Winding it up

Whew! The new / old Jessica book is finished!

It’s new because it went from 50,000 words to 80,000 words, which is insane for the genre. Which genre is a key question. The book may fall flat because it breaks all sorts of rules and bends into different genres, and readers really like to know what they’re getting after they’ve judged a book by its cover. (more…)

It’s real

About seven minutes ago, I sent off the final draft of my new book to a publisher in Seattle.

They like this book, they wanted this book, they are going to pay for editing and proofreading and printing and will do all the things publishers do to a book before they try to sell it. They are very enthusiastic.

It’s hard to describe how wonderful this feels. Not loud and boisterous wonderful, but quietly fulfilling wonderful. Like seeing my daughters graduate, or holding their own in an adult conversation. Having the apple trees thrive.

According to our contract, they want to have the book available to readers on August 15. That’s a pretty tight time frame, and that’s pretty cool, too. In fact, there’s only one thing that isn’t amazingly wonderful about all this.

I had to write it under a pseudonym. That’s just how it played out. It’s going to be a while before anyone can know that it’s mine.

 

 

How this works

When I started writing last month in Costa Rica, I had no clue what I was writing about, why I was writing, whether it was or would be anything. I wrote because that’s what I do. If you’re curious, it begins here.

I said as much to Dick about halfway through the trip when he said he thought it should be a book: Books need to be about something.

All I had were verbal snapshots. But after a while, I noticed the snapshots were really of people, in this kind of interesting environment. After a little while longer, I sensed that there was coherence to it, even if I still didn’t know what the unifying principle was. Yes, it really does work like that.

I was sending it out to people I thought might be interested, and the response back was incredibly supportive. Not only was that favorable response a significant reason why I kept on, it forced me — you forced me — to include important visual details.

If you had not been there and I had waited, those details would have been lost, because I would have waited and then had only ideas, and the imagery, the environment that was so important, would have begun to fade.

But it still wasn’t about anything. It did not have a theme.

Two days after I got back I was trying to figure out a title for what was basically a collection. I think I’d written about the plane trip. Well, I know I had, because that one was actually written by hand on a yellow note pad when I could not connect to the internet in San Jose. I don’t know if I had transcribed it, though.

About that particular piece: I  told “Valerie,” and also “Olivia” and “Alycia” while I was in Bocas, that I’d just realized I was going to have to subject myself to the same process. Not to do so would have been unfair, dishonest. Later I would tell one of my favorite readers, “I could not ask of them what I was not willing to give.” That’s all I knew, so I did it.

After I got to Oregon, I was trying to think of a title for the collection. I went through several possibilities while sitting in my chair and letting my unintentional chew on the problem while I looked at the mountains.

Journey? No color. Slide Show? No again, similar reason but closer, maybe.

Then all of a sudden, I got a huge shove right in the middle of my chest. It almost took the wind out of me.  “Butterflies.” Of course. What an idiot. Obviously, I was writing about butterflies. These wonderful, incredible, occasionally tragic people were butterflies; delicate, resilient, often but not always beautiful, very different individuals with similar needs and desires.

With that came the answer to the problem posed by Dick  when he said it should be a book. What’s it about? It’s about the life cycle: seeking, struggling, transition. Butterflies do it. We do it.

Is that original? Not even close; butterflies have been used as metaphors since long before we knew there were things such as metaphors. Are we butterflies? Of course not.

It would work.

I will reorganize things. I will probably take people from one place and put them in another to create “story,” an emotional beginning middle and end. I will flesh out some places where I left things too sparse.

I’ll do more research on butterflies themselves, so I can make the metaphor solid. I’ll add these sparingly — I’m not going to hammer readers with science. A paragraph or two in each “chapter” to illustrate how it fits into the whole.

Then, “Butterflies” will will be a book. Like a butterfly, it will have gone from being one thing to being something else, very different. It will hopefully retain the bright colors of the previous generation — which would not be there were it not for those of you who allowed me to send you what I was seeing and feeling as I was seeing and feeling it.

I won’t do much of anything for a month. It has to sit for a while, undisturbed, while I get some distance from it. Then I’ll tear into it again, change it, fix it, redo that a few times, and then it will be done. It will be a very small book that will hopefully cause readers to feel reading it was worthwhile.

I can’t thank you enough. All of you.

~Erik

You need to cry

When was the last time you cried? From loss, joy, relief, fear, gratitude? When was the last time you let yourself be that vulnerable?

Well, I’ll recommend it, especially on Thanksgiving. Because, I think, there is no way to really, truly give thanks without shedding a tear. Otherwise, you’re holding back. Not nearly thankful enough.

Yesterday a friend gave me a book, and I’m recommending it to you. There’s a couple of them, in fact. But first, know that these books will make you cry tears from being embraced by someone who knows, who cares, who has seen every thing you’ve been  through, and can see through you, as well. They will bring tears back to your eyes from things you’ve been hiding from yourself. That’s good.

Each was written by someone twice as smart as I ever thought I was, and twice as wise as I will ever be. Each was written by someone who may, just may, have a bit of the antidote for the toxic, inauthentic, self-absorbed yet indifferent world some of us can’t seem to find our way through. Each was written by a woman with strength that would intimidate a roomful of warriors.

Warning: these books are at times explicit, but always honest, human, literate; they will make you cry because of what the writers are not afraid to look at, not afraid to see, not afraid to feel. These books are emotional fire storms.

They will give you reason to say thanks.

“tiny beautiful things,” by Cheryl Strayed.

“Bluets,” by Maggie Nelson.

The Reading

The reading was a bust, by standard measure. Two couples, one of whom are good friends (one are? implied plural? Lazy, lazy…), my girlfriend, some folks who dropped by. Rebecca Singer, owner of Dudley’s was so graciously apologetic: “Fall Festival, a beautiful day to be outside, hard to find parking,” etc. I wanted to apologize to her.

Somehow, I am not devastated. My reaction like that I had with the “friend of a friend who knows somebody,” who was surprised when I told him I  still believed in the value of “Chalice,” despite rejection by agents and publishers. To that, I add a nearly empty book store on a beautiful Fall Sunday.

Have an impact on me? Of course. A bit of the doldrums, wind absent from my sails. Plus a fever on Monday, full on wet-sniffle-snuffle-hacking-cough cold on Tuesday, slow recovery on Wednesday.

And then, there was today. Someone I don’t know, but know of, posted a comment on this blog stating her gratitude for “Chalice.” Someone squarely in the demographic I felt would receive what I was trying to communicate.

That one comment made more of a difference to me than an empty book store, rejection by agents and publishers.

Because I wrote “Chalice” for her. And her friends. Those she went to college with, or hung out with in high school, who are inspired by her passions, wherever those take her. Chalice is not for everyone. But she and her brothers and sisters are out there. She is the one who makes the effort worthwhile, the rejections bearable. She is my audience, she is the one I was trying to reach.

A breeze is picking up, sails inhale, losing slack. We have a video of the reading, which will be posted sometime soon. A book club may take up the book, I’ve been asked if I would speak to them (of course). Sales inch upward.

Off we go.

Interesting people

There has been an unexpected benefit to my decision of having a group of “readers” review the manuscript for Chalice.

Several people I asked to read the book said “You should ask so-and-so, they read all the time. They know books and would give you really good feed back.” So I did.

And what these “strangers” have had to say has been difficult to hear and encouraging — in other words, exactly what I wanted.

Enjoying the language but people don’t talk like that; I love the fact that it is so well-thought out; I can’t get past thinking of it as dialogue; great job presenting conflicting values; maybe there should be a more dramatic event in the first 30 pages that allows them to open up to each other more quickly; I really dislike one of the main characters by page 7… ”

Informative perspective and often page specific. Immensely valuable.

Even better, these “strangers” are interesting, funny, thoughtful, direct and engaged in what is important to them: Music. Cars. Books. Wonderful people I would not have “met” if not for this process.