough people and I’m good with that. But we’ll see. We’ll see. I’m currently on a reading and sewing craze so I’ll go with that :)

  15. says

    Maureen! I don’t know what to do with you! I suppose I should start with warning the blue haired ladies not to go to sleep. But after that, I mean. This is so amazing, what you do. Again, thank you.

    Thanks, Sheila. I wonder sometimes what well-meaning thing I’ve said will come back to me when my kids are my age… I was glad Isaac let me tell this story. I told him the comment I was quoting and asked him if he wanted to read it first or if he trusted me. He rolled his eyes and said he didn’t want to read it. I took that as trust. 😉

    Glynn, I agree. I write with a few people in particular in mind and often forget there is anyone else around. Sometimes they speak up, and it startles me. I have trouble even thinking of it as an “audience” — I much prefer the conversation and participation.

    Hi Deb! I’m so glad to see you over here… What you do has mattered, does matter to crazy lots of people. It matters crazy lots to me. :)

  16. says

    Lyla, The whole small audience thing is a balancing act, to some extent, don’t you think? My first (er, only) book sold 1800 copies and then was pulled out of print. To me, 1800 is huge! But to my publisher, it was paltry, a loss.

    So I think L.L. raises a good question in this section: Should you publish? I probably shouldn’t have. Not then. (Though I don’t regret that the timing was (perhaps) off. Having a traditionally published book gave me the external validation I needed at the time to say, “I’m a writer,” to claim that title for myself.)

    So even though as a writer, I think a small audience is way better than no audience, a publisher might not be quite as impressed :) Those best-seller/syndicated column dreams will have to wait awhile :)

    In the meantime, I keep looking at my small blog audience and remembering those 1800 people who bought my book. They don’t have to read what I write. And they certainly didn’t have to pay for it. Yet they did. They do. And I am so grateful. They are the reason I keep writing.

  17. says

    I just love this. =) everything about it….
    when I first started reading your stuff, I was delighted. You made me chuckle and snort every now and then. And when your dad chimed in, well… it made me feel at home…. and it made me miss my dad.
    Now that I’ve met you… I’ve moved beyond delighted to downright privileged and honored to know you. Everything you write is icing on the cake for me.

  18. says

    Oh miss Lyla, our writing back-drafts sound similar. For me it was journalism. I did it in high school (even was the editor during the last year of light table, cut, paste, roll, etc, before computers ate that fun) and then a sports beat in jr. college. Once at the U though, the prof of my journalism class rubbed me wrongly raw.

    I had a minor, it became my major, and new things became my minors. Yelling kids in a gymnasium and injured athletes became my new bent… (Hey, I did discover that even the greatest athlete in the world, who trained at my college, had ankles that needed taped. And on occasion, this hick country girl got to wield her student athletic training wand his direction. We all need figurative and literal support, aye?)
    I’m wondering about the success of publishing. When my son crayons me a story and staples it together, he has published a book, has he not? It brought me something. If I publish an official-ta-da-looky-looky-at-darlene’s-ink book, then isn’t it enough that my mama, adopted grandma, and that old fart at my grandpa’s funeral who told me that my grandpa used to brag on my writing, isn’t it enough that they would think I’m the real deall?

    Yep. So, why don’t we?

    Pssst, I don’t have a basement, but I’m sputtering to the surface with you. Or at least somewhere beside you. I’m aiming for the ginormous inner tube in the middle of the lake, mainly cause I like to teeter-totter in the water. You game?
    And miss LL, this bit of yours

    “Writing starts with living. Living starts with somebody caring so much about something that they need to drag you out of your writing chair and take you where you’ll be surprised to find your words.”

    sounds a lot like miss Jeanne Damoff’s bit when I asked her…What is the best advice you can give to an aspiring writer today?

    “Aspire not to be a writer, but to live deeply, fully, and well. Aspire to know God, to see Him in everyone and everything, and to slow down enough to tell yourself what you just saw. Then put that on a page or a blog or in an email to your friend. Because the only writers worth reading are the ones who have something to say.”


    “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

    How would our writing change or be influenced or feel worthy if Jesus ran the publishing house?


    Uh, looks like I wrote a post on it in the comments. You are welcome and sorry all at once. 😉

  19. says

    Kimberlee, I think you’re exactly right. If I were looking at wanting to publish in the not-distant future, I might be looking at the audience a little more purposefully than I do right now. I can safely say I don’t have a book in me at the moment (nor any other well defined goals) and so an “audience” (if I have to call it that) of 100 or so at my place is perfect for me. (Truthfully, it’s about all I can manage.) But there are definitely market questions to be addressed if you’re trying to get a book out there, and I’m so glad you dropped that into the conversation. That’s the great part of talking about the book here with others — I barely scratch the surface on my own. It’s interesting to hear your story — would you do it differently if you had it to do over again?

    Darlene, Jeanne has it there. There’s no writing without living. And you raise some good questions on what really counts. It all depends on what you want/need to accomplish, I think.

    Davis hits it home with comment box poetry. “You have not ended-up” :)

    Monica, remember, “we are exactly where we need to be.” Even if that’s Structure. :)

  20. L. L. Barkat says

    I think the question of Publishing is interesting. There are surely different ways to “publish,” all of which have their reasons and realities.

    The thing I like to remember about publishing a book with a publisher is that, indeed, it *is* a big deal from a financial and time standpoint. It takes a huge investment of time not just from an author but also from a publisher (everything from editing to design, printing and promotion). It also costs about $10,000 to publish the average book (factoring in many elements).

    Not all work should be given that kind of professional attention and financial investment. And then, on top of that, the average book sells far fewer than Kimberlee’s (impressive!) number. If we do the math, we see why publishers need to be so careful about who and what they take on.

  21. says

    I was impressed with that number too, especially given the numbers you referenced in the book. I get the dollars and sense of the publisher’s decision. I think that’s why I also really appreciate the reminder that publication is not always the natural and logical route.

  22. Paul Willingham says

    I’m late to the party and of course I won’t be too serious.


    Lo, the slow winding
    path to dreams seems to numb
    into months, to years,
    yet the dream does not succumb

    the genius of Menlo Park
    labored into the night
    and fabricated many a globe
    before he saw the light

    the Fenway boys of summer
    labored more than 80 years
    and thus hold out hope for the
    Windy City Northsiders

    but Noah didn’t lose hope,
    six score years was soon enough
    and Moses, sitting out 40
    years was not near so tough

    dreams sustain,
    like food and drink,
    so pop the cork.
    On that bottle of ink

  23. says

    One interesting fact I read this week. Each year, American universities pump out more Journalism majors every year than there are total journalism jobs in America.

    So, switching a major is actually a smart thing.

    But leaving the dream, that’s a different animal.

  24. says

    I’m always so late here, for some reason. I am chasing circles around myself too often. But if it helps, I hope to turn out JUST LIKE YOU, Lyla! I want to always be able to adapt and change and follow a calling. This chapter of the book was so poignant and so different than other writing books. Oh, most of them will tell you to just write from where you are, but so few acknowledge that an audience really changes things. And sometimes, the best audiences are small audiences.

  25. says

    Even in the middle of the craziest month+ of travel and work (this IS retirement, right??), I so love coming over here and reading these grand posts of yours, Lyla. And LL? Thanks so much for inviting her to spread her lovely words all over this space each week. Are there another one or two to come?


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