The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow
Joyce Magnin

Joyce Magnin is the author of the popular and quirky Bright’s Pond novels. She is a frequent conference speaker and writing instructor. When she’s not writing or reading Joyce enjoys baseball, needle arts, video games and cream soda but not elevators—especially glass ones. She listens to many kinds of music, shamelessly confesses to enjoying American Idol, has never eaten a scallop or sky dived. Joyce has three children, Rebekah, Emily and Adam and three grandsons, Lemuel, Cedar and Soren and one son-in-law, Joshua. Joyce lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania with her son, Adam and their crazy cat, Mango, where she cares for an eighty-year-old onion plant. You can also visit her blog at:

Real Life Is Stranger Than Fiction

When Is a Fish Like a Writer?


The other day I took my son to the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I enjoyed the Inner Harbor, but the aquarium? Not so much. I figured for the $27 per person entry fee I might see something spectacular. Now don’t get me wrong, there were some pretty amazing fish in there, but I came away yawning. I did like the dolphins, although we couldn’t catch a show, only a training session, which was cool. What I did take away from our day at the aquarium is this: First, I am glad I am not an eel, and second, fish are like writers.

We’ve all heard the expression, “a little fish in a big pond.” Well that’s what a writing career is like for most of us. We’re the little guys swimming as hard as we can to keep up with the bigguns, staying on the current; or maybe we want to keep our distance, stay separate, and survive. Seems to me life in an aquarium, and in the publishing industry, is all about survival. But here’s the thing. All those fish created something marvelous together: an eco system, a symbiosis where each species is somehow dependant on the other. I’m not just talking about the ever popular food chain, although, as I watched the divers feed chum, which we all know is pulverized fish, fish that have met with the Saturday Night Live Bass-O-Matic, that notion became all too clear. The food chain is alive and well in the ocean.

I saw shrimp that dig holes by clearing away tiny rocks so they can burrow inside, but in doing so they disturb the substrata so much that it kicks up food for other fish to gulp down. So yeah, they all matter, from the tiniest shrimp to the biggest shark.

Fortunately, however, in publishing we don’t actually get eaten by bigger writers. We might get overshadowed the way a giant stingray casts its great shadow over the little, well, whatever they called it, and eclipses it. But just for a moment. Then the little fish is free to enjoy the limelight. But I didn’t get the sense that the little fish wanted to be the big fish. They seemed perfectly content to live out their careers in the shadows, sometimes swimming alongside and at other times feeding off the big fish.

That’s right, some fish scour the backs of other fish for parasites they can chomp down like popcorn. In a way, smaller writers ride the coattails of the big guys, gleaning what they can from their experience, following them around, nudging them into corners, sharing a meal just to get a . . . oh wait a minute, I believe that is called a writer’s conference.

But the thing is all the fish work together, rely on one another, except, I wasn’t too sure about that great big giant green eel I saw squirming in and out of the huge rocks. I’m sorry, but he was just plain ugly and no one seemed to like him—the other fish, I mean. They pretty much kept their distance. Poor soul. Huge, green, and unloved. Guess there’s better things in life.

I suppose it’s the sharks that seemed to fascinate the people the most. They’re kind of like the Steven Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the aquarium. People flocked to the shark tank. They couldn’t

get enough of watching these great animals swim so effortlessly around and around the tank, unbothered, by anything else. They put their heads down and kept moving. Sharks are amazing. They are very confident, good at what they do, and they keep moving and entertaining.

I enjoyed the smaller displays. The ones with the little fish, the colorful ones—vibrant yellow Tangs and purple whatever they were, the odd anemones and urchins and sea cucumbers that looked like they were crafted from God’s Play-Doh. Now those I could watch for a while. I likened these fish to the literary writers of the world. Gorgeous, but not so popular.

The aquarium was big and full to the gills with fish, all living together in a mostly peaceful environment, working together, feeding together protecting, one another. Okay, the big ugly green eel wasn’t, but I guess when you’re that big and that green and that ugly, you can do whatever you want. The point is, publishing is a big aquarium with a lot of fish, and we all need one another to make the environment work.


Carrying Mason

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