Do you ever get a great and overwhelming sense of… the only word for it has to be relief… to think your first novel didn’t get published?
I just felt it, undeniable relief sitting here in the café, skimming through pages I am happy to stay hidden for the rest of my life. Never publishing that novel is a good thing, not a sad thing. I should be grateful about that, not depressed.
Sometimes I peek back at the novel. Sometimes I have moments of doubt about having doubt in the first place. The book can’t be all dead, can it? I ask myself. Not after all that work? But it is. So far, I’ve published three stories that used to be pieces from it. I think I can dig out one more, maybe.
The novel I’m talking about was the first one I wrote. I started it when I was 22 or 23. I’ve talked about it here before: 500 pages long, written to graduate my writing program, and it did get me the MFA—at least there’s that. All told I spent five years on it.
Not too many people read the whole thing. E, of course. My thesis adviser. My two thesis readers—one who seemed to like it and one who said he was worried it would fail. My mom. My writing friend Erin. One agent. Is that really all?
How can you give up after one or two agents say no to you? Maybe because it was the right thing to do. Is it horrible to think that a whole novel was written for practice, for therapy? I feel better for having written it, but I want to burn parts of it too.
I just wish I’d learned enough from the experience to write a second novel that was publishable. Alas. I’m slow to learn, I guess. For now, I just want to thank the stars that the first novel wasn’t The One. Such relief, for real.
Just woke up from a dream about my book’s cover. In the dream, I happened to see an advance cover flat by accident and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. But I was afraid to say. In the author photo section there was a picture… of someone else. That someone looked like Cousin It or the girl from Ringu. There was so much hair all over the person pictured that I thought maybe it was me, maybe you just couldn’t see my face? The whole back of the book, the back flap and the back panel and even onto the spine, was all these heads full of dark hair. Some of the heads had their faces covered entirely by hair, and sometimes you could see the faces—they were little girls, but none were me, at least I don’t think they were.
For some reason I can’t remember what the front of the book looked like. I think it was mostly just type, I think just the name of the book and my name. It was like, THIS IS A BOOK BY ME, but the picture was so obviously not me that it freaked me out.
Then I realized the photo on the back could be me—just when I was a kid. I was confused. How did they get that picture? Why did they use it instead of the one I sent? And what is going on with my hair?
In reality, I don’t necessarily need an author photo to run on the book—not all books have them… who needs to know what an author looks like in order to read a book? Is the dream showing that I’m nervous about having a photo or not having a photo? This is completely out of my control. I guess the dream is just showing all my raw nerves, no matter what they’re about.
When I woke up, I had to assure myself it was just a dream and isn’t true. It can’t be. What I saw in the dream—though it’s all gauzy now, slipping into the forgetting—it wasn’t at all like the cover concept my editor showed me. The dream is impossible. They are not going to make my book look like that. They will not cover it with hair.
I have the best mom in the world. The best mom for a writer. The best, you have no idea. I was just writing up a draft of the acknowledgments for my novel and got all teary-eyed thinking about what to say about her.
She made me my favorite macaroni and cheese the night before Thanksgiving and she opened the oven while it was baking to reveal a congratulatory message about my novel:
That says YEAH DANI, written on the top in paprika! (I thought at first it said something else!) Dani is, of course, for the title of the book, which I think is feeling more and more real to all of us now that we found it on Amazon.
I’d post her recipe—macaroni and cheese so divine we called it “heaven”—but it’s her secret and we, her children, can’t ever seem to replicate it. She puts something magical in that sauce, and I may never know what it is.
I love my mom. I wouldn’t be a writer without her. Her heavenly macaroni and cheese is just an added bonus.
Transitioning into writing this new novel while I know there are still revisions to come on another is a strange experience, like standing with one foot on ground and one in the bath. I’m getting excited though, too excited. I want to throw myself in with all the bubbles, dunk my head under and hold my breath till the very last second and I have to come up.
I love writing.
The transitions in the chapter I’m working on—the soon-to-be infamous Chapter 1, I can see this one taking weeks to sculpt—are giving me pause. There’s the opening bit about R. The next bit about the parents. The bit with the talking. The bit with the setup and the reveal. And the bit in the pool, where we end, and I’m all drawn into that moment though I have to write everything else that comes first. Each bit needs a natural transition between it. The flow between one to the next to the next needs to feel real.
I’m using chapter titles again—who knows if they’ll stick in the end. Using chapter titles when writing a novel feels to me like transitioning between short stories and something way larger: a whole house. The titles keep my head in the game, give me some control. So ignore them if you hate them, okay?
I really do love writing.
Tomorrow I won’t get to write. It’s a holiday here in the U.S. The transition from the comfort of my island city into the place surrounded by trees that’s not even really a town takes just a couple hours of traveling, but it feels far farther than that. It’s dark up there. Every year I come home, late at night on a holiday, dragging my bags and leftover food, and all I want is egg-drop soup. It’s not that I’m hungry for Chinese food at two in the morning. It’s that I’m in the city, where the Chinese place is still open. It’s because I can. How I transitioned from an upstate kid into a city person—I really don’t know when that happened.
The transition from this table at the café—writing, writing, sip mocha, write post, more writing—to the subway and to work… let’s not think of that one yet.
I think the ages will change (it’s supposed to be 9-13), and the manuscript I wrote might not fit into 208 pages, though I am totally ready and willing to cut, and a pub date of September 22, 2009?, really?, who knows if that’s final, and and and and and, just, you know, this is exciting.
I was sad to not have an announcement on Publishers Lunch (because I don’t have an agent to announce it), so this is like the first time it feels practically official.
Now you’ll see the title, too ( 🙂 ).
p.s. You will also, apparently, be able to buy the book at Target. I’m almost tempted to pre-order.
In addition to what I couldn’t help bragging about last night, I am also making some progress in one other area of my life that doesn’t involve instant cooking. I found what may be the first line of the novel yesterday while I was taking the subway home from work. I say it like I happened upon it, crumpled on the subway platform, still warm. It came actually as I was getting out at my stop and heading up the stairs to the surface. I had to step aside on the passage between train lines and find somewhere to scribble the words—but I had no paper. In desperation, hunched up against a pole out of the way of foot traffic, I found an old receipt and—such luck!—a half-bent pen. Then I scribbled out the line in a fury. And I thought with some surprise and great pleasure, Oh.
Now, the line may not end up being the actual first line of the book—it doesn’t always stick. But I need a jumping-off point, a specific first note. I can’t just plop myself down anywhere in the story, now can I?
With the new first line in hand I’ll now have to go back and rework the scattered scenes I wrote this weekend. All, somehow, will find themselves mushed up together into some semblance of a first chapter.
Have you noticed that I am already breaking my own rules? I have. I said I was going to write a pitch first, not the brand-new chapter one first. Listen, I just don’t do well with rules and regulations okay? Even if I’m the one to invent them. Rules are meant to be broken.
I skipped my new favorite café this morning and made the longer walk to the writing spot I go to on weekends. I avoided the café because I just wasn’t in the mood for snark, and sometimes I feel like I’m a much freer writer when I can take off my shoes.
I think, when I’m stuck on this new novel, that I should ride the trains. I get ideas that way. Also while walking in the dark around the perimeter of the park—on the way home a possible new title came on the northwest corner. Sitting still keeps me clogged.
I’m in a slightly better mood today. Then again, it could be the pudding.