Whenever I am asked to do anything, in the literary world, I agree if at all possible. I hate to turn down anyone genuinely interested in me or my work. How rare and amazing that attention is.
This kind of philosophy can backfire, of course. This winter, I am scheduled to teach four courses and two one-day seminars, to edit fiction for a men's magazine and to write a column for said magazine, to co-write a book on adoption, to do monthly profiles of Asian American writers, to comment on three friends' manuscripts, to travel for several readings, and to write a story for a literary magazine, all while promoting my first novel. I would also like to write a draft of something new.
I am a little overextended.
My wife has my best interests at heart when she tells me to say, "no." But being agreeable is how I came to publish my book.
A couple of years ago, an editor asked if I had a story for an all-flash-fiction issue of an online publication. I didn't have anything at hand. Yet that didn't stop me from saying, "I could." I walked around for weeks turning over an image in my head. I walked around until that image—of a beach covered in dead starfish—contained a voice.
Afterward, I couldn't let go of that voice. I wrote 19 more pieces, each shorter than a page, spiraling out from that first scenario, with a boy on the beach and a narrator who might be his father, that atmosphere of washed-up aftermath. I sent those pieces out, a few at a time, until one editor asked if I had 20 more. Again, I said, "I could."
I started to see my miniature stories as chapters. When I had 40, I sent 20 to the editor. I seemed to have a chapbook then, a small book like a poetry volume. My narrator was adjusting to life as a father. And I might have stopped there if I hadn't been contacted, months later, by a publisher who asked if I had a full-length manuscript. They wanted at least 120 pages.
Being open to opportunities, and saying yes to those requests, is part of participating in the literary community, I think. My novel would not have existed without that community. It is a book written-on-demand. I am lucky to have been asked, but I remind myself that it was up to me to say, "yes." It is on the writer to turn those questions into an answer.