Preeeeviously in our tale, I was happy, I was nervous, I was thankful and also depressed and anxious, and man am I consistent or what because that’s how I’ve felt for the last five years and that’s how I feel today!
But back to 2007.
I hadn’t really thought much about how I’d conclude this week’s posts. I thought about posting the extremely meh/dismissive Kirkus review of Story of a Girl so that you could see that there’s no such thing as a book everyone likes, but you already know that. I thought about recounting key moments, like the launch at The King’s English, which was really the only store event I did for that book. Or when Colleen Mondor of Bookslut featured it in her “Heirs to Judy Blume” column, which led indirectly to the movie option. Or my first ALA which was also my first trip to D.C. which was also my first “power librarian lunch” where I felt like major NKOTB and not in the Donnie way. Or how the people at my publisher have helped make my career be good and feel good and be fun.
There was, of course, the National Book Awards. Hello. Being a finalist was a shocking turn of events, to me, and changed the trajectory of my career for the good and I’m still benefiting from that.
And then I thought, what is the point of reliving that stuff in detail, now? Yes, I am here to celebrate. Yes, I’m proud of my work. But the reviews good and bad, the honors, whatever comes or doesn’t come after publication are nearly impossible to predict and certainly to control. Beyond, “Wow, that was cool, what a great experience,” I don’t like to dwell on that stuff overly. Good or bad, it can mess with your head, and it’s only a very, very small part of the point.
I picture a craftsman, making a dining room table. He designs it, plans it, buys the materials, labors over it and does the best work he can. Someone comes along and wants it in her house. Money exchanges hands and the customer carries the table away. Now the table has its own life. The guy who made it can’t know if it will sit in an empty room and get covered with junk mail, or if dignitaries will dine at it, or if it’s going to be the stage where a family’s life is lived. Maybe it will get resold at a yard sale two years from now. Who knows?
Maybe he’ll sometimes run into the lady at the grocery store and she’ll say, “We love your table.” Or maybe he’ll get a note. And that can provide a little boost on days he doesn’t want to head into his workshop. That table worked out pretty good. It was appreciated. But it can’t be the whole reason his work is worth doing. And if he gets a note that says, “One of the legs is wobbly,” he can’t let that stop him.
I’ve written about this before. Once the book is done, in a way it doesn’t belong to the writer anymore. The experience of writing it does, of course and always will, but the book belongs out there, living whatever life it’s going to live. As Richard Rodriguez says, the reader recreates the book when he or she reads it. Whatever that act of re-creation is that transpires between reader and book–whether that reader is a kid in the high school library or another writer or a Publishers Weekly reviewer or an awards judge–it doesn’t have all that much to do with me.
Don’t get me wrong. If a reader responds strongly enough that he or she wants to reach back and complete the circle, I love that, it is meaningful to me in a way that words can’t describe. And some days it’s a lifeline. But you can’t sit around re-reading fan mail all day. Eventually, you have to get back to work. (There is a metaphor there for non-writing life, too, if you think about it.)
Okay, so, everything that happened after publication, in a way, is Out There. And I’m interested, this week, in In Here. What is this job? Can I rightly call it “a job”? What are the true rewards? Where are the pitfalls? How do I need to live in order to make this sustainable, exciting, engaged, an act of love?
After the initial thrill of Being An Author has worn off, these are the questions I’m always grappling with. Well, let’s not say “grappling” anymore. Because I’m tired, and that sounds hard, like a fight, and I don’t want to fight. Let’s say I’m devoting myself to those questions. Michael is always reminding me that there are all different kinds of success. I’m grateful that the kind of success Story of a Girl had and continues to have grants me the privilege of that devotion.
I don’t mean to speak of it this week as if my first book was the pinnacle of my career, and I’m not dumb enough to believe this is some big cultural occasion that had to be recognized, even in our little world. I did it for me, because I needed it. Thanks for sharing in that as I enter into a big year in the pursuit of the above and other questions. This has been a good way to kick it off.
I must now vanish into my deadline/workshop for a few weeks. Coming in February: The launch of the podcast! Later in the year: new web site. And who knows what all else. It’s the Internet! It’s 2012! It’s an election year and the Mayan apocalypse and seriously, anything can happen.