Since my last blog post, it’s been quite a whirlwind…
After writing about the Day the Bottom Fell Out, I started seeing the article get shared all over my Facebook feed. Normally I’m not one to watch stats; I write this journal mostly for myself and for my kiddos someday. But I was curious…Over 16,000 views. That’s as close to going viral as I’ve ever come.
I wish it weren’t for this…
A few days after the blog post, I spoke with a dear friend of mine, Jessica Goudeau. She is what I consider a “real writer,” with a book coming out soon and articles published in national publications and a literary agent. She didn’t hesitate. “You need to write more, Carrie. It’s time.”
She sent me emails outlining how to pitch an OpEd to big-time newspapers. She listened to me cry about what I was witnessing in my town and the disconnect I felt from the rest of the country. She gave me a list of names and email addresses of important contacts. She told me how to find more. She heard my story and helped me distill my wandering angst into a writing plan. She read the first draft and thoroughly edited it, a gift when most often I’m just told, “This is great!” by anyone who reads what I write. And maybe most importantly of all, she reminded me that an inability to change the circumstances doesn’t mean I’m powerless. As a writer who focuses on the refugee experience, she’s unable to change much of anything for the people she’s come to love. She knows the feeling of futility well. But rather than resignation, she turns to action. “We can bear witness. We can be a voice.”
And so I wrote. And I cried. And I deleted. And I wrote some more. And I feverishly edited. And I hashed the ideas out with Jacob a thousand times. And I had a couple of very close friends, in addition to Jessica, give me feedback. And then on a Saturday night at 7:30 pm, I emailed it to 10 newspapers around the country.
And I thought, I’ll give it a week of no responses and then I’ll publish it on my blog.
Four hours later, late on Saturday night, I had a response from the Wall Street Journal. They were interested. The next day, I heard from the New York Times… they were too. Suddenly (though with a lot more drama in the moment) I found myself in the unbelievable position of choosing between two incredible newspapers.
For those who don’t entertain writerly dreams, I feel the need to explain… This isn’t how this goes in real life. The last OpEd I wrote, I submitted to the Midland Reporter Telegram and didn’t even get a “no thank you” response from the editorial desk. And now I have been published by one of the most respected newspapers in the world. It still feels unreal.
I’ve been asked a lot why I chose the Times. It was simply and only this: I wrote the piece because a NYC senator tweeted her happiness at oil’s crash. Since deleted, those tweets struck a deep nerve with me. While I know every senator serves primarily their own voting constituents, I wish she’d come have a burger with some roughnecks before she reacted with quite so much excitement. I wanted to publish in the paper where I felt like the average reader would be most unlikely to have considered this WTX point of view. And based on my impression of the two publications, that was the New York Times.
As I went into the editing process, I braced for awkward exchanges and uncomfortable conversations with my stereotype of a “hotshot NYC editor” who probably “didn’t like what I had to say.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. The editor was encouraging, helpful, thoughtful and worked hard to help me clarify my core points. The piece was stronger for his insight. He told me to write more and offered advice and ideas. And then when it published, I braced for trolls and mean emails and a callous response. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve had the most thoughtful email and even phone exchanges — from a pediatrician at Harvard to a climate activist in Northern California. The entire experience has renewed my hope in the possibility of having civil discourse; of stepping outside our own echo chambers long enough to “walk a mile in each other’s shoes.” (More on this soon… it deserves its own essay.)
And it seems this is only just beginning. A few days later, again thanks to Jessica, I had the opportunity to visit on the phone with a literary agent from the East coast. She offered to represent me by the end of the call. (Again – this is not how I imagined this going. I always imagined getting rejected or ignored by a hundred agents before one agreed to take me.) I signed a contract this last Friday evening, one week after the article published. The agent is already guiding me through the book proposal process and developing a plan to pitch to publishers. I don’t know where this all leads, but I’m going to keep walking through the doors that open. No matter if it ever becomes a book or not, I feel a deep yearning to continue to write my way through this; to bear witness to the everyday stories of regular folks trying to build a life in dusty WTX.
To be honest, I’m still wishing these writing opportunities weren’t opening up for me because of all this heartache and destruction. And I’m also keenly aware that a large part of the national interest in our story is because many outsiders think I’m writing our community’s obituary… that we’re going to go the way of coal and we’ll never recover. But I can’t stomach that… no matter what happens to Midland/Odessa, oil and gas, or my family and those I love, I stubbornly trust that in the end, it will turn out to be a resurrection story.