In January of 2019, I was in an auditorium on a cruise ship anchored at the tip of South America. My mother and I had an excursion planned that day—a boat ride to Magdalena Island where penguins nest in large numbers. The auditorium was filled with people waiting to board their tours. Some were taking smaller, higher-speed boats than the hundred-passenger ferry we were booked on. Others were taking our exact same excursion, just at a later time.
While we waited for our group to be called, I used some of my precious internet minutes to check my email, and there, totally unexpectedly, was the email I’d been waiting for my whole life: an offer from a traditional publisher to buy one of my books. Not just any publisher—my ideal publisher, my first choice. By then, I’d self-published plenty of other books, but trad publishing was a validation I still yearned for. I’d gotten to the point of thinking it would never happen for me, but there it was. In a state of excited shock, I daydreamed about my career spiraling upward. First one book, then another. Exposure to a whole new audience. Audio books, foreign translations, professional editing and cover design.
Suddenly, a cruise employee made an announcement: due to anticipated rough seas, the smaller boat excursions were all being canceled. In addition, excursions planned for later in the day would also be canceled because conditions were expected to deteriorate. In the end, our boat was the only one that set sail for the island. We were happy our excursion was happening as planned, because rough seas had already prevented the cruise ship from docking at the Falkland Islands, which was the other stop with penguins. And I was hoping we might see a whale or some dolphins on our way to the island too.
It was a beautiful day—warm and sunny, and the seas were calm. I suffer from motion sickness under some circumstances, so I’d taken a pill that morning, and when they’d warned us about the seas being rough, I took a second one. But the seas weren’t rough at all. I stood right up at the bow of the ship where it felt like we were flying over the water. Dolphins played with us as we went—diving under the bow, racing along the stern, doing tricks for us out in the open water. And yes, there was a whale. It only breached briefly, but I saw it.
The island was dense with penguins. We got to walk right in between them, and they didn’t mind us at all. The babies were almost big enough to leave the island, but they were still fluffy and adorable. We took hundreds of pictures of thousands of penguins. How lucky was I? I’d gotten an offer on my book, and I got to see the penguins.
We re-boarded the ferry for the trip back, but before we got underway, the captain made an announcement that ended my hopes of seeing more sea life on the way back. Everyone had to stay in the cabin. The seas had come up, and it was going to be bad.
Friends, it was bad. The waves were almost as high as the boat. As we crashed into each trough, it sounded like the boat was literally cracking apart. A cabinet came loose overhead and smashed into the table I was sitting at. No one was hurt somehow, but it was a surreal addition to the hellscape we were already living in. Someone at my table threw up. Then another. Then my mother. All over the boat, people were vomiting. The crew handed out barf bags until they ran out. Then they disappeared altogether, too sick themselves to be helpful. My mother clutched an already-used vomit bag over her mouth, throwing up into it over and over. There was nothing I could do.
The pills I’d taken worked, so I didn’t get sick, but being relatively non-naseous gave me more time to wonder if we were all going to die. I was seated by the window, so I could see every up and down—the way the bow dove into those troughs as the captain intentionally steered directly into the waves. The trip out to the island had taken an hour. The trip back took three. Vomit ran down the front of my mother’s coat. Two people had to be evacuated by wheelchair.
So was I lucky or not? Only a hundred people got to see the penguins that day, and I was one of them. But I also almost died. A lot. Would I get on that boat again, knowing how it was going to come out? I don’t know. Three hours of terror vs. a lifetime of remembering penguins. I don’t know.
You probably already know the punchline to that offer for publication too. It was from Dreamspinner. The book got published, but by the time it did, Dreamspinner was in a tailspin. I could’ve made more money publishing the book myself and avoided all the agonizing over what was the ethical thing to do. But on the other hand, I’m glad I got to have those experiences at least once, to see the view from that side of the fence. So was I lucky or not?
Today I am, like most of us, isolating at home, but at least I’m not on a cruise ship! Right now, I feel lucky, but if there’s one thing I learned from that day last January, it’s that you never know. Those folks who had their excursion to Magdalena Island canceled were probably pretty annoyed at the time. And there are authors who were sad when Dreamspinner sent them a rejection letter instead of an offer. But those people were better off for their momentary disappointments, though they had no way to know it at the time.
All we can do is make the best of where we are and remember that the lucky/unlucky line is thin and constantly shifting. What may feel like bad luck today could prove your saving grace. And vice versa, unfortunately. I hope you’re keeping well wherever you are, and that somewhere along your timeline, some good luck comes your way.