Countdown to Publication: Day +29 It's Showtime! Your Novel is Born! (from The Writer's Life)

It’s Showtime! Your Novel is Born!

August 19, 2010

Guest blogger, Ilie Ruby

You’ve waited your whole life for this to happen. And now it’s finally here: the publication of your debut novel. You have given up everything for this book—men, jobs, nights out with the girls. You worked so damn hard on it—almost ten years, but you know that a lot of people work hard for things and never get them. You revel in it all. You feel unimaginable gratitude. But you remember the before part….

While you are waiting…. Before your book is published, when you are still struggling, you take a lot of stuff from people. Some ask, are you still working on that book? And, whatever happened to that book? And sometimes you resent your book. Even though you LOVE your book, you resent how much you love it. You sit at a coffee house, turn on your computer and instead of writing you make a list of all the men you could have married if it weren’t for the existence of this book. I mean, it was your lover. Your number one priority. You are nothing if not devoted. You immerse yourself in the setting, letting it take you away. You spend hours thinking about story arcs and crafting real and whole characters with dire flaws that are still somehow relatable. You fall in love with your characters. When your writing hits a rough patch, certain things have to be cut to allow you to refocus, and often the casualty is whatever man you happen to be dating at the time. The writing life is a solitary life, at least that is what they told you in grad school, and so you see it not as something that has been forced upon you but as a right of passage. You follow sage advice. You get a room of your own. Usually it’s a tiny studio apartment. If you live in California, you sleep on a Murphy bed that pulls out of the wall and you cry many tears there about why your life is not happening when you are such a good person and a hard worker. You are only 26 years old but you feel like you are 46 and that you have been a writer forever. You have a cat, but not the type that cozies up on your lap while you write, the type that leers at you and thinks you are an impossible dreamer. You go to poetry readings and meet other writers and you commiserate over cups of mint tea and glasses of chardonnay. You win scholarships and awards to writer’s conferences where you actually feel validated and a part of a community and then you must say goodbye, because conferences only last a week. You publish short stories and poems in literary magazines. When you have your manuscript critiqued by well-known authors you ask them inane questions because you feel so inferior. Some of these people are kind and encouraging. They tell you to absolutely keep writing. They tell you that you are talented. Some are not so kind. And you leave and vow to out the unkind people when it does happen for you. But of course you don’t, in the end. You simply don’t. Still, something in you knows that one day it will happen for you. One day. Just a matter of time. Tick tock. And that is why you must keep going. You promise yourself you will be very kind when it is your turn to critique.

When it does finally happen for you it is years later. You have just started to get busy doing something else. You are creating a family. You think your work is over and that it is time to take a nice long vacation to Mexico with your husband and drink Margaritas on the beach. But there is no time for that. There is a lot of hurry up and wait. You’re not quite sure what to do with yourself in the months after you receive the news so you shop a lot. You hunt for bargains at TJ Maxx and look for dresses to wear for readings. You imagine what you will say about how it all happened for you. You rehearse your story. You learn what social networking sites are the best for authors, how to network, and how to make a book trailer. Your 3-year old daughter starts asking if Luke Ellis, one of the characters in your novel, is coming to dinner. And then suddenly, things begin to move at lightening speed.

You lose your anonymity. Old friends, lovers, and nemeses start calling and emailing questions and to say congratulations. There are reviews and quotes to get and parties and interviews and book tours and publicists and suddenly you are thrown into a whole new world where there are new hurdles and you find yourself with no rule book but you quickly begin to learn on your own. The road to publication is paved with angels and devils and you learn to keep the angels close and let the devils go to hell. The angels drop presents in your path and show you what to do and who to meet. You become obsessed with googling your name on the internet. You now belong to the world of authors, at least your name does. You vigilantly monitor book sites and feel eternally grateful to book bloggers. You revel in the praise and take slight offense at criticism and then you get over it because someone tells you to get over it: that this is your dream, that the reviews are great, and it is all finally happening for you. And you should just be happy! And so you calm your little self down and have a good long talk with yourself about it and you may even cry a few happy tears.

And then you begin to really start to enjoy it. I mean, really enjoy it. Maybe even LOVE it. And you start doing readings and you LOVE that even more. Maybe you love that the most. You LOVE your readers. You can’t believe how much you love them. They don’t know how much work you put into your book but they can appreciate the story and love your words. You adore talking to them. You start to fall in love with everyone. At every book signing you meet at least 5 amazing people that you want to take home with you so you can listen to their stories. After all it is in your nature to ask questions. You embark on a book tour and your first stop is your launch in NYC at a fabulous bookstore. You are gripped with worry that no one will show up except for one strange guy lurking in the back row sipping coffee and flipping through a Maxim magazine. You bring your children, even the ornery unpredictable three-year old Tasmanian devil, and dress her up beautifully and she is thrilled to pieces to be with you. You show up early to the bookstore for your reading. They tell you to wait in the green room but you don’t want to wait there. You return to mill about with the audience and talk. Moments before it’s time to take the stand you receive texts from three friends who say they have accidentally gone to the wrong bookstore, and then more texts from other friends saying they are stuck in traffic. When it is your time to go on, it comes too soon. You hear your name announced over the loud speaker. It is surreal. You’d rather keep talking to the people in the audience. But the show must go on.

At the podium, everyone is waiting for you to be clever and confident and you actually feel both of those things for the first time in such a long time because you know your work better than anyone else. There are smiles and you relax and smile back and thank everyone for coming and you mean it. You thank your amazing agent because she has stuck by you for a lifetime. And then you start to read. The sections are flowing perfectly. You keep the audience entertained with personal anecdotes and you relax and feel really comfortable. And just when you’ve hit a dramatic highpoint in your story, your 3-year old begins to shriek “MOMMA! I WANT MAMMA! COME GET ME, MAMMA,” from the audience, and she is pointing at you as though she is being tortured by your absence. And you don’t skip a beat. You introduce your darling daughter to the audience and instruct your husband to go get her a cupcake and he shoots you a dirty look but does it dutifully. And you pick up where you left off and finish up your reading.

After, when you sit down to sign books, the line grows longer and longer with all the people who showed up late, and all the people that have been waiting for you. Your three-year old crawls up onto your lap with chocolate frosting on her face and watches you sign books. Your nine-year old hangs on your shoulder, watching, because she has just announced her plans to become a writer. People who you have not seen in 20 years suddenly appear from out of nowhere. Some of them buy three or four books at a time. They have braved their way through the NYC traffic to get here. A few old friends shed a tear or two because it has been so long and the fact that you have achieved your dream reminds them of their own. It’s just so good to share this moment of happiness with them. People try to hug you across the table but it is too wide. You talk too long to each person but no one seems to mind. This could go on and on forever. You want it to. You feel complete. Content. Just happy to have had this moment tonight. After, you go out for a drink with your agent and she says you were marvelous and asks, “So, when can you get me the first 50 pages of your next book?” And you get to thinking and on the ride home, you begin anew.

Ilie Ruby is a Boston-based writer whose novel The Language of Trees (Avon HarperCollins) debuted on July 22, 2010.

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Comment by Kimberly Cain on August 24, 2010 at 9:28am
Well said!
Comment by Chandra Hoffman on August 23, 2010 at 8:42pm
I love this. Thanks for sharing it.
Round one, begin.


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