Writing looks easy. We clatter at a keyboard in what for some is a sprint, others a marathon. If logic were to play into it, there’d be a trophy at the end, or something, I don’t know, maybe a ribbon, or a medal, a certificate, an evening of drunken celebration with well-meaning friends who cheered us over the finish line when everyone else had gone home…whatever…but there’s a definite sense of accomplishment.
Publishing and logic–Pffffft. For most of us, we finish the marathon, suck on an orange, and then face the mountain. Do all of us make it to the peak? No. Some of us aren’t fit enough (our stories are flabby and need editing; readers don’t find our tales half as interesting as we do; we have zero platform and negative marketing acumen…if Cuba Gooding Junior were to shout, “Show me the money,” we’d mutter, “What’s that?” and go in search of a meadow and some cows). But we all have one thing in common, inflated hopes and expectations aside: we have something to share with a beautiful, bewildering world, even if our audience is tiny.
There are books that have been years in the making. GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS began a decade ago, when I was sitting in a doctor’s office paging through a decrepit, recycled Cosmopolitan. I came across a photograph that inspired me to research the cultures of South America, more specifically, that vast, exquisite mountain range we know as the Andes, home to the Incas before the Spanish gutted their civilization. I needed to find a way into the image, get under its skin, move past the sensation of initial shock and revulsion. See, that’s our great power as writers. We can create redemption where none exists, and compose love and forgiveness where those qualities elude us in reality.
GRAVE and I set out on our journey. The characters came quickly, so much so that they often told me what to do and seldom obeyed a directive. I was aware, all through the writing, that I wandered a tricky path. I was venturing into cultural territory I had no claim to and little first-hand knowledge of. Who was I to impose my own cultural standards on another? My solution was to write as the outsider I’ve so often felt myself to be in every culture. I searched for points of connectivity; the places where we converge as humanity, and I worked off the notion that our hearts are the same.
It took a long time, a lot of tough work, and many edits before I felt I could share what I’d written. GRAVE became my thesis for my MFA and it won an award, but having completed the marathon, the mountain I faced demanded more stamina, more resilience, more perseverance than either I or my book could have envisaged.
I’ve written three novels since, and common advice in the industry is to produce, produce, produce. Too much time spent on one novel that may, for whatever reason, not be THE ONE, is wasted energy. I don’t disagree. Commercial imperatives of a saturated book market demand a small business approach to our ‘commodities’. Find an agent, find a publisher, publish alone, tweet and tumble and wattpad, and most importantly, cross sell.
But this isn’t about all that. This is about that one book that we can’t give up on, that one book we won’t leave stranded in the dirt, that one book that opened us up to our creative spirit. And even if it takes us years, we’ll help that book find its way out of the forest. Ironically, it’s for that book that the size of the audience counts less. Good, bad, clumsy, unpopular, it’s that book that will count more than the millions of words we write after, and the dozens of stories we must frenetically churn out if we’re to survive as career writers.
Do you have such a book? Why does it mean so much to you, no matter how much rejection it’s suffered? Perhaps it’s the one that’s broken through and has launched your career?
GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS has 6 days to go in a Kindle Scout nomination campaign. The more votes the book draws, the more likely it is that the KS team will consider it for publication. The novel has been hot and trending for 23 days so far–your nomination will help keep it bubbling, and you get a free copy if it’s chosen. Please click on the link to vote.
Now here’s to loosening our grip on outcomes:).