Sunday, June 14, 2009

Unsure How To Feel

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.

Scary.

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.

17 comments:

Brian and Courtni said...

i think it is awesome that you have a novel written. i don't think that any moment writing it was a waste, and i think it is great that people are reading and enjoying your work.

i've never tried my hand at a novel -- i can't imagine the thought process that goes into one. i have however just received my first rejection on a children's book (also from covenant :-))

the trick is getting into the world of getting published and then everything after that is easier. good luck! i'll keep my eyes open for your name on a book!

TheDooleys4 said...

Sooooo Awesome Nan! Congrats!

Jessica said...

i've really enjoyed reading the story on your other blogsite. i hope you don't give up hope of getting it published "for real."

chris w said...

It's amazing how much we think we've put something behind us and that we've overcome it or moved on only to have all those feelings come flooding back when it happens again.

I have no doubt that you will be published. This "edition" will be a rare collector's item that only a handful of people will have after your novel is officially published.

I also have a feeling that you "spending a lot of years being almost good enough" is one reason you have a special insight into human emotions, which helps people connect to your writing and draws them in to your stories.

Your influence, from your words and your actions extends far beyond what you know.

tamathy said...

The next time you send this book out you will have a "platform". You will have a following- fans, hundreds, maybe thousands of networking, book-group loving people saying, "We love this book! Publish it!"
Giving it away can be the way to publish. Have you heard of "Little Brother" available free online- made the best seller list. Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" -just won a ton of awards and shot back to the top of the best seller list- video of his readings of the whole book free on his web site the same week it was published. I listened to/ read both of those books online and then went out and bought them. And have you seen the list of self-published authors who made it big? Neil Gaiman says "The writer's enemy isn't letting your stuff out for nothing, it's obscurity."

emandtrev said...

I think the title of your post sums it up perfectly. I can imagine that it could be disconcerting and exciting all at once, or at varying times too. I have felt similar feelings about different situations and hope you hang in there with noveling. You are a very talented writer and I have no doubt that you will publish.

Karin said...

You sound as if you feel torn. There are so many emotions that surround our passions/gifts. I sometimes feel offended when people compliment my voice, as if I just stumbled into singing. I spent years and thousands of dollars as well as tears, pain, frustration, and sweat as I honed this skill that started out as a gift. Then I remember that they haven't traveled this journey with me and are (blissfully) unaware of it. That's okay. I'm still glad I do it. Glad I learned it, glad I'm able to share it.

If I could just make it look a little harder...

;-)

Anonymous said...

A professor I had at the Y wrote a novel that I read for him when I was in Mexico and had nothing in English to read. I thought it was fantastic, and the story has stuck with me for years. He had already been rejected by Deseret Book, and was doing a re-write. Last year I saw his book advertised for sale, just published, 20 YEARS LATER! Don't give up! Love ya, babe!

April said...

That last one was from me. Someday, I will master technology! This I vow! Of course, by then it will all be obsolete.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Your post really touched me. I wish I could offer something profound, inspiring, or even amusing, but all I've got is the observation that we tend to achieve what we truly desire. It's still hard to be patient, though.

Sunnie said...

i didn't know you had a book written. i obviously haven't read it but i bet it is awesome. you just have a knack for writing- you know you do. i bet whatever you write is good.

Cathy said...

STM,

I sent you an email a couple of weeks ago offering to send your manuscript along to a couple of authors I know ( one great aunt and one former professor). I have faithfully read it. It's good. Did you get that email? I can probably come up with more than one former professor too--BYU English Dept connections. They'll probably remember me too.
Check your spam filter--email subject line tabula rasa.

Janssen said...

I am just in awe that you not only managed to WRITE a whole book, but that it's so good! I feel certain that something big will come of it eventually.

(Also, I know this was a tiny sidenote to the post, but I spent three years as the "perfect best friend" who got to hear all about the other crushes. I do not miss that one teeny, tiny bit.)

Kathleen said...

I'd love to read it Nan. I'll even buy a copy from you. :) Don't you think you should just try to go with a different publisher? There are a lot out there. One of them is bound to publish it.

Rainie said...

Don't give up on having a book published. You're to good of a writer. I haven't read the copy yet but really have all intentions of doing so. I even asked my friend if she'd want to read something written by one of my friends and she was all excited about it. Sorry I didn't back to you sooner but feel honored that it was sent my way to look over. I'm still planning on you making the millions some day...

KarateMommy said...

Hello Friend! Sorry it has been such a long time since commenting. I have no reasonable excuse. I have followed you're book blog through google reader, so everytime you posted a chapter, I was reading it a few hours later. I truly enjoyed it. and even though you thought it might be choppy posting it that way, I was still sucked into the characters. Very interesting take on the story. And there was at least once where I had tears in my eyes. Thank you.

chosha said...

'Did my quick, "Sure, pass it along!" mean that I was admitting that it will never be read in another form?'

If there's one thing I've learned from both reading and editing over the years, it's that a lot of crap gets published and a lot of great stuff doesn't. I'm simultaneously cheered and dismayed by stories of great books that were rejected several times before being published. Because your story fits the description of 'niche market' it's really hard to say whether it will ever get the nod, because there are fewer people you can send it to. If you haven't exhausted those avenues, then keep going.

Honestly though, I think that the reaction of people who took the time to read it, were moved by it, and who want to share it with others is a really positive review in itself - and probably more telling that the actions of a (presumably busy) editor, no matter how much the positive opinion of that editor seems worth more in the 'real world'.

I'll be honest and say I didn't follow along, not because I didn't like the writing, but more because I wasn't really in a place at the time you started that blog that reading a BoM-based story was on my list of things to do. But since reading this post I went away and did read several of the chapters and I like the writing. I like its tone and the way you've created a story with a very authentic feel, even without you having a lot of detailed information to go on from the scriptures themselves.

You have to write what you feel to write and that's just how it is, but I hope you'll try a story sometime with a wider likely audience. I'd love to see you have that thrill of being published. I know I'm dead keen to experience it myself! :)