5 Days of 5 Years of Story of a Girl: Friday, The End, The Beginning

posted on
January 13th, 2012
written by

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.

Make a note of it:


  • Mary Campbell - January 13, 2012 at 10:34 am -

    Congratulations on five years. This is the first chance I’ve had to read about your journey. So glad you made it through the struggle. I read How to Save a Life a few weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to e-mail to tell you how much I loved it. So good – I think it’s my favorite so far. Loved the two voices. Loved how they helped each other heal. I used to feel annoyed at books that ended when a new journey was about to began, but I’m starting to come around to them. I’ve been writing short stories with that kind of ending lately. I still what to know what comes next though. I guess that’s the whole point – leave them wanting more.
    My book club group still talks about how cool you are. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

  • Matt - January 13, 2012 at 10:34 am -

    I’ve loved each of your posts this week, Sara. Your sincerity, insight, and wisdom have helped me, and I’m sure others. What a wonderful way to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of STORY OF A GIRL.

  • Juliette - January 13, 2012 at 11:07 am -

    I loved reading about your publishing journey! I’m an aspiring author (I’ve written three novels so far) and it’s nice to hear that other writers have dealt with years of rejection before their dreams finally started coming true. It’s also important to know that there are a lot of ups and downs–becoming published isn’t a Happily Ever After.

  • sarah louise - January 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm -

    Am thoroughly enjoying re-reading Story of a Girl–it’s so true how the reader recreates the book, since I’m a different person now than I was when I read SOG for the first time.


  • Claire Hennessy - January 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm -

    These have been really interesting posts to read this week, Sara. Thanks for sharing, and looking forward to seeing the next book, and the next, and future thoughts on the writing (and how writing fits into a life) process. :)

  • Nova Ren Suma - January 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm -

    This week of posts was so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us!

  • Susan Houg - January 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm -

    This was a very courageous retrospective, and may be part of why you feel drained right now. The struggle to rise from that lying swamp of muck that tells us we’ll never be anything, don’t even try, fit in with your loser forebears, and for goodness sakes, don’t be so presumptous as to celebrate a success, God forbid. I praise the God who does not forbid.

  • Jennifer Castle - January 16, 2012 at 8:21 am -

    Sara, thank you so much for sharing your reflections this week. As an author floating in the wake of her debut novel (I don’t feel like I’m navigating anything yet; just happy to stay above water and breathe), I really needed this perspective. I also find I’m much happier if I think of my book as something I no longer own — good to know I’m not alone there. Let me just say that as a reader, your books have meant so much to me and generally inspired me — not just in the “that’s the kind of writing career I would like to have” way but also in the “further proof that we must trust our own voices” and the “damn, that’s a great book and I feel richer for having experienced it” ways. I hope that gives you even the tiniest of lifts on this anniversary.

  • Nicole M. - January 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm -

    Story of a Girl is deserving of this kind of retrospective on the part of its author, and I’m so glad you shared the journey. As others have already said, these recent posts have been instructive, celebratory and perspective-giving. Thanks for the gift. :)

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