Monday, April 30, 2012

Being Unreasonable

by Priscille Sibley

My husband often tells me that writing is not a business for reasonable people. He tells me this when I'm discouraged. He says that in order to succeed, I must be a little unreasonable. Now, by saying that, he does not mean I should ever be rude. On the contrary, writers should weigh all sides of a situation -- all points of view as it were. We should always try to be kind and respectful and humble in our professional dealings. But he tells me I must be unreasonable because in order to succeed at a daunting task, it takes an unreasonable person. One who can weigh the odds, realize it may not be possible to succeed, and still persevere.

So, let me suggest a different connotation for unreasonable (after all, we're writers and we love words.) I suggest in some regards we must aspire to be unreasonable. Why? Because reasonable people don’t set out to write novels. They don’t offer their work up for critique. Here it is; now tell me what’s wrong with it.  They don’t query agents, receive rejections, and try over and over again. They don’t pray for reviews, knowing those reviews could be scathing. (Of course, we’re actually hoping someone will tell us we’re brilliant.)

Reasonable people find jobs with guaranteed incomes, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Here’s the thing: I never aspired to live a reasonable life. Although for the most part that’s exactly what do. I grew up in a two-parent home, went to college and got an ordinary job. I married and am still married. We have three terrific teenage children.  But as the cliché points out, the devil is in the details.

I met my husband while waiting to go up in a small Cessna. We weren’t in an airport. We were in a potato field. And the pilot had removed all the seats but his to make room for six fools. I was one of those fools. We packed ourselves inside only so we could jump out with parachutes attached to our backs once we’d reached an altitude of 3500 feet.  I jumped nine times over the course of the next few months. On my most memorable jump, I landed in a tree. I was hurt (my leg still bears the scar), and after I healed, I still jumped a few more times.

So I suppose it’s not surprising that I persevered through all the trials along the publishing road. I wrote my first novel when I knew absolutely nothing. (Let’s just say it was a learning experience.) My second attempt went better. For that one, I actually landed an agent, but that manuscript didn’t sell. When my first agent and I parted I still had the dream.

I kept writing. I came up a new story. I researched, I wrote, and then I revised – repeatedly. It was crazy. Why would any sane person continue to spend an endless amount of time doing something which might never pay off? Well, I did jump out of an airplane again after I’d landed in a tree. I’m not a reasonable person.

I found another agent. She pulled my query letter out of her slush pile. She liked the idea. She liked the partial. And then she called.  She told me she loved certain things about it but – she wanted revisions. What she said resonated with me. I loved her suggestions. I loved her approach, so I buckled down yet again. A couple of months later I signed with her.

Last October, my novel, THE PROMISE OF STARDUST, sold to William Morrow in a pre-empt. If I’d been reasonable person I would have given up long ago, and I would never have realized this dream.

I don’t think anyone is ordinary. That’s a misnomer. Our characters may live “ordinary” lives, but we want to see their pluck in a difficult situation. We want them to overcome obstacles and to learn and grow. We want to see them find the extraordinary in themselves and thereby giving us hope that we can too.

So here’s to being unreasonable. Here’s to creating characters who find the will to exceed expectations. 

In that way be unreasonable. Persevere. Aspire. Dream. But don't become a prima donna! Remember, we want our readers to love us. We want our colleagues, our agent, our editors, our writing community to love us. So be respectful and kind and humble. And save that unreasonable side for reaching for the stars (or your rip cord.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Cancer Has Taught Me About Writing And Living

Two weeks after my debut novel "dropped" into the world, I was diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer.  Since then, I've done a six-week book tour across North Carolina, had a radical hysterectomy, gone on a blog tour and started chemo.  Not exactly what I'd expected in what was supposed to be 'my' year.
At first, I didn't want to tell anyone about the disease, but that quickly became unfeasible; people were contacting me to do readings and I had to explain why I couldn't; my editor had been patiently awaiting my revisions to the second novel and I didn't want him to think I was dawdling; and, I figured it was something my agent should know.  So, I went public.
As I deal with the gritty life of coping with cancer, I've noticed some similarities between the writing life and living with cancer.  An odd coupling, to be sure, but one that has landed on my head.  For what it's worth:
1) Part of the joy of writing is the surprise stories and poems often bring.  Just when the writer isn't sure of what to do or where to go, inspiration hits and you're off, the adrenaline pumping and the muse calling back over her shoulder, "Hurry up!"  Cancer is a surprise, too, though not in quite the same way. Three little words--you have cancer--can turn your life upside down in just those seconds it takes to utter them.  That is the power of words.  And that is the substance with which writers work. To render words into poems and stories carries its own power and that power can change the world, too.  Just remember, that one word--Yes!--is all you need to keep going with writing, even if the yeses are few and far between.  Yes, I like this story! Yes, I want to publish this poem! Yes, this novel is for me!  One word, in the blink of a frog's eye, the world is changed again.  Yes, we can cure you!  Yes, you'll have treatment! Yes! And, while I love the sudden insights writing can bring, surprises like being diagnosed with cancer are the kind I could do without.  But there are good surprises even in that--suddenly, I'm very clear about how I want to live the rest of my life.  Being a more dedicated writer is one of those aspects cancer has brought into focus.  Plus, I've been writing such a long time, I know everything that happens is grist for the writing mill.  Cancer is just one more thing I will know about and understand in a very personal way.  More grist, better writing.
2) I've been writing professionally for over twenty years.  I started late in life, raising and supporting my family first, like many writers, I suspect.  Two qualities helped me make it those full twenty years before my first book (AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me) was published---patience and perseverance.  I can't tell you how many times I've rewritten that memoir, carefully excavating more details, searching through my father's records, reorganizing and touching up the story until it finally found a home.  For a woman who wants to hit the ground running, quickly doing chores on the way out the door, such patience does not come easily.  It's a skill at which I've had to work hard. 
Perseverance, on the other hand, is more in my nature; some might call it stubbornness.  I can dig in my heels and not move an inch.  This has proven to be helpful as a writer.  I really do believe you can move a mountain, one little pebble at a time. So, while I'm not always naturally patient, I have a bulldog's tenacity.  Over time, I have learned to have patience with the process, to understand that sometimes, writing moves of its own accord to its own rhythm.  And to keep at it, no matter what.
Cancer seems to operate on similar principles.  It shows up unannounced and quickly gets to work.  To deal with it, I need to be patient with the process, even though the process is debilitating and sidelines me from most of my other work.  I need to keep on getting the treatments until my doctors tell me it is time to stop.  I can't quit.  Luckily, because of my writing life, I begin to understand these concepts and can use what little discipline I have developed as a writer to become a healthy cancer survivor.
 3) Faith, hope and love seem to be important in the writing life, as important as patience and perseverance; faith in your work and in the ability to bring the vision in your mind to incarnation; hope that the effort will be seen and valued by others; and love---love of the project, of every character and every nuance in the work, of your own small abilities, of the smorgasbord of joy, tragedy, foolishness, that make up this wild, crazy experience of being human.  These same qualities impact the cancer life, too--faith in your doctors to have the knowledge to cure your illness, hope that you'll be one of the good statistics, and love. Love received in the form of meals prepared by strangers who are trying to help, from friends who call and hold you when you cry, from family members who allow you to scream and moan and complain and refuse to turn away.  And the sudden love you feel toward this imperfect, yet fully-functioning body--the same body you have chastised for its wide hips and tendency to pad the middle, the same body bearing stretch marks from the birth of three fine sons, the same body that gives you the pleasure of birdsong, a sunset, the spinning earth, every single day.  It is for love we write; it is for love we live.
My life as a writer has served as good preparation for the unexpected.  I never dreamed I'd get cancer right after my book was born.  But there it is--we're never really ready for such events. I guess if you're going to be a writer, you have to say 'yes'---yes to it all--yes to the love and yes to the pain; yes to the deadly doldrums of recovery and yes to the debut novel being released.  Yes to the fear and yes to the courage! Yes to receiving as well as giving love! Yes to the skylark and the raven! Yes and yes and yes!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Difficult Second Novel

by Lydia Netzer

First book. Done.
It's sitting there in a neat pile by my desk. My first novel, Shine Shine Shine, in glittering, glowing advance reader copies. The blurbs are in, the cover is designed, the thing has been revised fifty thousand times, and its pages contain everything I wanted to say about humanity, love, death, motherhood, and fear. Every word has been analyzed, moved, changed, tweaked, and every line is purposeful. And I like it.

It's sitting there in a file on my computer. My second novel, as yet untitled. It is a first draft, which means it hulks and skitters across the page. It is unfinished, which means I don't know all its secret agendas and devious little plans yet. It might change. It's full of stupidly repeated words. It's got place-holder dialogue and language, like "Describe the institute lobby here, fool, if you can." And I'm a little afraid of it.

In my imagination, the first book addresses the second:

Second book. Not done.
"What's up, noob? Hey, you got some pie filling on your collar. Or is that self-indulgent interior monologue? Dang, you're going to need to revise that, honey!"

Smartypants first book is not very tolerant of the second book's growing pains. Like an older sibling that pokes a baby and says, "Can it play yet?" Really, I want to love them both. But the first book is just so charming. Second book looks monstrous in comparison.

If I were a potter this would be easy.
I like a nice chili bowl. (Credit)

The first book is like a glazed, finished bowl. It's microwave-safe. Its motif is well defined. It's symmetrical. You can eat chili out of it and not die of lead poisoning. You can put it on your shelf and admire it. You can say to your neighbor: "I made that" and your neighbor will not back away in terror.

This is actual clay mined by me.
The second book is like a lump of clay you just dug up out of the yard. It has rocks in it, and streaks of dirt, and it's as symmetrical as a brain tumor, and if you tried to eat chili out of it... well, you would never try to do that. Because who eats chili out of a hideous lump of clay? Who would EVER want to do THAT?

"No one," whispers the first book. "Because it's just so hideous!"

The difficult second novel (or album). Is this really a thing? Oh yes, it's such a common problem that there are blogs and bands named after it. Stephen Fry explained it like this:

"The problem with a second novel is that it takes almost no time to write compared with a first novel. If I write my first novel in a month at the age of 23, and my second novel takes me two years, which have I written more quickly? The second of course. The first took 23 years, and contains all the experience, pain, stored-up artistry, anger, love, hope, comic invention and despair of that lifetime. The second is an act of professional writing. That is why it is so much more difficult."

Is that why it's so difficult? I'm not sure. Maybe there are other reasons. Here's my list:

1. It's always hard to draft. Writing through the drafting stage while the first novel is sitting there winking at you, fully edited and polished, takes a lot of fortitude. It's hard to remember your first book was once this difficult, that it once sat in tatters as you completely rearranged the timeline, that it used to be three main characters instead of one, that there was a really pretentious and unlikable stock trader in it, that it once had a line in it where one woman held the other woman's entire husband in her mouth, like a cat. It's hard to remember that the first novel used to be bad, used to be rough, used to be just like this.

2. The second novel sends you in a definite direction. The first novel is a point on a graph. The second novel is another point on the graph. But in between these points, something very significant is formed -- a vector. And the vector points to your future as a writer, and where your career will go. With one novel under your belt, and a second in the works, it feels like you could put the second point anywhere.

Darker, or lighter. More romantic, less. More literary, more commercial. More about cats, more about dogs. More hope, more despair. But ALL of those choices seem dangerous. If I write another book about artichokes, does that mean that all my future books must be about artichokes? Conversely if I write my second book about pears, will all the artichoke fanatics who bought my first book be disappointed and upset? Or is elliptical produce too limiting entirely -- maybe my second book should be about wristwatches.

3. There's not a lot of time to focus on it. This is why kid #1 gets a baby book elaborately filled in and packed with keepsakes. Kid #2 gets a "firsts" journal maybe, and by the time you get to kid #4, he's lucky to show up as a blur in the background of an aunt's snapshot.

4. You feel like you've already said everything. We writers are not in the business of holding back. We put it all out there, as much as we can, in every single chapter, and we don't save back reserves to get us through next year, when there is a long, wide feasting table to be piled with everything in the pantry, right now. At least I don't. So when I had finally finished the eleventeenth revision of Shine Shine Shine, I felt that not only was I done with it, but that I was done with saying things in general, because everything I wanted to say was in that book. Everything important to me was represented. It felt complete.

Of course, that was dumb. Of course I have more to say. There are huge stones yet to turn over and an entire weird universe of questions to pry open. Now that I'm locked into wrestling with my new book, I'm urgent about its new ideas. As for not having a lot of time, hey, kid #2 might not get the elaborate baby book that #1 is so proud of, but kid #2 is going to get all the benefit of my "first time" experience. I'm a better writer now than I was when I started. That helps! And yes, my second novel will send me in a direction. But the reality is that I was already going in a direction. The second book is as inevitable as one breath follows the next, and the idea that I could set that second point down anywhere on the graph -- that is actually the illusion. I'm going to write the book I have to write, and do the best job I can, and what comes out will set a vector, yes. But that vector was pre-determined by the mess in my brain, not by some decision I think I've made to send myself down this or that career path.

Which brings us back to the act of drafting. The act of sticking one's hands into the lump of clay, while the glazed and finished bowl sits gleaming on the shelf (full of chili, I hope). And that, my friends, is just going to be hard. But fortunately, I'm in it up to my elbows, and my characters have grabbed me by the throat, and I'm not washing my hands until this thing looks like a plate. See you in the kiln!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Author Interviews: Staple of the Blog Tour and Terror of the New-book Mother

by Sophie Perinot

Book blogs are the new “village square” as far as word-of-mouth for books goes. With Amazon and Goodreads reviews anonymous (in many cases) and (sadly) for sale, and with newspaper reviews often non-existent for books debuting in paperback, readers looking for quality fiction are relying more and more on the on-line book community. That makes book bloggers valuable “taste makers.”

As a result, the blog tour is fast becoming a staple of the book launch. What does this mean to the “new mother” of a book—a lot of running and a lot of writing that is not adding word count to your WIP.

There are three basic types of blog-appearances: guest posts, reviews, and interviews. Reviews are low workload but high stress. I suspect that needs no explanation. Guest posts aren’t much different than posting at your personal blog (although a tour host may suggest a topic or at least be looking for a post that fits with the themes and aims of their blog). So today I want to talk about the “Author Interview,” because chances are—unless you were a spokesperson or celebrity at your day-job—you haven’t been interviewed frequently or at length before.
In conjunction with the release of my book-baby, The Sister Queens, I have (to date) been interviewed nearly twenty times. That’s a lot of Q & A mes amis. Here are some lessons and reflections from my blogosphere journey that may help those still awaiting their due-date.

1. Start answering questions early. As a new book parent you are going to be sleep/sanity deprived and pinched for time. You are also likely—at least in the first week or two—to have the attention span of a gnat (“look! Amazon rankings!). So, whether you are lining up your own blog tour or working with a professional tour organizer try to get as many sets of interview questions before the tour even begins. Every interview you complete pre-delivery is a gift to your future new-parent self. True, some interviewers won’t write their questions until they’ve read you’re your book, and yes book bloggers have their own lives, but at the very least arrange to have each set of interview questions one full week in advance of the date they are scheduled to post. You’ll be glad you planned and worked ahead. Trust me.

2. Take a cue from your interviewer and her/his blog. You are an author, you know ALL about voice. Well, blogs and bloggers have voice too. If you are being interviewed for a blog with the voice of Stephen Colbert a certain touch of humor (wry, irreverent humor) might be appropriate in your answers. If you are being interviewed by a blogger with the voice of the Pope . . . not so much. There are lots of ways to convey the same information, so calibrate your tone to your platform—at least a little. OBVIOUSLY you want to be yourself when talking about yourself. Just be yourself tailored to your audience.

3. Be a good guest (or best efforts and professional demeanor). Bloggers don’t have to host you, so make it a good experience for them. Remember, your interviewer took the time to think up questions and is opening a public forum for your use. Courtesy and gratitude demand that you do a thorough job of answering your host’s interview questions. Expound, expand, and entertain. “Yes” or “No” may start your answer but they shouldn’t be your answer. Yes, after a dozen interviews the sight of the question, “what was your inspiration for the novel,” may cause you to break out in hives and bang your head against the nearest wall. But just because you’ve answered a question before DOESN’T mean the blogger addressing it to you has read or heard your answer. Ditto her readers. EVERY interview is a chance to reach new readers and inspire them to pick up your book. Don’t toss an opportunity away by giving an answer that telegraphs “I am bored.”

4. It is okay to make suggestions. If you have something you are dying to share with readers there is NOTHING wrong with suggesting a question on that topic to your interviewer. For example, I really (really) wanted to address some common misconceptions about 13th century women, and one of my blog-hosts was delighted to include a question and answer on that topic at my suggestion. Similarly, you may read a question and think a follow up to one is needed. Or you may feel that two questions are overly similar. As long as you are diplomatic you can certainly suggests cutting, adding or rephrasing material.

5. There is more than one way to skin a cat (answer a question). I owe my husband (BIG) for this little insight. I was wrestling with a question that—by my reading--required a huge information dump. My husband said, “what if you give the question a more surface reading and response?” Bingo. The more interviews I did the more I realized that I could craft answers to highlight information, ideas and themes I wanted to convey to readers—information and themes that portrayed my book as I want it positioned in the market. Answer the interview questions you are given in the manner most likely to attract readers to your book. This does not mean lying or telling readers that your book is something it is not (e.g. The Sister Queens is not literary fiction) it simply means clear, clean branding.

6. You do not have to answer every question. You did not surrender all your personal privacy in the delivery room when your book-baby was born. In “real life” people sometimes ask us questions we decline to answer (is that your real hair color? how much money do you make?). If a blogger asks you a question you are uncomfortable answering, don’t answer. Again, just be polite.

7. Hesitant to talk about yourself? Conquer your scruples. There will come a moment during “blog tour mania” when you may have the following thought: “Oh my god, I am a narcissistic b*tch.” This is a good sign—it likely means you are not (or so I tell myself). Try to remain calm, and remember you are NOT that person at a cocktail party who suddenly starts telling someone about their latest achievement in great detail, without provocation. The information you are providing was solicited. Someone (the interviewer) believes there are readers interested in knowing what you drink while writing or whether or not you wear socks (actually the latter was one of my all-time favorite questions—but then again, I like funny).

Just don’t get addicted to all the attention because, like all exhausting but exhilarating things, your blog tour will come to an end. Pretty soon there will be another author in your place at “book-blogs-are-us blog” answering questions about the view from her writing lair and the inspiration for her novel. Hey, doesn’t anybody want to ask ME something?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why Debut Authors Need Hogwarts: The Top 5 Publishing Secrets No One Tells You

by Amy Franklin-Willis

When the unknown writer crosses into the promised land of publication, she feels victory. Validation. Joy. Astonishment. Revenge. Lucky. Grateful. Psyched.  Exhausted.  All at the same time.  And so the publishing roller coaster begins.

In March 2010 my novel The Lost Saints of Tennessee sold to Grove/Atlantic. Two months ago it was published.  Throughout I have found myself wishing there was a writing conference or a retreat or, perhaps most of all, a school to attend that could prepare me for the most challenging and thrilling stage of my writing life.  

A school where your publishing contract gains you admission and the campus is located in a castle outside of Manhatttan, maybe in Poughkeepsie or Fishkill.  The school uniform consists of skinny jeans and rumpled turtlenecks.  With compulsory crest-emblazoned berets. And everybody smokes but no one gets cancer.

This Hogwarts of Debut Authors features a faculty of esteemed, successful authors of all stripes, genres and sales records.  My dream team would be, in no particular order, J K Rowling, Zadie Smith, John Grisham, Nora Roberts (or NFR as her friends call her), Carl Hiaasen, Ann Patchett, Marilynne Robinson, John Gardner (who is deceased but we’re dreaming here), Chris Bohjalian, Lauren Myracle, Mary Oliver, Michael Chabon, Dorothy Allison, Harper Lee and Toni Morrison.  Can’t you just see them all lined up at the head table for the opening dinner? 

And we learn to play Quidditch.  Just because. 

But since the school is still in the early concept stage, I’d like to share my top five publishing secrets no one tells debut authors.  And we’ll go in reverse order because it works for David Letterman.

    SECRET #5The legend of the “Publication Date.”   

      As your book makes its way through the editing stages, your publisher sets a date for its official publication. You mark it on the calendar. You shout it on Facebook.  You tweet it. You post a photo of the mark on the calendar. 

Don’t.  It’s a big old lie.  Your book is no more likely to show up in one synchronized wave of instant placement in bookstores on its publication day than a woman is likely to give birth on her “due date.”   How many babies are born on their due date?  Less than five percent. 

Here’s what you can expect.  Your reviews, if you are lucky enough to get them, will be timed to come out either right before or right after your pub. date—this helps the magazines and newspapers organize their review workload and gives you a healthy promotional rocket booster launch out of the gate. 

Three weeks before your “pub. date” your great aunt Beth in Cedar Rapids will leave you a message saying, “Amy, I just saw your book in the store down the street!  Isn’t that great?  But didn’t you tell me it wasn’t coming out until next month?” 

You panic. The giant levers of publishing are off kilter.  Your book is premature.  PREMATURE.  Premature anything is bad, right?   

Worry not.  Your book is simply making its way towards “full distribution.”  Friends in New York will rejoice because they got the book “early” and friends in New Orleans will complain about the friends in New York because it’s not in their bookstore yet so they had to go listen to music and get drunk instead on Bourbon Street.  The official moment when all of your books are supposed to find their way to their temporary bookstore homes is your pub. date. 

This subject is confusing because we hear about the Harry Potter and Hunger Games midnight book release parties where thousands of readers line up outside their favorite bookstores.  Most authors think that someday, people will be doing this for our books too and when they do, the publisher will then “embargo” our latest book when it ships to the stores with tiny little bombs implanted in the cartons of books set to go off if the bookstore breaks the seal before the official pub. date. 

Until then, dear debut author, we must make do with a sprinkling approach to our books arriving in stores. 

·     SECRET #4:  There is not a “best” time to publish a new author.    

      There are better times.  Unless one is getting a huge push from his publishing house, avoiding the fall publishing season as a debut author seems favorable. Fall is when all the big author books get pushed out in advance of the December holiday season.

So let’s say you and your publisher determine Winter or Summer is the perfect season. You pray that your publication month will be a “quiet” one where your debut book shines like the North Star to potential readers.  No.  Scratch that.  Your first book will function as a solar eclipse amongst the other books foolish enough to schedule publication during your month.

And, inevitably, no fewer than three best-selling authors will have their new books out the same month as yours. Those selfish one percenter author bastards will suck all the air out of the publicity you know was destined for your masterpiece.  You know this as surely as the Flat Earth Society knows the idea of the Earth being round is political propaganda.

·     SECRET #3:  Social Media Will Consume Your Life.    

      At a minimum, your publisher will expect you to:  develop a Facebook presence, either on your own personal page or, more frequently, on an author fan page; tweet snappy, interesting things via Twitter that talk about other things besides your book but occasionally mention your book; have an engaging, easy to navigate website. 

This obligation surprised me the most. I work a full-time job, am raising three kids, and attempting to be a novelist. I now spend more time on Facebook than my teenager.  You will too. 

The social media piece is a HUGE time commitment. Your family will make snarky comments like, "Oh, look, Mom's going to tweet about how sorry she is for running over that poor squirrel because she thinks people will 'favorite' it." They will try to wrest your i-Phone from your hands just as you are uploading to Facebook the cutest picture of your book at the local bookstore.

But the modern reader loves to connect with her authors. She wants to tell you via Facebook or Twitter that she is on page 176 and loving it. And you better be there to thank her for buying your book.

On the web page front, I initially budgeted $1500. My web designer fell through and I ran out of money so I ended up doing it myself through a company called Squarespace. They charge $22/month to host a site and though I pulled several all-nighters to set it up initially, it ended up being the most effective and economical approach. I love my site and can easily add new event dates, reviews, videos and pictures.

·    Secret #2:  The Great Mystery of Sales Data.   

      For five years I worked for UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business as a fundraiser.  I met lots of Silicon Valley CEOs and learned something about business via osmosis during my tenure.  One of the basic expectations of business is tracking sales.  That information is then shared down the food chain from the executives to the sales force to the product developers. 

Not so in my limited publishing experience. Fuzzy ideas about your sales numbers exist at places like "Author Central" on Amazon's web site where you can tap in to Bookscan data (Bookscan is the industry's primary sales tracking method for print books but it contains only 40%-80% of actual sales--yes, you read that right, there's a 40% spread on the accuracy) and get your Kindle e-book rank but not the actual number of e-books sold.

Sales information seems to be guarded by publishers as if the release of the bare figures to you, the author, might be tantamount to giving Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blueprints to our nuclear facilities.  

The one place I've found thus far where I can get hard numbers easily is from my independent booksellers. They happily tell me how sales are going in their stores.

·      And the #1 SECRET is:  Having Your First Book Published Will Be More And Less Than You Ever Dreamed.  

      Here is the bad news. You will not be able to retire on the first royalty check you receive, providing you are in the fortunate group who earns back their advance and makes it into royalty territory.  Odds are against your book making it to the New York Times Bestseller list, though there are always a few debut books each year that do.   

      Most people you meet will never have heard of you or your book. And at least one person, probably more, will write a review either in print or on the web that says your book is “predictable” and that she likes the dog in your book better than the main character. 

      But there will be moments, I promise, when the miracle of publication causes your breath to catch. Someone throws you a book party, invites your closest friends and family, you buy a new outfit and feel, for a few hours, as if you are a literary princess or prince and the only person on the planet to have accomplished publication. 

      The first time you see your book in an actual bookstore. Facing out. On the front table. 

      A reader sends you a message that tells you your book--those words you wrote in the dark night while your children slept nearby--caused him to think differently about his relationship with his own family. 

      At a bookstore event, a stranger approaches you shyly with your book in her hands and says that it was wonderful. This same person will ask  your daughters--to whom the book is dedicated--to sign their names on the dedication page. 

      A reviewer will quote one of your favorite lines from the book as evidence of your writing talent and you will feel as if someone is listening. 

      As if your words have gone from that secret place where we conjure them, to the page, to the world.        

Monday, April 16, 2012

What To Do When There's Nothing Left To Do

by Wiley Cash

When I was a kid, I watched the movie Space Camp. At the time, I was really interested in science, and, although I’d never even flown in an airplane, I was thinking it would be pretty cool to be an astronaut. To be honest, I was a pretty impressionable kid; I’d read Pistol Pete Maravich’s biography and started spinning the basketball on the tip of my index finger and wearing floppy tube socks. I’d been so blown away by M.C. Hammer’s album Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em that, in the sixth grade, I plagiarized the lyrics to “Pray” for an essay on “how to make the world a better place.” With skills like that, being an astronaut would be simple.

Space Camp is about a group of kids who go to a camp at the Kennedy Space Center. One day, during a simulated launch, the gang is accidentally shot into outer space. Like anyone would be who isn’t old enough to operate a car, the kids face their share of interstellar challenges. One of those challenges has always stayed with me; at the end of the movie, they begin to run out of oxygen, and they have to hold their breath in order to survive. I’ll never forget that one character tells a story about a friend who can hold his breath forever just by thinking about French fries. This scene scared me to death.

I’ve never been one for cardio; I’ve never been a strong swimmer or a strong runner, and I couldn’t imagine being forced to hold my breath, regardless of what was on my mind to distract me. I was wrong; my first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, sold to William Morrow in December of 2010, and it’s being released tomorrow, a full fourteen months later. I’ve been holding my breath for almost a year and a half. It turns out I do have the lungs to be an astronaut, or I can at least hold my breath long enough to help a young Tate Donovan and an even younger Joaquin Phoenix bring the shuttle home.

Over the past few months, especially the past few weeks, I’ve often felt like I was in a cramped shuttle cabin, growing light-headed and dizzy, blood pumping in my ears. I’ve spent less time thinking about the novel’s actual release and more time thinking about how to prepare for it. I’ve written blog posts, traveled to conventions, sat for interviews, and spent more hours than I care to admit plugged into Facebook and Twitter. For a guy who’s never downloaded a song and has no clue how to use an Ipod, it’s been quite an adjustment. To put it simply: I’m sick of me, and I’m sure other people have gotten pretty sick of me too. But such is the mania of publishing your first novel, or so I’m told by others who have done it.

It makes sense that preparing for it can make you crazy. Shortly after my book sold, one of my best friends and I attended a writing convention in Washington, DC that featured an acres-sized book fair, full of more tables and books and authors than I’d ever seen in my life. It seemed that there were more books than there were people to read them, and I remember asking my friend how I could ever expect my book to find its way into readers’ hands.

We like to think that the job of the writer is to write and that the job of promoting, toting, and devoting others to said writer’s book falls to someone else. For the most part, this is true. I have an absolutely wonderful publicity and marketing team on my side, and everyday I take several moments throughout my day to be conscious of my good fortune, to live in the moment and marvel at the incredible turn my life has taken. But that doesn’t stop me from lying in bed at night, wondering if there is more I can do to get my book out there: more booksellers to meet, more Facebook posts to post, more 140-character comments to tweet.

At least tonight will be my last night having thoughts like these.

My novel will be out tomorrow, and at this moment there is nothing more I can do to make that release any more or any less successful. Already I can feel oxygen coming back into the cabin. We’re going to land safely, and everything is going to go back to normal. And I can finally eat French fries without having to think about holding my breath.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Once You Sign With An Agent, The Wait Is Over (Oh, I Crack Myself Up!)

In January 2010 I started querying agents with my novel. My query letter had been workshopped and critiqued and rewritten many times. Within minutes after I finally pushed “send” – and that took me about 30 minutes the first time (so not kidding) – I received both a request for pages and a rejection.  And so it began. The yin and yang, the tug-o-war, the ups and downs of the query-go-round.  Subsequently I received more requests and even more rejections. Some were sprinkled with kindness and advice. Most were not. 

I met Jason Yarn from The Paradigm Agency about halfway through my agent-quest via a pitch contest on I was one of five winners even though it wasn’t my pitch that got his attention, it was my first line. (Note to aspiring queriers, paste the first page(s) of your novel at the end of your query letter unless expressly forbidden. You just never know.) Next, I was invited to send Jason the full manuscript.  Emails followed. Conversations ensued. Manuscript changes were made. Then, ten months after my first query letter was sent, which was about six months after connecting with Jason, he was my agent.

Ten months and 116 queries to get an agent! That’s longer than it takes to give birth to a real live baby!

Was the process what I expected? Yes and no. I expected it to take a long time to find an agent because that’s the word on the virtual street. And you know, if it’s in a blog or on Facebook or Twitter, it’s true.  Ok, maybe not always, but it is true in this case. Also, I never expected a male agent to connect to my book because the main characters are women and I’d always pegged it as up-market women’s fiction – or as some like to say – a book club book. But I was wrong! Jason connected with the book. And more importantly he connected with me and the way I write and work. And I connected easily to the way he offers his spot-on advice.

What I was right about, and what everyone seems to be right about, is that the perfect agent for your book is the one who loves it and sees its potential as a saleable book in the current market. 

Then – after about another ten months and another round (or two) of revisions to the manuscript, Jason sold The Glass Wives to St. Martin’s Press. 

Just to kill myself kindly refresh your memory – that was twenty months after sending my first query letter. 

And last month, March 2012 – I started my official-real-can’t-believe-it-actual edits from my editor. And soon I’ll wait for her feedback. And then I’ll wait to be published in the Spring of 2013. And then I’ll wait for reviews.  

Get the gist?  

When you want to be a traditionally published author (which many, many writers still do – do not let the naysayers sway you from your dream) waiting is not idle time. There are fulltime jobs and fulltime families and time-worthy friends. There are other books to be written, short stories and essays to compose and to publish, there are industry blogs to read (ahem, you’re reading one now, good for you!) and lists to make. Heck, there are books to read!

During my waiting time since signing with Jason I have written one full novel that is under my bed conducting how-not-to-write-a-novel workshops for the dust bunnies. I’ve sent one kid off to college and learned how to live with just one kid at home. I’ve read about 100 novels and many writing books and articles and blogs and magazines. I’ve had lunch with author friends. I’ve spent time with non-writing friends. I’ve managed a freelance career. I have a full outline and the start of a synopsis for another novel. I’ve gotten a few manicures and pedicures. I have 5,000 words of a novel that will never be finished. And I have a spiral notebook full of beloved scenes and ideas and phrases and characters who are calling me. Loudly. I’ll write that novel when the waiting begins again.

Because it always does. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rabbit Test, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Me

When I was invited to join this group, my mind immediately went to the movie Rabbit Test.

Remember that piece of classic cinematic triumph?  I thought not.

No one remembers Rabbit Test, and that’s probably a good thing.  The movie was a box-office flop for a variety of reasons, but the biggest was the fact that no one wanted to sit around for 90 minutes and watch a pregnant man make jokes about morning sickness, mood swings and the constant need to pee.

For those of you who are hopping over to IMDb right now to look up Rabbit Test, I’ll spare you the trouble.  The 1978 comedy was directed by Joan Rivers, starred Billy Crystal in his first movie role, and carried the unforgiveable tag line “The story of the world’s first pregnant man…it’s inconceivably funny.”  The setup is simple: Billy Crystal has unprotected sex with a woman and winds up pregnant.  It could happen to anybody.  What’s unexpected is how unfunny the movie turned out to be—even with cameos by Paul Lynde, Michael Keaton, Jimmy “Dy-no-MITE!” Walker, and Roddy McDowell in drag.  Critics were not kind; Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times, “Whenever one does laugh, it's in spite of the movie, rather than because of it.”  Ouch!  I guess the world wasn’t ready for a knee-slapper about a pregnant man.

Eighteen years later, the world had softened its bias somewhat when Arnold Schwarzenegger decided not to terminator his pregnancy in Junior.  He and Danny DeVito mugged their way through another movie about “the world’s first pregnant man.”  This time, it was a research scientist (Schwarzenegger) who didn’t know what to expect when he was expecting.  The movie poster carried a familiar tag line: “Nothing is inconceivable.”  The box office for Junior was a bit more boffo, thus clearing the way for more feel-good flicks about preggo men.

Which brings me to me.  What’s a Hairy Chest like me doing in a nice place like this?

The Book Pregnant group was founded on the idea that, as writers, we all carry our stories, our characters, our paragraphs around inside us like prenatal passengers.  Right now, if you’re gestating a short story, an essay, a poem, a novel, a memoir, or even a book on the history of Pez dispensers, you are “with book.”  Your mind is swollen, your wrist joints ache, your feet need to be rubbed, and you’re distracted by the constant need to pee.  That’s right—we’re all about metaphor around here.  This blog is founded on the principle of symbolism.

But it’s a true metaphor, isn’t it?  As writers, don’t we constantly bear the weight of imagination and language?  Doesn’t it wear us down with distraction and fill us with delight in equal measure?  As a real-life father of three, I know from experience that my wife had her share of Good Days and Bad Days (along with Ice Cream Days, Mashed-Potatoes-and-Gravy Days, and I-Wish-We’d-Never-Had-Sex Days).  One minute, our work-in-progress is the happiest joy we’ve ever known; the next minute, it’s an insufferable beast of burden.

But then the day comes when we get the happy news: our manuscript is headed for publication.  We get the news not from our OB-GYN, but our agents, an editor, or the mailman who hands us a creamy-white envelope with the return address of a magazine where our work was under consideration. O frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay!  We will be published!  We will deliver our words and they will grow and go out into the world to make us proud.

That’s when the real waiting begins.  Here at the Book Pregnant blog, we’ve come together as debut authors who have been sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting to be moved from Labor to Delivery.  We’ve commiserated, held back each other’s hair when our colleagues leaned over the toilet in bouts of morning sickness, and have given our share of foot rubs.

I—along with Sam, Wiley, and Robert—am proud to be among the pregnant men of the group.  If I were to turn sideways for a profile views, you’d marvel at my belly bump.  Strangers are always coming up to me and shamelessly asking, "Can I touch it?"

I conceived my book Fobbit—a dark comedy about war—seven years ago while I was in Iraq.  It wasn’t what you’d call an immaculate conception.  In fact, it was downright messy.  My thoughts were scattered, the scenes were hither and yon, characters were undeveloped.  It wasn’t even a novel.  It started life as a journal which I thought would eventually grow into a memoir about my time as an untested soldier at war.  It didn't take long for me to realize the world didn't need another boring, bland-as-vanilla Iraq War memoir.  So I spiced it up with fiction, injected some steroids, and watched it turn into an entirely new and different baby.

But kids have a way of surprising you, don’t they?  What you think is just an energetic fetus turns out to be triplets.  So it goes with my novel.  Over the past nine months—since I got the news from my gyne-agent—it has been reshaped by draft after draft of edits and revisions.  When it’s eventually delivered in September of this year, Fobbit will look nothing like it did when it first started as a mere embryo of an idea.

By now, I’ve probably pushed the pregnant metaphor too far.  You might even say it has stretch marks.  (Okay, I’ll stop.)

But really, I’m happy to have found this community of writers “heavy with book.”  When I got the Book Pregnant invitation, not only did I think of Billy Crystal’s absurd belly, I also remembered one of my favorite writing quotes I’ve been packing around for years (since my undergrad days at the University of Oregon in the 1980s) in that virtual battered and scuffed journal held together by rubber bands.  It goes like this:  “I was with book, as a woman is with child.”  That quote is from a dude—Clive Staples Lewis (C.S. to you and me).  And he certainly knew a thing or two about carrying a book to full term, didn’t he?

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Importance of a Great Editor

by Erin Cashman

            I began my writing career in elementary school, always jotting down stories and poems. It has always been my dream to be a published author, but my father encouraged me to go to law school, so I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years. And then one night I had the strangest dream, and a story popped into my head.  I just had to write it down. I finished it a year later, and sent it off to agents and publishers, convinced I would realize my dream. Three years and thirty rejections later, I put it aside and started fresh.  I wrote a middle grade adventure novel, certain that this one would be published. Wrong again. And then I wrote The Exceptionals. I sent it out to only ten people; pretty sure it would not be published. About a month later I got a call from my fabulous agent, Erica Silverman of Trident Media. She was so enthusiastic about the book and she offered to represent me. I was absolutely thrilled! I was so excited to finally have an agent, especially one as talented as Erica, and to be at Trident. The very next day, Pam Glauber, an editor from Holiday House called, and said she read The Exceptionals and loved it, and Holiday House wanted to publish it. I couldn’t believe it! As Erica and I discussed whether to take Holiday House’s offer, or to submit it to other publishers, I kept thinking about how much I liked Pam when we spoke and communicated through email.  This was one of the major reasons we went with Holiday House. 

I really had no idea how important an editor is to an author, or to a novel. I thought they crossed some things out, and wrote in the margins – like a graded paper in college. Although an editor does do that, a good one does so much more. Pam really helped shape the book. In her first editorial letter to me, she pointed out that I had too many characters. A couple would have to go. I thought it over, and she was absolutely right. Since each of the characters had a purpose in furthering the plot, I had to do quite a bit of re-writing! I painstakingly went through her letter, edited, edited and edited some more, and sent it back to her.  Surely I was almost done, right? Wrong. Pam went through the manuscript again, in detail. She pointed out parts where the plot dragged and secondary characters that were not memorable enough. During one conversation Pam told me that one of my characters, Billy, needed to be more than just a good big brother, and suggested that he play a sport. I mulled that over for a couple of hours, trying to decide what sport fit his personality. And then it occurred to me – since The Exceptionals is about a school for students who have “special” abilities, shouldn’t his sport involve that?  I came up with the idea of the Telekinesis Tournament, or the TT, which many readers have said is one of their favorite parts.  

With each draft, the novel improved. I would often call and run an idea by Pam, or send her two versions of a scene and ask her advice. When the line edit came (which is the novel with the editor’s notes written on it), she not only corrected or crossed things out, but she also jotted things in the margin, like: “I loved this part”, or “this was so suspenseful”, or “I couldn’t stop laughing”.  She was always very kind and encouraging. I learned so much from Pam, and I know my writing improved through the editing and re-write process. I was very fortunate to have such a great editor for my first novel.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Best Piece of Writing Advice-Thanks to My Mentor

by Ellen Marie Wiseman

All my life, I’ve turned to books for advice and answers to my how-to questions. During my first pregnancy, I read everything I could get my hands on about what to expect while expecting. I carefully studied every chapter in books about taking care of newborns and toddlers. When I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning my own horse, I bought books on backyard horse-keeping, training, and equine first-aid. I turned to books when I planted my first garden, bought my first flock of chickens, and brought home a lamb and baby goat in the back of my car. (That’s a story for another day.)

Years later, when I decided to get serious about writing, it was only natural for me to turn to books again. My favorites are “Bird-by-Bird” by Anne Lamott and “On Writing” by Stephen King. While trying to figure out the mysterious process of crafting a novel, I read about plot, character, style, structure, word painting, the importance of character naming, and how to find your muse. And I wrote.

After transcribing the first messy draft of The Plum Tree from several legal pads on to my computer, I tinkered with the beginning, lengthened the middle, finalized character names, and incessantly changed my mind about descriptive words. I tried to use what I’d learned in books to turn misplaced plot points and confusing flashbacks into a manuscript; hopefully a manuscript someone would want to read someday. But there was something else I needed to know. Was my writing any good or was I was wasting my time? Unfortunately, the answer couldn’t be found in books.

Having graduated from a tiny high school (400 students in K-12), I knew I had a lot to learn if I really wanted to revise and try to sell a novel. After all, I'd never taken a creative writing course, there were no local writers’ groups, and I didn’t go to college. I didn’t know any authors, editors, or creative writing teachers. The only place I had to turn was the Internet.  

I will be forever thankful that my search led me to William Kowalski, award-winning author of Eddie’s Bastard/HarperCollins. With my heart in my throat, I emailed him, asking if he would read the first ten pages of my manuscript. I’d never shown my writing to anyone, and now I was going to send it off to be critiqued by a complete stranger! Yikes! When he emailed the next morning, saying I write better than most college graduates he knows, I started shaking. I couldn’t believe that someone, let alone an award-winning author, thought my writing was good!

Over the next four years, William Kowalski became my editor, teacher, mentor, and, I'm honored to say, my friend. He taught me about style, structure, voice, and more importantly, how to be a storyteller. He was surprised by how fast my abilities improved, and the more I learned the more I wanted to know. It was an exhilarating time for me, discovering the skills I needed to turn my dreadful first draft into a real, live novel. I read his emails and devoured his comments like a sugar-charged kid ripping open presents on Christmas morning. Of course there were times when his edits and comments felt over-whelming, but he had warned me to read through them a few times, let them digest, then tackle them one by one. It was a necessary lesson on patience; priceless when it came time to work with the editor from my publishing house.  

My mentor’s faith in me and my work bolstered me during difficult times and pushed me to believe in myself. I taped his letters of encouragement above my desk and read them often. He taught me more about writing in those four years then I could have learned from a hundred books. One of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me (mentioned in his article about receiving the same advice from his mentor) was: Always Return To the Right Foot. This advice makes sense if you’ve ever been in the military. When the command, “At ease!” is given to a soldier, he is free to do anything: slouch, pivot, yawn, etc. But his right foot must never leave the ground.

The plot of a novel is that right foot. As novelists, we’re free to wander off in any direction, to taste the homemade bread and sweet jam or explore the castle ruins, as long as, sooner or later, we return to that right foot: the part of the narrative that makes the reader keep turning the page, that answers that all-important question: And then what happened?

What happened for me was this: I worked like a dog to transform The Plum Tree and get it in tip-top shape. Then I sent out large piles of query letters, found an agent, and sold my first novel.

I owe everything to William Kowalski. Somehow, he turned a small-town girl with no creative writing experience into a soon-to-be published novelist. Words can’t describe my gratitude. With his gentle guidance, unending patience, and immeasurable knowledge, he taught me how to return to the right foot, and in the end, changed my life.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Land More Kind Than Home: A Love Letter to My Wife

by Wiley Cash

I met my wife in a bar in Wilmington, North Carolina. Once we started dating we wanted to tell people that we’d met in a bookstore or in Sunday school, but the “cute” story that follows made that impossible: the moment I met my wife I told her she looked just like Ashley Simpson; she responded by threatening to smash the bottle she was holding and using the broken glass to stab me. The actor Steve Buscemi had been stabbed in a Wilmington bar just a few years earlier while filming a movie with Vince Vaughn, so I knew she probably meant business. Some people meet and fall in love online or in coffee shops or through friends. I met the love of my life while staring down the wrong end of a Corona bottle. Steve Buscemi’d had Vince Vaughn to help him out on the night he’d been stabbed; I had my younger brother, who, at the time, was standing back and watching the scene with a thrilled look on his face, perhaps hoping he’d soon be telling this story to the cops. He didn’t; he told it at our wedding instead.

Obviously, the woman who would become my wife didn’t stab me. Instead, we spent the rest of the night talking. We talked on the phone the next day too – and the next. We spent a lot of time talking that summer, which means that I spent a lot of time talking and she spent a lot of time listening. One night, we climbed into an empty lifeguard stand on Wrightsville Beach, and
I spent hours and hours telling her all about this book I was going to write about an autistic boy who’s smothered during a healing service in a little church in the mountains of North Carolina. That night, she told me she had no doubt that my unwritten novel would be published. Over the next five years, she never wavered in that belief. I wish I could say that I shared in her

I worked on the novel over the next three years and landed an agent in the fall of 2008. My agent and I spent several months revising the novel before submitting it to publishers. The novel began to take a new, more improved shape, and I truly believe the revisions made it a better book. But that didn’t keep a handful of editors from rejecting the manuscript. With each rejection, I returned to the novel in an attempt to improve it based on the editor’s suggestions and criticisms. This went on for several months until it seemed there was nowhere else to go. My agent told me that she was struggling with the revisions I’d made as well, and, if I wanted to part ways, she would certainly understand. I didn’t blame her; I was struggling too. I’d revised, reworked, and reimagined the novel to the point that I no longer recognized it; I couldn’t find the original thread of the story, and I couldn’t fathom the challenge of returning to the manuscript and attempting to untangle the mess I’d made of it.

One day, in February 2009, I mailed a letter to my agent, effectively ending our relationship. I couldn’t help but feel that in ending that relationship, I was also ending my relationship to the novel I’d spent four years writing and rewriting.

That evening, my wife came home from work and found me sitting on the couch; the look on my face must have perfectly portrayed what I was feeling.

“Did you mail the letter?” she asked. I nodded my head yes. Then she asked a question that only a woman like her can ask. “Do you need to go shoot basketball?” I nodded my head yes again. On our way down to the park near our apartment in Bethany, West Virginia, she devised a plan. “You can’t give up,” she said. “You got one agent; you can get another one.” Then, while she and I played HORSE: “Let’s go back to the novel, make a timeline, organize the chapters, and find the story again.” On the walk home: “Give it one more revision, and I’ll read twenty pages at a time and I’ll imagine that I’ve never read it before. This will work.”

By the time we arrived home, the roles we’d played since the summer we met were suddenly reversed; she became the one talking about the novel as if it was a done deal. I became the one listening, saying things like “That does sound good.”

I got back to work that night, and every night after I sat down at my desk and reimagined a novel I thought I’d finished years before. As soon as I’d written twenty pages, I’d print them off and give them to my wife. She’d read them, pen in hand, marking things that worked and things that didn’t and making comments in the margins. We’d lie in bed at night and talk about reorganizing the manuscript, discussing ways to make the opening pages more exciting and interesting.

There are two stories I remember from these nights. In one, my wife is reading a scene in the novel where an elderly woman confronts the charismatic pastor of her church; the scene is pretty intense, and it culminates with the woman down on her knees in front of the church, her hand thrust into a tiny box that houses a rattlesnake, the pastor standing above her calmly whispering threats into her ear. The scene came about two-thirds of the way through the novel, but my wife made an interesting suggestion. “This scene is horrifying,” she said. “Why don’t you use it to open the novel?” I gave it a shot, and those were the pages my new agent used to sell the novel to William Morrow. That night, after making a suggestion that would eventually change our lives, my wife dreamt that she was lying on the floor of a church and someone was standing above her, dangling snakes over her face before draping them across her body. She screamed so loud that I called our neighbors to let them know she was okay.

In another story, my wife and I are reading in bed. She’s reading the manuscript of my novel, and I’m reading a book on Abraham Lincoln. At one point, she lays the pages on the bed in front of her, sighs, and says, “This is amazing! This is how you write a novel!” I’d never felt such pride in
my life. When I looked over, I saw that she’d been reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I figured it was better than her dreaming of being tortured with snakes, so I couldn’t complain.

My novel sold to William Morrow as part of a two-book deal, and I began writing my second novel in the summer of 2011. I was very fortunate to be awarded summer writing residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and soon we learned that my wife had been offered a job as an attorney with a great firm in Morgantown, West Virginia, roughly an hour and a half south of where we lived in Bethany. We quickly bought a house in Morgantown and moved all of our
furniture with the help of a few friends, and then I left for a full two months away. For two weeks, my wife worked her old job in Bethany until 5 p.m., and then she’d drive home, load up her car with stuff we couldn’t get in our first move, drive down to Morgantown, unload, and then drive back to Bethany and sleep on an air mattress. The next day, she’d go to work and do it all over
again. I was working hard on my second novel during this time, but I was also being very well cared for at these wonderful residencies. Even so, not once did my wife complain about how hard she was working or about how difficult the move was on her; not once did she ask me how much work I was getting done or make clear that my time away had better be worth it. She started a new job in a new city in early August; I missed that too.

My wife is the hero of my writing life; other teachers may have taught me more about writing and people in the industry may have taught me more about promotion and marketing, but no one has taught me more about dedication, patience, and kindness than my wife.

A few weeks ago, I received an early hard copy of my novel in the mail. I immediately opened it and inscribed the first page to my wife. Then I drove to her office and called her and gave it to her when she came outside. I won’t tell you what I wrote, but I will say I considered writing
something funny, perhaps “You look just like Ashley Simpson,” but I’d learned my lesson in that bar in Wilmington. Besides, we were alone outside her office, and there was no one around to call the cops in case she made good on her original threat.

It was a small gift, and there’s no way it can repay the gifts she’s given me. But it’s interesting that this newly published book is just as old as the story of our meeting, and, like that story, this book is just as much hers as mine.