All my life, I've dreamed of becoming a published author, but with my first novel scheduled for release in five months, the reality of that dream has left me as raw as an open wound.
When I first learned that my manuscript had been accepted for publication, I was too stunned to feel any elation. My agent is plain-spoken -- some would say pathologically so -- and she didn't bolster my confidence with her news. "It was a hard sell. He saw a lot of problems with your story that I didn't realize were there. And he likes short books -- 200 pages max. It was all that I could do to get him to take it."
But, no matter how grudgingly, a publisher had finally bought my manuscript. The book would appear in print sometime in the immediate future. I called a few writer friends to share my good news. One friend, a woman I'd met at a workshop several years before, was on nearly the same track as me: she'd signed on with an agent and her novel was in the process of being shopped. Sensing that she night feel left behind by my success, I forwarded my agent's letter to her, in which she also enumerated the publishers -- over fifty of them -- who had rejected my work.
Instead of interpreting my numerous rejections as an inspiration, my friend immediately forwarded the letter to her agent with brays of "While her agent has been sending to all of those publishers, you haven't done squat with my book!" The agent retaliated by questioning the veracity and ethics of my agent, and then claimed that he'd never heard of the publishing house that accepted my book: "Undoubtedly a vanity press."
I'm familiar with the contents of his letter because my erstwhile friend forwarded it to me, along with her sympathy for being taken by such a crude scam. I fired off a shrill letter to the agent advising him to spend more time researching markets and less badmouthing others in his profession, then penned an even shriller letter to my former friend, who I haven't heard from since.
This was the worst incident but it wasn't the only one. A couple of other friends extended lukewarm congratulations in which the words "small press" figured prominently: "When my book gets published, I would hope it will appear under a major house banner." After a few comments such as these, I realized that my good fortune wasn't welcomed by everyone.
I never considered sharing my news with my family: I've never even told them that I write. Once when I was quite young -- late teens or maybe twenty -- I showed something that I had written to my mother. My mother, the published novelist, my mother whose writing had spawned the most powerful inspiration of my life. Mothers: they know everything about their children, don't they? They even know the most effective way to quash their dreams. My mother's face, tense and disapproving as she read. She didn't criticize the voice, the style, the grammar, the imagery. "Don't ever show this to your father," she cautioned, barely moving her lips. "He'll say it's pornography."
For the past year and a half, I've almost constantly forced the impending reality of publication into the background of my life, with a few brief exceptions. Last summer when the dust jacket was released, I emailed the design to a few friends. One wrote back telling me that she didn't think that her computer could read Adobe files and she wasn't going to bother to open it. "A friend of mine is self-publishing her own book and she gets to design the cover herself. And she doesn't have to wait two years before her book gets published, either!"
In order to diffuse any accusations of an inflated ego, I become deliberately self-depreciating whenever I mention my book: "My publisher decided to nominate it for the National Book Award. It's got about as much chance of winning as I do at the Powerball Jackpot -- and I never even buy tickets." My galleys are out, printed and bound, and my publisher instructs me to shill for cover reviews. I email every writer I know and receive no responses. Not even an acknowledgement or a "good luck." Finally someone agrees to read the thing. I tell my publisher the good news and he responds, "Who is this guy anyway?" I check out other books put out by my press: the novel that's coming out two months prior to mine boasts a glowing review from one of the writers that snubbed me. "This stunning debut novel heralds the arrival of a major literary talent!"
I try to distance myself from my book so that its success or failure will not become my identity, but on my publisher's website, he's written more about me than my novel. He's even included my age -- I guess he researched it through my biographical information on this site. Apparently not content to stop there, he added an extra year for good measure. Why? Why does my age have anything to do with my book except maybe "It took the stupid bitch this long to get her act together and write something decent!"
I become fiercely hypercritical of other novels. It's horrible and I hate myself for doing it but I just can't stop comparing my work to that of other novelists. I find a book edited by the woman who did mine and am stunned by the redundancies that she let slip, by the seventy pages of post climax that she allowed to remain in his book after she'd tried to excise two-thirds of my final 50 pages ("I didn't realized how long your book was!")
My worst moment comes when I turn to this novel’s acknowledgement page. I didn't include acknowledgements in my book, nor a dedication, reasoning that if I left them off the editor might allow those extra pages for novel text. This writer was operating under no such restraint. After a nod to his agent, his friends, his sources, and his publisher/editor, the last paragraph is, as usual, reserved for the spouse, who -- like all spouses of successful writers -- has been his muse, his gentle critic, his sounding board through all of his years of writing.
I had a couple of beers after finishing that book and then we sit on the porch listening to the first gray tree frogs of the spring. "Are you ever going to read my book?"
"I read it at least seven times already."
"Once. Three years ago. It's changed a lot since then."
"I suppose you want me to read all of those other novels and tell you how much better yours is than theirs."
"No." I try to keep my voice steady but it's hard. "I'd just like it if you'd read my book once, you know, now that it's completely finished and printed and bound."
"You're so insecure about it now, I couldn't say anything that you wouldn't take offence at."
"You don't have to say anything, okay? Just read it -- can't you even do that for me?"
"I'll read it tomorrow, okay? I'll drop everything I'm doing for the next two days and read your book. Will that make you happy?"
I get up in the morning, early, and hide the only copy. He doesn't mention it again.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources