If Not Now, When?
by Kim Izzo
I remember the precise moment when I sold my first novel, The Jane Austen Marriage Manual. I had arrived at the magazine office where I work as deputy editor and happened to check my cell phone. There was an email waiting to be opened from the editorial director of HarperCollins Canada. She was due to give her opinion on my novel any day now. It seemed that this was the day. I opened it, dreading rejection yet again, and it was beyond good news. It was spectacular news. She loved the book and was going to make an offer to my agent. I read it over and over, all the way to the ladies room. The reason I headed there was because I was crying, completely overcome with emotion that I had done it. I was going to be a novelist. And at the age of 44, it had been a long journey.
I’d always written stories. As a pony-obsessed little girl I had scribbled many a tale about riding and horses. I recall an early report card where the teacher had written encouraging remarks about my creative writing skills but suggested gravely that I should try other topics. The horse crazy girl remained but I did branch out. I became equally movie obsessed and as a teenager I began to dream about writing screenplays. Even going so far as to get a BFA in screenwriting and marrying a screenwriter. But I digress…
Unfortunately, all that daydreaming didn’t magically make finished scripts appear. I bounced from job to job throughout my twenties – albeit in the film business where I became gainfully, if not happily, employed in a variety of crew positions. But, for someone who harbored visions of a writerly life, it was frustrating. In retrospect, it wasn’t the hard work on set that got to me, it was my lack of focus and discipline. I was always full of ideas for stories, constantly jotting scenes and dialogue down in my ever present moleskin notebooks (which I still carry with me everywhere), but the work itself didn’t get done at least not in any great volume.
In my early thirties, frustrated by my lack of a writing career (though by now fully aware it was my own fault and that success didn’t just happen) by luck and circumstance I successfully pitched an idea for an article to a newspaper and they took it, then began asking me to write others, more and more. Suddenly I was a journalist and significantly to me, I was being paid to write! And it is this experience that I credit for honing the necessary skills that my twenty-something self lacked. A successful author once told me, “Writers write.” And at last I was writing. What seems like hundreds of articles about fashion, celebrity, society and every manner of entertainment and lifestyle were printed and my confidence grew, as did my ability to focus and get the job done.
But my childhood goals of writing fiction remained, dormant perhaps, yet that novel or screenplay was in there, silently urging me to get it onto the page. I hesitated, again, lack of confidence. If I hadn’t successfully finished or sold fiction or scripts before, what made me think I could do it now?
My thirties flew by, as does anyone’s, and as my fortieth birthday drew near, and any of you who had read my first novel knows this, at lot happened in my personal life. A bad relationship was drawing to an end, my grandmother was dying and I was only working part-time. One of my friends encouraged me in my goal to write by saying simply, “If not now, when?” And that became my mantra. I began a novel, and it got rejected by agents and editors alike. I was devastated. All these years of reluctance to write and perhaps I’d been correct in assuming that fiction was a dream that was not to come to fruition. I’m not sure what made me think I should try again other than fierce determination and perhaps a bit of obsessiveness. I began the Jane Austen Marriage Manual and finished it a year later, and going back to the start of this web post, it sold.
Since then I’ve written a second novel, My Life in Black and White, which is a time travel romantic comedy set in the world of film noir. The old adage, “write what you know,” was true in the first book and equally so here. My passion for classic movies became an integral part of the plot, as did fashion and once again, a woman’s relationship with her grandmother and mother and the search for truth and love.
And in a twist of fate, the film rights for The Jane Austen Marriage Manual have been optioned by two producers who hope to get the movie made in the next two years. If that happens I would have come full circle back to the little girl and teenager who wanted to write books and movies. Wouldn’t that be a dream come true.
Kim Izzo is a journalist and the author of two novels, The Jane Austen Marriage Manual and My Life in Black and White, which will be published in June. She is also the co-author of the best-selling non-fiction books The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum and its sequel, The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Grace Under Pressure.