For many years, I kept my writing life mostly to myself.
My family knew the deep history, the high-school newspaper and the college literary magazine. My Sweet Patootie understood the requirements of shacking up with a almost-entirely-unpublished writer – she’s a reader, which helps. But my hypergraphia wasn’t out on the surface of my daily life where casual and professional acquaintances could see it.
It wasn’t a difficult secret to keep. There was little to brag about. Just a dozen quiet hours a week – a dozen if I was lucky – where I could lose myself in a silent project that was utterly my own.
I was a roofer, then a carpenter, then a general contractor. After my son was born almost fifteen years ago, I became an independent building inspector. Compared to those tangible worlds, this goofing around with nouns and verbs seemed utterly insubstantial. Building a house out of mist.
As I got older, my writing life seemed more and more like an idiot’s idea. Why write novels when fewer people were reading them? Years piled up into decades, and it became even more ridiculous, given how few successes I’d seen. Yes, I’d won a few small awards, had a few small things published. But over twenty years?
Finally, after uncounted short stories, a long novella, and two finished (but still unpublished) novels, I somehow found a great New York agent who knew an interested editor with a large publishing house. Here are some suggestions for changes, we’re very interested, get back to me in three months. This was in fall of 2008.
When the economy plunged into free fall, most publishers announced that they would be buying far fewer books this year. The interested editor found a new job, and lost interest. My agent did her best, found more people to read it, but in the end, the book just wasn’t good enough.
I declared that I was done writing. I gutted my kitchen and threw myself into the renovation. I built the cabinets myself. It was a good distraction, and a productive use of my mid-life crisis. (No convertible, no blondes, dodged those bullets thank you very much. Although I did later buy a small sailboat. Anybody want to buy a slightly used sailboat?)
Eventually, my Sweet Patootie reminded me that I was much more pleasant to be around when I was writing. So I began again. Drinking coffee, staring into the middle distance, searching for the character, the image, the turn of events.
Not for publication, I told myself. Just for me. For my own sanity. I’d write the book I wanted to read.
And I did.
It took a while.
Eventually my Sweet Patootie declared, Either finish the damn book or stop complaining about it. (She’s good for me. Girl knows how to get shit done, for sure.)
As it turned out, my New York agent still remembered me. She said, I always wondered what happened to you. Don’t bother with the first ten pages, just send the whole thing.
Two days later, she said, I hope you still think of me as your agent ‘cause I can sell the hell out of this book. And she did.
Astonishingly, an amazing editor with Putnam wanted this book, THE DRIFTER, with only a few changes. She also wanted another book I hadn’t written yet, due in a year’s time. No pressure. Somehow, I made my deadline without ending up in a mental hospital, got excellent feedback from my editor, and sent off my revisions this week. Putnam’s publicity people are working on my book tour as we speak.
In general, I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience. Surreal ain’t the half of it.
I still don’t know how this whole thing will end. I don’t even know yet how it will start – the book doesn’t hit stores until January 12, 2016. Not a single copy has yet been sold. I’m not quitting my day job, that’s for sure.
But I can dream a little louder now.
I just started another book.