Those of you who have kept up with my other blog must be saints. And the 1.6 of you who have actually done that know who you are. For those of you who don't have a clue what I'm blathering on about, I'll back up.
Late last summer I got my (last) rejection letter for my Abish novel. The turn-around time from Deseret Book was fast enough that I have my doubts as to whether or not it was read. Cedar Fort actually spent a moment considering it a year ago, but nothing came of it. Abish's first rejection came from Covenant. (Which still frustrates me: my current draft is so much better there is no competition.)
Poor little novel. Not a very auspicious start.
Still, I felt like there was a message in the story that I wanted to share and have spent the last several months publishing it to my other blog. It was not supposed to be this way. I was supposed to do a "final" edit and then publish a chapter every few days with the whole project taking about six to eight weeks. That was six to eight MONTHS ago. And yes, I know it is very likely the most shockingly awful way to read a novel. I won't be trying that again. Anyway, the edit is done now, so you can look for the last two chapters in the next week. Really.
The reason I am bringing all of this up is that during this recent edit, I e-mailed a copy to one of my book group friends here in town. She is a sister in my ward that I trust enormously and relate to really well. She loves to read for meaning, but also enjoys a good story. I knew I could count on her to be honest.
What I did not expect is that within the week she would email AND call me with praise beyond anything I had anticipated and asked if she could "sell" the book at this year's book club organization meeting. (Each May we meet for a potluck dinner. Each person in the group gets to try and convince us to read her two or three selections in 30 seconds or less, per book. Then we vote.) I was in a mild state of shock when she asked, but I agreed.
Within a few weeks of this, two things happened: my letter was published in TNY and Tamathy read a story re-telling I had written for Enrichment night. The letter was a little thing, a very little thrown together thing, but seeing my name in print was such a thrill. A few people actually sought me out on Facebook to make further comments about my letter. That was also weird, but kind of wonderful in its way. The very idea that I might write something that would move a complete stranger to seek me out to say, "Yes! Thank you for validating/describing my feelings." (No, you Blogger girls I've never met don't count the same way. You all feel like friends!)
But it was Tamathy's recitation of my Johnny Lingo re-telling that really gave me the publishing bug. I spent some time rewriting the Legend of Johnny Lingo for our ward's Eight Cow Enrichment night. I put it together in a fairly specific way because I was trying to bring out some salient points without making it beyond-awful-cheezy, but I told Tamathy (who is an excellent orator and actress) that if it was clumsy, awkward, bad, whatever, to make it her own. Well, Tamathy liked it. So much in fact that she narrated my story word for word. The sisters in the room were either bored into submission or transfixed by both Tamathy's excellent reading and by the story itself. I glanced around the room, with an awesome feeling inside at the emotions I saw playing across each face. MY WORDS had done that. Maybe, just maybe, I might have other words that could do the same.
Well, three weeks ago, every sister in the room voted for my book at the book sell. We are reading it in September. As there are only two printed and bound copies (the current "list price" is about $20, which barely covers printing and binding), I had to get it ready this month, so that it can be passed along to everyone who wants to read it. The first sister who picked it up from me (along with two other books) on Wednesday, cornered me at church today with the most excited expression on her face. "I'm dying to talk about it. Can I pass it on to others who aren't in our group? Sister W. and I were at the temple yesterday and I wanted to just tell her all about it." I nodded numbly, "Of course, pass it on; there is no reason not to."
There is no reason not to. Just that I had hoped to publish it. Just that I had hoped to sell it, even for a pittance. Just that it represents thousands of hours of writing I'll never be paid for. Just that it represents thousands of hours of my life that I'll never get back, though I'm not sure I'd want it back either.
This is where I'm unsure how to feel. The current edit is good, maybe very good, and when you have the whole thing in hand (not all chopped up in sections like on the blog), it reads like an exciting and touching novel. The characters are compelling and human. Everyone who has gotten hold of this current version says the same thing, "This was so great. I just couldn't put it down. I can hardly wait to talk about it." Am I happy about this? Oh, yes. So happy. If this story manages to touch lives in some way and uplifts and teaches and brings unity, well, how can I be anything but happy?
And yet, after my brief conversation with Sister S today, I walked back into the chapel to gather my kids' coloring books, crayons, and quiet books they had noisily spread all over the floor and felt tears prick in my eyes and lump in my throat. And they didn't feel like those happy tears you get when you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The emotion surprised me with its depth and sharpness. Did my quick, "Sure, pass it along!" mean that I was admitting that it will never be read in another form? I held my head back to take in a larger gulp of oxygen and clear the suddenly hazy eyes.
The feeling I had was exactly like when my drama coach looked at me with her large, tender, brown eyes after my third call back for my senior musical--Seven Brides for Seven brothers--and said with so much love, "If it had just been eight brides for eight brothers . . . . I tried and tried, but I've just been outvoted." Six years of drama, ballet, piano and even choir to be cast as one of the bride's mothers with a single line, "It sounds like Pansy has the croup." They gave me a part that effectively kept me out of all the dancing and the singing. Technically, I was higher up in the program because I had a "part," but I was isolated from nearly everyone in the entire cast because of that role. The boy with whom I was completely in love was cast as Gideon. (For you non-aficionadas out there--the "G" brother is #7.) He fell head over heels for bride #7 and, being the perfect best friend that I was to him, I was gifted to hear all about it. But I digress . . . .
Noveling. I spent a lot of years being almost good enough; the musical-thing was the icing on a very icky cake. Just when I thought I'd put so much of that behind me, I decided that what I really want to do with my life is to make up and retell stories and then send them out into the world so that I can know EXACTLY what people think of what I have to say.
I'm not sure how this book group thing is going to go. I've already told the sister who "sold" it that I think she should lead the discussion: I'm happy to give background information and the occasional insight, but mostly I want to know how it is perceived by others. Or not.