So, my book is coming out this week. I’ve got about ten things to do right now. Interview questions and final revisions on an essay that has completely kicked my ass, research and writing of two more essays due in the coming weeks, plus I need to get mentally prepared for the reading I’m giving at the book launch in St. Louis tonight. I’m behind, and it’s only going to get worse in the next few hours when my publicist and agent (love you guys!) start e-mailing me again with new assignments, all of which I’m probably going to say yes to, because I believe in the book and want to do right by the publisher who was brave and/or crazy enough to take it on in the first place. Still, despite the backlog, it seems worthwhile to step back a second, take a breath, and say to myself: “You did it, man. After all these years, this is actually happening.”
The book comes out Thursday, which is kind of unusual. New releases usually drop on Tuesday, and I’ve never gotten around to asking Overlook Press why they release their books on Thursday, although I’m okay not directly competing with the likes of Jonathan Lethem and Paul Harding, who both have new novels coming out tomorrow. Overlook tends to do things their own way, which is one of the things I love about them and why I feel so at home there. I’m sure they have their reasons. And to be honest, given the journey the novel has taken to get to this point, it would be weird for it to be released on a usual Tuesday.
Without getting into the gory details of it all, the publication process started in 2009, involved near-misses with two major presses, countless e-mails expressing various levels of regret, a gut rehab of the manuscript, the retirement of my former agent, and a period of almost two years when I tried to give up, to leave this novel behind and get started on writing something else, with only partial success. It got to the point where I dreaded people asking me about the book I was writing. I had a standard answer, and a practiced tone of nonchalance, though I could never quite pull it off, and I’m sure it made for some awkward encounters with folks who were just trying to be decent and figure out what I’d been up to. When they mostly stopped asking, I was glad.
The e-mail came out of the blue a little over a year ago. Without telling me, a writer friend of mine had showed it to an editor friend in New York, who as it happens had studied Calvino in college (the city in my novel is named after one of Calvino’s Invisible Cities). In the space of a few ecstatic hours, the dream came back to life. I’d like to say it’s all a tribute to my persistence and hard work, but it’s not, exactly. Sometimes it takes an improbable confluence of persistence, hard work, personal connections, and crazy luck to get these things done. Plus the efforts of a lot of brilliant people who take your side, for no more than a publishing salary and the glory of it all. You’re damn lucky if your book finds its way to these people. And I don’t forget for a moment how lucky I’ve been.
What would I be doing now if I had never gotten that e-mail? Pretty sure I would be in the middle of another project. Trying to figure out how another fictional world fit together. Getting the voice and the sentences right. Finding some way to restart it all, the query letters, the revision, the submission process, the whole agonizing wheel. I can’t help it: it’s in my nature, as the scorpion said. It’s basically the same thing I’ve been doing since my mom gave me The Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when I was fifteen. Too late to stop now.
The funny thing, all the times I pictured this moment over the years, was that I kind of imagined it happening in a void: almost an Immaculate Bookish Conception, untainted by any kind of real life going on around it. Somehow I didn’t picture the country debating whether or not to attack Syria. Didn’t think about what would be going on with my wife or my friends. Didn’t consider all the nuances this process would involve, how difficult and vexing it would sometimes be–putting something out there for people to read. I kind of pictured myself calmly observing the scene from an elevated vantage of Publication, not down on the ground, sweating from a late-summer heat wave and worrying if anyone was going to come to my reading. The dream becomes real with all the complexities that implies. All the new fears and anxieties that feel a lot like the old ones. And the same hope too: that the work you do is somehow worth it, that it will become meaningful to someone else through craft, patience, and lucky accident. Walking home the other day with the pukey orange stain of a spilled carrot smoothie on my shorts, I told myself:
Keep going. You’ll get there.