Alive

I spent another night awake on the couch, tossing and turning, with intermittent tears and pacing through the living room. At 3:30am I finally fell asleep with my iPhone in hand, thinking about the feedback I’d gotten from August.

It had taken me hours to open his email. I spent the evening circling the screen, gnawing on a fingernail and the inside of my cheek. I was sure he hated the manuscript. That the work was unreadable, an unholy mess, and he was sending me back to the drawing board two chapters in. I looked at his name, still in bold font. Took a bath, fluffed my pillows, sat down in front of the computer and got up and stared at it from across the room. Finally I decided any response would have to be better than the ones I was conjuring.

I opened the email and started to cry.

It was better. It was much, much better. So good that I spent the night awake, thinking about it, allowing myself for the first time to believe in the possibility of something coming from all this work, that the long lonely hours of writing have not been in vain. My book won’t end up in a drawer. Whether it lands me an agent or finds its way to a bookshelf is to some extent out of my hands, but what I do know is that it’s good enough to share.

My book is alive!

How do you handle the good things?

69 responses

  1. I share them. Glad you shared yours and I’m not surprised your work is alive. You give blood to blogging and that is no small thing.

  2. Funny how the writer’s mind works. You slave over a ms for months or years, thrilling yourself with with your creative ability. Yes! This is wonderful! How could anyone not think so. Then, as soon as you ship it off to someone to read, it morphs into complete drivel. What the hell was I thinking?

    My reader and I met last week to go over my novel. It too went better than I expected. And still, as I revise, every criticism, even the tiniest suggestion, is cause for me to doubt why I ever decided to write. Must the mania be so much a part of this?

    Cheers to your success, be it now or in the future.

    • I used to feel that way during the writing process. But this story took a lot out of me, and most of the way it felt awful to write. I’ve spent the last year going, What the hell am I thinking?

      “Must the mania be so much a part of this?”

      Probably.

  3. Averil, you are one of the most alive persons I know. There is no way your writing could be anything but alive.

    “How do you handle the good things?”

    Twenty years ago there was an editor who had a profound impact on me as a writer and a person. He was my first reader and he rejected piece after piece I sent him. Then came the day, after two years of striving, when I opened the envelope (the was before the internets) and pulled out the acceptance. I sat down hard on the kitchen end of the one-room apartment I was living in then and I sobbed my heart out. I had done it!

    More recently, there was the email I received from Robert at Outpost19. This was in mid-January. At first I didn’t want to open it, so I didn’t. I figured, “Oh, just another rejection, ho-hum.” This is the way I usually am. It’s a learned response from countless rejections over the years. One does not get one’s hopes up. Then I did what I usually do and decided to get it over with. To my happy surprise, the email contained the acceptance of High Street. I was in the study and my wife was in our bedroom. I went to her and smiled and said, “I’m going to have a book published. I mean–it’s been accepted–High Street has been accepted–I’m going to have a book published!” It felt somewhat unreal. (The book’s been published and it still feels somewhat unreal. Maybe that’s because it’s an ebook.)

    • Oh Tetman, I love those stories.

      I remember my son’s face the night of one of his school plays, one which moved the audience to tears. His performance was extraordinary; the crowd descended on him afterward, full of congratulations, with loud exclamations about his talent and how beautifully he’d handled the role. When I made my way forward to praise his work, he just crumpled into my arms. Last night I crumpled into his.

      We all just want to be loved.

  4. Yay! I’m glad you heard good news from a trusted reader. I’m kind of excited with you.

    Me? I always get light-headed and delirious when good things happen. Then after a little while, as I’ve been taught, I worry about what’s coming next. I hope my future teaches me that it doesn’t have to be a hammer coming down.

    • I wish we lived closer together, Re, I’d take you out drinking. We’d have such fun, and I’ll bet you’d forget all about the hammer.

      Well, that particular hammer at least.

  5. How do I handle the good things? Very very awkwardly.
    How do I handle your good things? Like Downith said, not surprised at all. My heart did a happy dance reading this post and I might even go bounce on the bed once or twice for good measure. YES.

  6. First of all, I’m doing the happy dance in your honor.

    Not just because of August (though it rocks that he liked your work), but because you know your stuff is worth sharing, which is a huge victory all by itself.

    When I get good news—really good news—I usually get up and walk around the house in silence for a moment and try to breathe. Then I go into an empty room and scream and holler and careen off the walls for a bit. Then I go tell my family and make them dance with me. And I giggle and bounce for hours if not days.

  7. how do i handle the good things? i guess i secretly congratulate myself while remaining outwardly even, and move on. okay, i do let out a “yesss!” on occasion. congratulations Averil…i bet the book is a knock-out. continue…

  8. I am so happy for you. Positive feedback from Auggie must be like choco cake, Cuban flan, and potatoes fried in ghee (with plenty of salt) all in the same meal. My mouth waters just thinking of that email (or is it the food?). My heart wells up thinking of your pleasure and relief.

    As for me, when good things happen, I am very cautious. Happy, but cautious. I give in charity, as thanks. I thank God a lot, and pray not to misuse my good fortune, not to think that I’m somehow better than others for it (cuz I’m kind of inclined to be a jerk that way). Many of the good things in my life have seemingly come without too much of my effort, and that’s my problem: easy come, easy go. I need to work for what I want, instead of just coasting, passively receiving. It would be one thing if I were utterly content with my lot, but I’m not, I’m not. I believe in karma, but I also believe that good work is its own reward, and will inevitably bring extrinsic rewards also—if not to oneself, to one’s name and heirs.

    Celebrate, honey! Celebrate every positive step on this path. I’m with you in spirit (if not imbibing spirits).

    • “I also believe that good work is its own reward, and will inevitably bring extrinsic rewards also—if not to oneself, to one’s name and heirs.”

      I was thinking along those lines last night, because getting some validation from August means that my children will see their mother striving and improving; it’s proof that there is value in the quest.

      Work is good for my name. Good for how they will remember me when I’m gone. I won’t have much to leave them monetarily, I won’t be curing cancer or bringing home the NBA, but if I can instill a sense of respect for the pure act of doing, I will have left them something worthwhile.

      • It’s somebody else’s job to cure cancer, not yours. By keeping faith with your writing, while being the best mother you can be, you are giving your kids the best gift. They know they’re important, but they’re not everything. As for the NBA, you’re not dead yet, so don’t write it off.

  9. Nodding my head, smiling and feeling quietly contented and happy for you. I’d like to give August a big, fat kiss on the cheek too.

    I’m not sure how I handle the good. Cautious, I guess.

  10. Wonderful, I’m glad the weight is off – the book has legs.

    This Saturday I’m showing my husband my novel for the first time – he’s my reader. Keep your fingers crossed for my sanity…

    • I have often wondered what it would be like to have a spouse for a reader. Extra fraught, or easier?

      (Fingers crossed. And toes for good measure.)

      • He read my last one, and he’s very exacting. Not a writer, but someone who looks over and say ‘nope, not good enough. Fix it.’ and then won’t let me skip out on the work. We yell a lot (I yell a lot) but wouldn’t have it any other way.

  11. Good on you Madame. I never doubted you for a second. I welcome any good things with open arms. I’m too big (literally) for bed jumping.

  12. Of all the people who’ve read other things you’ve written, you are probably the only one who ever had any doubts.
    I remember MSB telling you you’re the real deal one day, and it was the exact words I’d used about you a few days earlier in a real life conversation.
    Your book WILL be published. FACT.
    While sane(ish) I handle good news with a quiet smile that goes from the deepest part of me all the way to the outside and stays awhile. And I share. When manic I, umm, be manic… and share. Not everybody likes being around someone whose exuberance spills into their world. But I still do it.
    I’m smiling now. For you, as well as for me.

    • Mr iPants! I was just about to email you and see how the hell you’re doing. (I’m listening to ‘our’ song, the Gotye song, at this very moment. Somebody-y-y . . . I used to know . . .)

      Don’t jinx me with the publication assurances. We’re not there yet, not even close. Even August can’t part the clouds and make a book deal fall from the sky. But I do love your optimism.

      How’s the writing coming for you?

      XO

      • There is no writing. Oxycodone and his little friends don’t allow it.
        Creativity suspended for now. But I have put time to good use. Interesting secret developments. Will email you.
        MRI TOMORROW. AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHH.

        • Secret developments?! {rubs hands} I love secrets!

          Tell the MRI techs that your American buddy will fly down on her broomstick if they twist you the wrong way, Mr iPants.

  13. I knew it Averil. I knew your book was sound and August could only agree. Good work! What I’ve read of yours feels very real and tangible. I still remember the rock chick story with lingering pleasure. A great one.

    As for good news, I’m not very good with it straight off. It needs a while to sink in, then it’s heels and prosecco, giddiness, detachment, no more thinking for a bit.

    • You got some great advice at Betsy’s yesterday. I know your party is going to be a smash, they’ll love you. Have you decided whether to actually read from your book, or just chat?

      I’m really enjoying the book. You’ll be getting some racy interview questions. Brace yourself, Cat!

  14. Oh, what a relief it is to know I don’t have to sic my wild attack dog on dear August! He’s so beloved by all of you. It really would have been unfortunate.

    There’s a part of my heart reserved just for you, Averil. You’re such a unique person and your writing taps into aspects of the human condition that most of us only dream we could broach.

    Like many before have said, you are my inspiration. To set your mind’s eye on something, despite the uphill battle and sacrifice, is no easy task and yet you do it with honesty and humor and for all of us to bear witness. Thank you for putting yourself out there. You’re such a damn good role model. I love you so.

    Today, in your honor, this is what I’m going to listen to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlq0lYB3iSM

    xo

  15. That is such excellent news! I’m so happy! Also, I am so NOT surprised! Of course your book is great. :)

    I usually handle over the top good news by drinking. Not really to celebrate but because alcohol is a depressant and it calms me down. L’chaim!

  16. I’m with Helen. What must it feel like to know the story has legs (no doubt long ones in silver strappy heels)?

    Me, when the news is extraordinarily good, I shut down, clam up, for fear the good will escape. I’ve never jumped on a bed, maybe it is a height thing, but if I eventually get a report from my reader that my story has legs? That would be larger for me because there is so much luck to the rest (an agent, a book deal, etc.). I have no idea how I’d respond. Here’s hoping I get to find out.

    • You’re absolutely right. Any success in writing depends to great extent on factors beyond our control. All we can do is keep trying, right? Keep trying, keep improving, keep on keeping on.

  17. Hurray! And I completely agree with Lizi: “How do I handle the good things? Very very awkwardly. How do I handle your good things? Like Downith said, not surprised at all.”

    I will add, however, that I also deal with good things by secretly believing that they aren’t real, or if they are I don’t deserve them. I can come up with 1,000 reasons why I don’t deserve them. If any of my friends felt that way about themselves, meanwhile, I’d promptly smack them upside the head.

  18. HOORAY! You survived! Just barely, by the sound of it, but you survived nevertheless. You didn’t need *all* those hours of sleep anyways.

    After you clicked the “send” button, you knew exactly what you wanted to change, though, right? ;-)

    • Wrong! I had worked myself into a state of numbness (see margarita, above) and was to the point of thinking, I can’t, can’t, CAN’T look at this anymore. Only then was I able to click ‘send’. I promise you I was beyond even the smallest epiphany.

      • That state of being fed up with a piece and not wanting to look at it anymore sometimes works for me in difficult editing situations where I know the thing’s not right and I am sick of being nice to it. I get to the point where I am so fucking tired of whatever it is that’s wrong with it that I start smacking it around, hitting it with a stick, and slicing pieces out of it. It’s surprising how well that can work, but it’s not a state that for me can be forced. It’s a sort of state of perverse grace I fall into out of creative exhaustion.

        • Yes! Oh yes. I’m too new at this to say whether it’s a point you need to reach, but that exhausted hatred can become a catalyst for some of the more brutal cuts that need to happen. For me, at least. I reached the that point and hacked the book to pieces, and was sick about it. I thought the whole thing was falling apart. You and August both told me, No, it’s not falling apart, it’s coming together. Which was true.

  19. I’m happy for your good news. How many times have I driven myself insane conjuring up all manner negative vibes, while all the time it was good? I am an insecure procrastinator I guess. How is your Island Adventure coming along?

    • We’ll be moving mid-June, right after my daughter’s graduation. Portland, here we come!

      But I gave up on using the actual island of Vashon-Maury as a setting for my book, and I’m glad I did because this way I could place all the important locations exactly where I wanted them. It worked out much better all around.

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