In Tibetan Buddhism there is a fish-release ceremeony in which practictioners throw fish that have been caught--still alive, destined for markets--back into the water. Carp and sole, momentarily stunned, dip down into the water, fill their gills and swim away.
When a novel is launched it always seems to me as though it's been thrown back into the water below infinite air, a place of blue and white where it began. There it can rock. There it can ride the waves. Or visit Chile. In some sense the writer is free to imagine a new landscape without being bound by the scaffolding of what was previously imagined. The writer is free to be grateful to get lost in a foreign city.
Of course while the writer is theoretically free to do this, he/she is compulsively looking at sales of the novel, which may ride tsunami waves and vacillate by 100,000 in ten minutes. Or looking at complicated demographics. Or worrying that the Launched Novel could get lost at sea. Or collide with a cruise ship and cause harm to the passengers.
What are writers to do? Secretly everyone believes that the next novel will be easier, knows it’s a cruel trick when it isn’t, and basks in worry, or distractions about the Launched Novel: There are readings to give. Online questions to answer. Sometimes an editor takes a writer to dinner. Sometimes there is a party. And so the writer emerges as if from a cave (because that’s what writing a novel takes) into the bright competitive world of statistics, performances and distractions.
I’m no different. But as they’re launched into the world, I think about how my characters showed up for me, whether I wanted to work or not, whether I wanted to get out of bed or not. And I have a childlike faith that they will show up for readers just the way they showed up for me.
At age 3 I was taken to a puppet show.
Hi, I said to one of the puppets.
Shut up, said a menacing five-year-old.
Later, at dinner, I began to talk about the puppet show and my parents exchanged alarmed looks. They realized I thought the puppets were real. When they told me they weren’t real, I began to cry. I had seen them move. I had heard them talk. Being told they weren't real felt like they had died. And this made the puppets all the more real because only real things can die.
This may be why I have a child like faith in my characters' continued existence as they go out to sea. I know they are hard workers and hope that they will be as good to readers as they were to me: Always ready to appear. Always ready to work overtime. For an insomniac at 4 in the morning. For a proofreader on the evening shift. For someone who wants to crawl into another world and read the book from beginning to end. I hope that they will be there, since my work--the work that my characters have made me do,the work that made me realize the story--is done.
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