On Mar. 13, 2020, I posted a piece of writing to my small group of friends on Facebook. My response to lockdown during the first anxious stage of a pandemic was a brief prose poem told from the future, describing the choices we’d made in facing the virus. That night, a friend asked if she could repost it. “Sure,” I replied, and that was that.
Or so I thought.
Two mornings later, my husband was scrolling through his Facebook page and asked, “How could this former student of mine be reposting something you wrote?”
I had no idea.
The next day, a friend texted me: “Deepak Chopra just read your poem on his daily video.”
And so it began. During a viral pandemic, my poem went viral. Within a week, my little locked-down life was inundated with hundreds of requests from all over the world. It was chaotic, exhilarating, exhausting, and possibly the greatest learning experience of my life. The blessings outweighed the challenges (though they were many and at times daunting).
Two of those blessings stand out. First, going viral when the world was in lockdown connected me with many other artists seeking collaboration and mutual inspiration in translating our conflicted experiences of this pandemic into art. I spent the first year of the pandemic almost entirely immersed in creative work with composers, musicians, visual artists, dramatists, and choreographers. Many of these artists have become life-changing friends. Others twirled into my life and out again, but their enchantment stays with me.
There were experiences that bordered on the surreal. One was when John Corigliano used the poem to compose an operatic solo, which was premiered by Renée Fleming. Another was the poem’s inclusion in an anthology of pandemic poems edited by the legendary Alice Quinn. A third was the many corporations that wanted to purchase rights to the poem. (I said no.)
The second blessing has been the realization of my lifelong dream. I was invited to become the writer I’ve always been and only ever wanted to be. An editor working with Tra Publishing contacted me about turning the poem into a children’s picture book, and thus And the People Stayed Home was born. I was not familiar with Tra, but after researching its work I let go of hesitancy, as so many of these viral experiences were inviting me to do, and entered into what has become a gifted collaboration. It has been like stepping into my true self, that space that had always been waiting for me.
I’d been writing poems and stories for children all of my life, but “over the transom” manuscript mailings, seminars, online associations, literary agent queries, and every other way into publishing that I knew of had yielded nothing. For most of my adulthood, the internet and self-publishing didn’t exist. I thought I’d exhausted my options for entryways into traditional publishing.
Then, 10 years ago, friends of mine started an e-publishing business dedicated to children’s books and signed two of my titles for their initial list. Beautiful cover illustrations completed, the e-books were available on Amazon and Apple Books, but were so quickly buried that very few were sold. Customers weren’t purchasing children’s e-books, and—more importantly—my friends and I had full-time jobs and no funds to promote the effort and creativity we had poured into our venture. After a few years, we took the books down and regretfully moved on to tending life’s immediate demands. When I was able, I posted short essays and poems on my blog, wrote stories and books and left them in neat rows of computer files, and lived the half-life of an unpublished author.
A viral poem, Tra Publishing, and its gifted editor and wonderful team—including its art director, publisher, illustrators, public relations expert, and sales consultant—changed that, and by doing so, changed my life. It has proven to be the perfect partnership. I welcomed the group effort involved in the publishing process, and was delighted when And the People Stayed Home became a bestselling book. Looking back, it’s ironic that we rushed the publication, thinking that the pandemic would be forgotten by late 2020. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
This experience has offered an infusion of energy into my writing practice. I am happily engaged with Tra Publishing on two additional books: The Rare, Tiny Flower (Apr.) and Oliver and the Night Giants (spring 2023). More are hopefully to come. And I’ve been working on other writing projects, including more picture book manuscripts, poems and essays, and a middle grade novel. I never could have planned the mysterious viral steps to book publishing that I’ve experienced, and I look forward to what is coming next.
Kitty O’Meara is the author of And the People Stayed Home and The Rare, Tiny Flower, as well as the blog The Daily Round.