It happens every year on the day after the Grammys, the VMAs, or the American Music Awards; Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites unite in one common refrain: we wish Taylor Swift would just stop faking it.
Taylor Swift has won dozens of awards, so we've witnessed this scene dozens of times. The nominees are announced, and the camera spins through several women's faces until it locks in on Taylor Swift and her dazzling eyes, her flawless skin, and her expression that seems to say, "Was that my name I just heard?" And then the inevitable happens; she's announced as the winner, she gasps in surprise, she staggers to the stage, and "OMG! OMG!" etc.
We find ourselves wondering how, as a young woman whose experienced unimaginable success at such an early age, Taylor Swift can be so consistently blown away by winning awards. I like to think I'm not a cynical person, so maybe she's surprised that the announcer didn't call out "Taylor Hicks" by accident, or perhaps she's buying time in case Kanye West takes the stage to say a few words in refute before she ascends to the podium. Or, and this is a long-shot, she's actually surprised each and every time.
And why wouldn't she be? She was only 11 years old the first time she went to Nashville in search of a record deal. By the time she was 16, she'd already made her first album with a major studio, and soon she was touring the nation as an opening act for some of the biggest names in country music. I can't begin to imagine all the struggles she and her family faced in making those things happen. Now, when her name is called on awards night, perhaps Swift is thinking about how lucky she is or how important it is to humble oneself before the camera or how marketable one's modesty can be. But, because I like to think I'm not a cynical person, I choose to consider the possibility that Swift, in that moment, is recalling the sacrifices she and her family made to even get into a studio, much less win major awards.
On the other hand, I recently watched a video interview featuring a mega-successful author — the kind of author who sells the film rights to books that aren't yet written. At one point in the video, the interviewer asks if the author's success has reached beyond his or her wildest dreams. The author replies, "Yeah, I suppose. But I never look back at what I've done; I'm always too busy looking forward." Again, I like to think that I'm not a cynical person, so perhaps this author has no reason to look back at the struggle of writing a book, much less the struggle to have someone read it and then publish it and then market it and then buy it. Perhaps this author is supremely confident in his or her work and never had any doubts that he or she would be successful. I, however, don't possess that kind of confidence.
I wasn't certain my first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, would be published until the night my agent phoned me to let me know that William Morrow had made an offer. Even then I didn't quite believe it, and each day that a contract went unsigned I feared the deal would fall apart. Even after the contract was signed, the editing process complete, and the review copies published and distributed, I was afraid that no one would read it.
And then, it happened: people read my book, and then they talked about it and wrote about it online, and if they happened to meet me they told me how they felt after reading it.I was shocked because there are thousands and thousands of books published each year. How in the world did mine ever find its way into someone's hands? I was thankful because of all those thousands of wonderful books I couldn't believe people would dedicate hours of their lives to reading mine. But, more than anything else, I was reflective. I couldn't help it.
Writing first became important to me during my sophomore year of college while I was working at a tuxedo shop at the mall in Asheville, North Carolina. In the morning, after opening the store alone, I'd go out to my car and retrieve my giant desktop computer and carry it into the store, piece by piece. Then I'd set it up in the floor of one of the dressing rooms and write until I heard a customer milling around outside. In college, there were countless nights when I passed up the opportunity to hang out with friends because I was shackled to my desk, trying to finish a story. I'll never forget the night that a group of my friends was partying in the basement of my dorm, literally beneath my feet. I was up all night, and so were they. I'd left a pair of muddy shoes in the shared, hallway bathroom, and, to protest my absence at the party, one of my friends stumbled upstairs during the night and peed all over those muddy shoes. I also missed a lot of nights in grad school while three of my closest friends stayed up late drinking beer, telling funny stories, and talking about writing. After grad school, during my first summer teaching in West Virginia, my parents drove 12 hours to visit me. I was revising my novel under a deadline set by an agent, and much of that week was spent at my desk while my parents drove the West Virginia back roads alone trying to, as my mom put it, "Keep out of your hair." Then there's the more recent summer when I spent two months at writing residencies, leaving my wife behind to move all of our things into the first house we owned as a married couple.
When my book sold, when people told me they read it, especially when they told me they liked it, these are the things I thought about. And, when I think about the sacrifices that I and other people have made to make my dream come true, I can't help but be thankful. And I can't help but be a little shocked, too.
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Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches English at Bethany College. He lives with his wife in West Virginia. A Land More Kind Than Home is his first novel.
Books mentioned in this post