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The Unapologetic Geek

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Pregnancy and Publication

My wife is pregnant. The prospect of having our first child is exciting, to say the least, and weíve been wanting it for some time now. At the same time, Iíve managed to peak the interest of a potential agent for Thesea, and the two things arenít as far removed from each other as you might think.

So it begins...
So it begins...

Weíve been trying to have a baby since the middle of last year with no success. It wasnít until we stopped trying a few months ago (some other, temporary issues came to bear on us that we wanted to deal with first) that it happened. The whole time we were trying, I was thinking about how amazing it is that the mechanism for pregnancy actually works. Thereís the issue of timingóa woman is only fertile for two days a month at maximum, and sex has to occur within a twelve hour window preceding ovulation for the optimum conditionsóas well as the issues of good genetics, fertility, libido, and dumb luck. Sometimes itís almost hard to believe that people can get pregnant at all, much less all the time.

Looked at from the viewpoint of a single sperm, the odds of impregnating an egg are beyond astronomical. Even if the timing is right and the womb is receptive, a single sperm has on average about twenty million competitors, only one of which might be successful.

And that doesnít even get into what happens once a woman is pregnant. Sure, itís been hammered into me that the mechanism of pregnancy is relatively fool-proof in a low-risk environment, but I canít help but think about issues of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, genetic anomalies, knotted umbilical cords, breech babies, premature labor, accidental trauma, etc., etc., etc. Even if, by some miracle, a sperm manages to fertilize an egg, that egg has a long way to goónine months of the wildest and busiest physical growth imaginableóbefore it can even be called an infant.

Be sure to stick around for the networking social at the end of the conference!
Be sure to stick around for the networking social at the end of the conference!

Of course, even then youíre not out of the woods. Those first five years of life are essential in determining the psychological make-up of the child, and all kinds of other factorsósociological, physical, and mentalóare involved in what quality of life the child can expect.

All of this was in my head on Saturday, when I attended the 20th annual Maryland Writerís Association writers conference. It occurred to me, as I attended lectures about writing, publishing, and publicizing, met with a prospective agent about my own work, and tried my darndest to overcome social phobias in order to interact with my fellow writers, that being a writer is a lot like being a sperm.

I imagine that many a young sperm rails against how unfair the system of pregnancy is. I imagine that even the old, wise sperms complain about how the times are changing for the worse, with the advent of so many sexually transmitted diseases and new forms of birth control, not to mention the increased rates of abortions and the possibility that all youíll be used for is stem cell research. Itís harder than ever for a prospective sperm to make it these days.

And even if, by some astronomical chance, you do make it, your journey to success has only just begun, and the number of roadblocks still ahead of you is daunting in the extreme. But hey, this is the life you chose, little sperm, so get used to it.

Maybe I'm just not ready to make a run for the ovum
"Maybe I'm just not ready to make a run for the ovum"

The agent I secured ten minutes with was highly receptive to my pitch for Thesea. I managed to act professional and calm, and it helped that I had my pitch completely prepared (and mostly memorized) ahead of time. In fact, I didnít even use all of my ten minutes! She asked me to send along the first 100 pages of the book, which is going out in the mail this morning, and promised that, if it didnít fit her particular niche, she would pass it along to somebody else who she felt would be a better match.

While I remain cautiously optimistic, donít interpret this as big news. Frankly, itís not. If writing a book is the first step and getting the interest of an agent is the second step, there are at least two more steps to go before you can even begin the publication process. The third step would be securing and signing an agent, which is no small task, even with interest and a complete manuscript making the rounds, and the fourth step would be getting your manuscript sold (preferably by auction) to an editor.

But even that is just the beginning. Thereís still publicity to think of, not to mention the irreparable damage that can occur to your budding career if something goes wrong. Much like those first five years in a babyís life, the first six weeks after your first book hits the shelves is going to determine with a high degree of permanence what happens to your writing career. Itís a little frightening, especially when you start looking up the rates of a local publicist.

Perhaps there are parallels between birth and Thesea...
(painting: "Birth" by Dana Schutz)

I donít know where I currently fit in the metaphor. Getting the interest of an agent could be as far along as getting that first date, or maybe you could look at it as the glorious moment when a few dozen sperm reach the egg. The chances for my career launching from this event are real, but not necessarily worth getting all excited about.

However, when all is said and done, my wife and I are still having a baby, and with each passing day, the chances of that working out increase. So, even if the agent decides she hates the first 100 pages of Thesea and stalls me out again, Iíll probably be seeing my actual baby around Christmas this year.

And yes, I know itís taboo to announce a pregnancy before the first trimester is even over, but Amelia and I are incapable of keeping secrets, and word is spreading much faster than we originally anticipated. Most of our close friends and pretty much our whole families have already heard the news, so any damage resulting from a premature pregnancy announcement has already been done. If she miscarriesóthereís around a 15% chanceóat least we can share the grief.

Many people, including myself, have made the parallel between having children and creating a work of art, but Iím already starting to realize that this analogy may be stretching it a bit. Creating something with your own hands and mind is easy, just like itís easy to produce sperm, but having that creation reach its fullest potential is something much more precious. If only one of the two goals Iím striving for today work out, I can honestly say a miracle has taken place.

-e. magill 05/05/2008

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