1/19/23

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I often say to my students and clients that writers are the most confounding conundrum of absolute ego (“I’m writing the best book/story/poem/memoir/whatever! It’s genius!”) and an absolutely crippling lack of self-confidence (“Why did I ever think I could do this? It’s a waste of time. It’s waste, period. It should be in the garbage. It’s not good enough for the garbage. I’m not good enough for garbage.”). I see this over and over and over again.

And of course, though this surprises many people, I experience it myself. Over and over and over again.

One would think that by the time a fourteenth book is due to come out, there have been awards and exclamations and stories performed on stage and poems included in art exhibits, that the self-doubt would be completely gone.

Oh, no. Dream on.

Fairly recently, I went through a deep crisis of confidence. My novel, All Told, was released. For the first time, I had a hardcover edition. I’d been given an advance. All looked right with the world. But then, when I went to turn in my next novel, Hope Always Rises, the publisher told me they’d decided to turn the publishing house into a hybrid. For those that don’t know, this means that the author pays a partial, but substantial, hunk of the publishing costs. It’s a step up from self-publishing, but a step down from traditional publishing. As a longtime firm believer that writers should be paid for their work, I said no and walked away.

And then realized that this was like starting all over again. Where was I going to go with the new book?

It only took me two weeks to land a new publisher, which was a boost to the ego. But it remained dented, along with a sense of exhaustion and distrust. I wondered for the billionth-billionth time if I was doing the right thing. All Told was my 12th book. Shouldn’t I be able to just focus on writing by now, and not on who was going to take what I wrote?

I had trouble writing. I’ve always said that I’ve never had writer’s block, that I don’t believe in it, and that’s still the case. This was not writer’s block. People with what they call writer’s block want to write, but they don’t know what to write about. I knew my topic. I knew what I wanted to say. But I simply didn’t want to write.

I thought I was done. Which pretty much shook me to my toes.

But I did start something new. When I can make myself sit at my desk and work, I leave with great enthusiasm for what I’ve done. But the next day, it’s a fight to sit back down again. Still, this newest book has eked past 100 pages now.

Then this week happened. A message from my publisher came through, saying there was a medical emergency, but that they thought the release date was still safe. However, they offered me the chance to dissolve my contract.

What?

The odd combination of that – the book is safe, but you can dissolve the contract – set all sorts of red flags off in me. If I stayed with the publishing house and something happened to the publisher, my book could be held up for a long time, even years, before everything was straightened out. I knew writers this happened to.

But…to be without a publisher again? When the release date was set and an amazing launch was already scheduled?

I didn’t sleep at all that night. Again, the questions hit me hard. Shouldn’t this be easier by now?

In the morning, after talking to a few people, I emailed one of my previous publishers. A favorite. I explained everything that was happening, and that the book was ready to go. “Would you consider publishing it?” I asked. “It has to be out in time for its launch. The launch is a pretty big deal.” Which it is. It’s slated for April 27.

Within a half-hour, this publisher answered. “Let’s do it!” he crowed. He sent a contract.

For a book he hadn’t even read yet. He sent a contract based on…me.

I think I sobbed for at least an hour.

And then…and then…

Today, an envelope showed up in the mail. It was from a literary magazine I love, called Thema. Inside was an acceptance for my short story, “First”, which I submitted for their “So That’s Why!” issue. And you know what that story is?

It’s part of a chapter in the newest book that I’m writing, the one I have to convince myself to sit down to write.

So. Within a 48-hour period, I rode the waves of devastation to elation. My novel, Hope Always Rises, a book which I can unabashedly say is my most beloved, most favorite, most everything I’ve ever written, is safe and coming out on time, with a publisher who hasn’t even read the book, but who has absolute faith in me. And a story, lifted from the novel I’m currently writing, the novel I wasn’t even sure I had the energy to do, is coming out in one of my most favorite magazines.

These moments, these sand dollar moments (a reference you’ll understand if you’ve read this blog or read my book, Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Year Of Spontaneous Essays) are the ones that keep me going. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, one word in front of the other, one page in front of the other, one more day of being who I am, despite so many crippling years as a kid, being told that I wasn’t anything.

Oh, I’m something.

Now…I can’t wait to sit down at my desk and work.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

In my happy place – minutes before doing a reading and presentation of All Told this last summer, at Pearl Street Books in La Crosse.
All 13 books. Just waiting for #14!

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