Two things happened last week: my galleys arrived, and I was invited to sign them at MPIBA next month in Denver.

First of all, holy shit, the book looks great. All laid out with pretty shards of broken glass at the chapter headings, the pages wrapped in their slick little galley cover with the marketing deets on the back. Amazing, all of this. I can’t get over it. Now I see why people have pages of thank yous at the end of their books: it’s what you feel like doing when you see it all come together.

Today I wrote this snippet for some of the marketing materials we’ll be using at the show:

“Do I know you?”

It’s a throwaway line, something we say when faced with a stranger who seems just familiar enough to make us pause and look again. But it can be a tricky question. Knowing takes many forms, from the passing recognition of a stranger, to deepest carnal knowledge, to the shadowy, sometimes unpleasant awareness of self. We all want to know. We watch, we listen. We form the most intimate connections in pursuit of the desire to see and be seen. But what if we make a mistake? What if we only think we know?

This is the question at the heart of Alice Close Your Eyes. I wanted to see what would happen in a story where every character misunderstands every other in some fundamental way. I wanted that fact to taint some aspect of a remembered crime and send the victim’s plot for revenge tragically sideways. As the characters strain to see each other clearly, I wanted their vision warped and obscured by their own misguided apprehensions. But most important to me was the urgency of the question behind it all. The plea, the obsession, most poignant and persistent of all human longings: Do I know you?

What is the question at the heart of your story?

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth

38 responses

  1. How cool — I was just last night telling someone how much I’m looking forward to reading that sucker in January, and how much it will be totally his sort of book.

    As for “Do I know you?” — I used exactly that line in a really important part of the novel I recently finished the first draft of.
    I wrote that bit three years ago, right at the beginning. I didn’t steal it from you! Honest.
    Ah, you’ll know when you read it…

    • You totally didn’t steal it from me. My character uses it in the first chapter as a straightforward question, the way anyone would. It only struck me later that the idea I knew I was writing about had been asked so directly by one of the characters. It was a nice little discovery to make, all this way along the road.

      Have I mentioned how happy I am that you’re writing again?

      • Holy fucking shit, I am NEVER writing a comment in the stupid WordPress app again.
        You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after last time.
        Dopey fuck, me.

        Yes you did mention that. I just wrote a semi-coherent reply about that. But fuck it, what I really need is a pencil and some paper.
        Fucking technology.

        The best storyteller I know was lost to us a year ago today. He knew how to laugh, and to cry, and to build stuff.
        He’d be happy, for you as well as me.

  2. How like life in that there are always some misunderstandings in our relations with each other, even the most intimate. For mine, the question is related to “do I know you”: How do I escape the judgments and expectations of others? Do I know myself?

    Great news about the book!

    • Do I know myself? That’s the even bigger question, the mac-daddy question behind it all. And the answer is rarely the same two days running—at least, not in my head.

  3. At the moment, my MC’s fundamental question is, “Why can’t I catch a %&#$ing break?” but once he has a chance to breath, the underlying question is, “Where do I belong?”

    • Your question is the one that struck me when I read Laura’s book, Living Arrangements. The stories were especially powerful because they were unified by that overwhelming search, the longing for home and place. It’s a big question to work with.

  4. I can’t wait to see the book, your real, live, mirror-shattered book. What it must feel like to hold your hard work in your hands, to run your fingertips over the cover, to see the typescript of words you wrote longhand in a coffee shop, the smell the new pages.

    My favorite mentor insists that a focused central question is the key, (from the writer’s perspective and the reader’s); that you should be able to open a book to any page and know what the question is. I love your question, Averil.

    • It’s surreal, to see the work that way. Almost as if someone else wrote it, you know? It’s familiar but it doesn’t feel like mine.

      I agree with your mentor. A central story question can really help you eliminate the extraneous crap and write always and only about the answer to that question. It makes a huge difference.

  5. Hmmm, after your question and Teri’s response, I’ve been sitting here for the last hour thinking about the central question of my WIP. I think my problem may be too many questions. This is going to take more mulling. Thanks for your food for thought.

    And on a far more important note, you must over the moon with a galley in your hands. It’s good to be you today, isn’t it??? Bravo, Averil.

    • Mary Lynne, all I’d ever heard was “what’s the story about?” and my monkey brain would think “it’s about a lot of things!” so that never helped. But that’s the generic way we talk about stories and books: if someone mentions they’ve read a book, the first thing we ask is, “what’s it about?” The first time a woman said, “what’s your question? what are you searching for, what are you (or your narrator) trying to discover by writing this?” my mind finally started working properly.

      Which reminds me of the Mary Karr quote where she says, basically, “if you write your memoir and don’t discover anything by the end, please don’t publish it.”

        • I’m so glad, Mary Lynne. It was ground-breaking the day I heard it as well, like all the small tiles started falling into the right holes. Good luck!

  6. Rather than mull over the question of my novel, I first thought about the heart of it. And from that, the question came.
    Can I change?
    Am I brave enough to uproot the miseries of my past, face them down and move on?
    I really believe that once we realize that change is simply another day started differently, we can wrestle a new future out of the undiscovered.
    My main character does that; the writing of the book did exactly the same for me.

    Averil, you helped me find the core of the story and I thank you a thousand times over for that. I am so excited for ‘your’ December 31, which will forever be an extra special day for you.

    • Can I change? That’s a really, really good one. If you haven’t read Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie, you should. It speaks directly to that question and is my favorite book EVER.

  7. I’m not sure what galleys are or marketing deets, but I think it means 12/31/13 is a little closer. Good luck getting your book into those bookstores… I’ll make sure Griffin Bay Books has it on their new arrivals table.

    I like your ‘snippet’. I wanted to see what would happen in a story where every character misunderstands every other in some fundamental way. That’s an interesting concept for a story… I can’t see how you do.

    • Okay, it’s early in the morning for me, my fingers are still stiff and my brain foggy… of course you know I meant “can’t wait to see”… and read.

    • Galleys are the uncorrected proofs of the book, which the editor sends out in the hopes of garnering some reviews, getting the word out to bookstores like Griffin Bay, etc.

      And thank you!

  8. I love the idea of a central question (as opposed to a theme or a message). Questions are so much more fun than answers. Questions excite, engage, pull one along. Questioners quest while professors stand on soap boxes explaining themselves.

    I love this. So fabulous. I really can’t wait!

    • I agree, it’s a lot more interesting to keep asking questions than to go in there with something to prove. I like getting to the end of a book and having questions of my own to carry away.

  9. “What is the question at the heart of your story?”

    Who were those parents? (It’s one of the keys I told you I recently found.)

    And along the subject of dining in the galley, which is not quite the subject but it could be phrased that way, these recent evenings when the time permits and I have a few minutes, I am taking small servings of a treat. Portions of it are as good as anything I’ve ever tasted, and I am a gourmand–I’ve tasted enough to have jaded buds that quickly tire of anything but the best.

  10. Wow Averil, this is so cool how you share the steps along the way, it really is…I personally love living vicariously through you!

    Btw – I already pre-ordered ACYE’s so hurry up 12/31/13!!!

    What is the question at the heart of your story?

    THIS question, like many said above has really made me think…

    I think the main question at the moment – bearing in mind I’m only about 30% done – is

    Why did this happen?

    Now I’m going to be asking myself over and over this every time I go to work on it.

    this was a brilliant post…

    • Oh good, I’m glad the question is helpful. It takes me a lot of writing before I figure out what the hell I was trying to say in the first place. I am sloooow.


  11. So happy for you Averil! Own these moments! The story is brilliant – I know it is! Edgy and cutting and arousing and compelling. I want a hard copy too in January. I wish you so much success with this fucker, so many good vibes and feedback and sales.

    Haven’t even thought about answering your question but agree with the above about Laura’s – that long painful search for home and place, even a place within self. It pervades her collection.

    I think the central question of Pelt and Other Stories is, When I cross a border – physical, sexual, cultural – what do I become.?

  12. I’m so glad I asked this question, because the answers are fascinating. (And I’m up to “Gorgeous Eyes,” my favorite so far for reasons which are probably obvious. Your voice just slays me, and I love the thread of the stories.)

  13. I really love this question you’ve asked (and the snippet). Especially because it goes from being a really cheap pick up line, to something way darker. Also, I think you’ve given me an answer to a problem I was having with the manuscript I set aside. Never could articulate the “problem” the main character was having… but turning it into a question. That may be the answer…