How does it feel to achieve a breakaway success?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I dream of the day when all my efforts might come to a completely successful culmination. Like many writers, I've had some modest coups, but who doesn't long for that big breakthrough, a work that shines in the national spotlight, or climbs the bestseller lists? How does it feel when you first realize that your work has achieved this kind of dreamed-about success?

My strongest feeling seems to be incredulity. I can’t believe that such a simple little tale, writing in and of a simple P.E.I. [Prince Edward Island] farming settlement, with a juvenile audience in view, can really have scored out in the busy world. I have had so many nice letters about it and no end of reviews. Most of them were very flattering. Three or four had a rather contemptuous tone and three were really nasty.

One of the reviews says “the book radiates happiness and optimism.” When I think of the conditions of worry and gloom and care under which it was written I wonder at this. Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work. I would not wish to darken any other life—I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.

. . . It is a joy to feel that my long years of struggle and unaided effort have been crowned with success. But that success has also evoked much petty malice, spite, and jealousy. It does not hurt me, because none of my real friends have been guilty of it. But at times it has given me a sort of nausea with human nature.

— L.M. Montgomery, from The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. 1, 1908


Erin Blakemore - The Heroine's Bookshelf February 1, 2010 at 2:27 PM  

I love this quote (so much that I put it into my upcoming book). Maud was a tortured soul, but one whose suffering gave us a wonderful gift in the Anne books and her other series.

Nava Atlas February 1, 2010 at 2:34 PM  

Erin, what is your upcoming book? I do so love L.M. Montgomery. I have read a lot of her journals and you are so right, she really suffered so much not only from her own nearly lifelong depression, but from her husband's mental illness, and the travails of motherhood. Her sons were no picnic and not much help to her.

Yet through it all she held firm to the belief that her gift was to bring joy to others' lives. She had no illusion that she was any sort of literary genius. She was able to compartmentalize her sorrows and continue working through all of her life's considerable ups and downs. Thanks so much for your comment!

Jennifer February 2, 2010 at 4:57 PM  

I grew up avidly reading any LM Montgomery, and only in my adulthood did I realize how hard and sad her life was. Now I appreciate the gift of her stories even more.

Erin Blakemore - The Heroine's Bookshelf February 2, 2010 at 6:08 PM  

It's called "The Heroine's Bookshelf" and deals with literature's greatest heroines and the lives of the women who wrote about them. LMM and Anne of Green Gables are one author/heroine pair, as are Jane Austen/Lizzie Bennet, Alice Walker/Celie, Louisa May Alcott/Jo March and many others. It was so fun to write and I am constantly humbled by the lives BEHIND the books. It comes out in October from can find out more at

Cheers - you're a fixture on my Google Reader :)


Nava Atlas February 2, 2010 at 7:18 PM  

Erin, I think I remember reading about that on the PW deals report and thought it was an awesome idea, and a cousin to my own forthcoming book, The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life which is coming out in 2011. Perhaps we can do some cross promotions. Can't wait to see your book!

Buried In Print February 3, 2010 at 8:32 AM  

LMM's journals were such a shock to me as an adult reader. For a girl-reader, she certainly accomplished the goal she describes in this entry, and I turned to her stories when I needed that sunshine and optimism, but now, having read her journals, which grow ever-darker as the years pass, I find it hard to separate the sadness of her life from her writing. Montgomery fans might enjoy exploring the Digital Archive here; I've browsed there quite a bit myself. And I'm really looking forward to the print version of Literary Ladies: great concept!

Erin Blakemore - The Heroine's Bookshelf February 3, 2010 at 3:52 PM  

Awesome, Nava! Drop me a line... erin at erinblakemore dot com :)

Anonymous February 10, 2010 at 10:57 AM  

ahhhh, yes the arid desert. I am quietly exploring the nothingness and the irritating heat =D

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Wouldn't you love to get advice from  classic women authors on writing and the writer's life? Here I fancifully pose the questions, and the Literary Ladies answer in their own words.

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