Friday, October 28, 2011
But in the 24 hours leading up to the long-awaited book launch party at Radnor Memorial Library last evening, I began to rethink my no superstition policy. I lost my glasses. I lost my camera. It rained most fierce just ahead of the party hour. Most concerning was that mid-day hour, when it was discovered that the copies of the books that were to be sold that night had not yet made their way to Children's Book World, which had so kindly offered to join us at the event. I admit it: A few tears were shed.
And yet, I will look back on last night as one of the luckiest nights of my life. Let's talk about what happened at six o'clock, at Elizabeth Mosier's incredibly beautiful and hospitable home, where writers feasted on Elizabeth's amazing Mexican meal. Libby is always there—a hugely talented writer and reader with a generous heart—and everyone in my neck of the woods (me perhaps above all) is grateful. Let's talk about Pam Sedor, a dear friend, who has given me a home for years at her luxurious Winsor Room. Let's talk about John, one of the most intelligent young readers I know (in fact, I refuse to believe that he is anything other than a New York Times Book Review writer), who sent me an email at this book's very start and who, late yesterday afternoon, sent me a link to his most stunning Dear Author review. Let's talk about Florinda and Amy and Melissa and Caroline, who wrote loving notes just ahead of the event. Let's talk about Ellen Trachtenberg, a friend who has stood by me throughout the publication of this book, lending me her perspective, know-how, and smarts. Let's talk about Amy Rennert, my agent, who was on the phone with me several times during the course of yesterday, and who sent a beautiful email last evening. Let's talk about those dancers, St. Johner's, writers, Zumbaists, long-time friends, neighbors, teachers, book clubbers, colleagues who worked their way in from the storm. I wondered, to tell you the truth, if anyone would. They did. They were there. Each one a treasure.
I hope that they know they are treasured.
In my opening remarks last evening I talked a little about what it takes to be a writer. I share the final words of that talk here:
But just because I had to write this story doesn’t mean that I had an easy time of it. I never do. It’s not a straight-line process for me. It’s not—find the plot, dance to the crescendo, put a little lute to the denouement. It’s a devastatingly inefficient process, my writing of novels, and there are, I will admit it, tears. Long, self-dramatizing monologues are involved. Bad posture. Tingling arms. Broken fingernails.
I can be heard to say, I cannot do it.
I have sworn, Never again.And then I’m right back at it the next day. I’m pushing until I write one sentence that works. And another sentence that works. Because yes: Ideas are essential. And yes: Stories need their characters. And sure, it’s absolutely true that no publisher is going to look twice at you if you don’t have a plot.
But I can’t write forward if I don’t have a sentence that, to my ear, works. If the preposition is wrong. If there’s an extra syllabic beat. If something cranks the wrong way or falls flat —when this happens, and it happens all the time, I cannot tick a chapter toward its end. Several times I nearly lost You Are My Only. Too many nights to count, I went to bed with an ache in my heart.
If you think you are a writer, if you want to be a writer, you need to read. You need to be capable of hurting. You need to imagine. You need time, you need silence, you need space. You need these things. But if you do not also have a persevering spirit, you cannot be a writer. If you do not, daily, choose to start at the base of the mountain and climb, with all ferocity, up, you aren’t going anywhere.
You lose faith in yourself when you write—that’s part of the process. You fight the lost faith of others. You fight your way out of the margins. You hold onto the people you trust. Perseverance is the final hallmark of a writer.
Or, at least, it is what has brought me here, all these quiet books later, these books about heart. You Are My Only is, in some ways, a different kind of book for me. There is more plot. There is more tension. There is suspense. But it is not, in fact, a departure. My Emmy and my Sophie see, face, live terrible things. They are placed into raw circumstances. But what saves my Emmy and my Sophie is their ceaseless search for goodness. What saves them is their special gift for believing that goodness wins.