When we are writing our hearts and minds out (Level One) we just think of the page and perhaps a fantasy or two about publishing (Level Two). Today’s post is abbreviated by all the work that needs to be done once that fantasy is realized. Getting it out there is a lot of work. Level Three is a full time job. OK, back to work.
Today I just want to write about my dogs. I should be blogging and twittering according to the people who talk about author platforms. My book’s official publication date is today. I just want to think about how things are strung together. Not how I am supposed to be paying attention to my social media presence.
Today is also town meeting day and as new writer Matt Sumell has said in his NPR interview of last week, “Bad choices make for good writing.” We made bad choices and now we live in a place that has a town meeting on the first Tuesday in March, which is my publishing date and the day we will put our dog down. I wrote the book because it was a way to make sense of the outcome of our bad choices. In my book’s acknowledgements I thank my dog for getting me through, “my loyal assistant,” I called him. “No one can feel dumped for very long with a Golden Retriever by her side.” My dog has cancer. The chemo got him through to my publishing date.
The friend who gave me the book that I have chosen to read at this time has cancer. The book is Abigail Thomas’s Three Dog Life, a memoir of her husband’s traumatic brain injury, ensuing dementia and death. Last summer a writing instructor told me to read Thomas’s Safekeeping, so I read that instead. Now my friend’s blood work isn’t so hot and my dog is dying and another friend has cancer. I may get to meet Thomas in Atlanta this April through another friend who contributed an essay to my book. The book that officially comes out today. So it makes sense that I am now reading Three Dog Life, waiting for my life to soon be a one dog life. I know I will not lose my moorings but the more rope I can tie around things the better. This is grief.
The friend in Atlanta writes about how to write about grief. Mostly instead of writing I am watching television, opening and closing both my book and Thomas’s book, and wandering about the house eating snacks which I share with both the healthy dog and the dog who is dying of cancer. I cooked him hard boiled eggs. I share my Milanos. I bought him a new toy. We are up much of the night as he stares at me and I pet him and tell him thanks. I am angry at my own fatigue even though I know that’s ridiculous. My breathless cough has been around as long as his cancer, now. Both of us breathing in unsteady rasps. We are loud and annoying. My husband can sleep through anything, which is good, as I cannot stand to see him cry. At 3:35 AM Amazon sends me a list of the 100 memoirs to read in my lifetime. If Three Dog Life had been on the list, as it should, I might have collapsed from the weight of so much synchronicity. I’m glad my husband sleeps through this quiet agitation. The rest of us, healthy dog, sick dog, and me, are in and out of the house in the below zero temperatures, because the sick dog can’t remember that he has just been out, and the healthy dog is just excited that there is so much activity. The healthy dog has stopped roughhousing. The vet would be glad of that, she has been worried about the sick dog’s platelet count. Not that it really matters, now. But the healthy dog instead places a paw over the sick dog’s paw and lies down quietly next to him. He is no longer fighting for the sick dog’s toy. He sleeps on the sick dog’s bed, probably for the scent, as the sick dog only lies on the hard surface of the floor, although most of the time he just stands and stares at me, his front legs too far apart, like an old man who is trying to keep his balance.
A suggested reading list:
Safekeeping Abigail Thomas
Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas
Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women Nina Gaby, editor
Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss Jessica Handler
Making Nice Matt Sumell
[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] [SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK]
POSTED BY NINA GABY ON JULY 14, 2014 AT 5:30AMVIEW BLOG
In anticipation of writing this blog post for BEHIND THE BOOK, I immediately sat down and wrote a whole craft essay instead. More of a memoir, actually. About waitressing. It really did apply, at least to much of this process. I wrote about being “in the weeds,” an old restaurant workers’ term for being too busy to think about anything except for the rush, about just needing for it to be over and going home with your greasy pockets bulging with tips. And “In the Weeds” will make a great craft essay one day. But this needs to be more about today and this process with a hybrid publisher, this very first rodeo on my own, and the complicated experiences that pushed me towards editing and publishing Dumped: Women Unfriending Women.
As organisms, we tend to respond adversely to pain: it makes us wiggle around and eventually move in some different direction. The details of my own experiences with being dumped by friends over the years are the subject of my essay in the anthology. As I tried to make sense of this dynamic, I began to talk about it a lot, had begun to publish essays in a few anthologies myself, some articles and short stories (I had become a real writer), and everyone said, Wow what a great idea, do a book, yeah, call it “Dumped,” that’s so awesome. I was becoming impatient with where my life as a writer could go. I was about fifty-nine years old at the time, and on the precipice of old age. I had also written the first draft of a novel about the same experiences I was writing about in Dumped, but fictionalized (and funnier) and a collection of micro-prose. The writing had probably saved my life, as well as my opening a studio and doing some visual art, and having my career as a psychiatric nurse practitioner to fall back on when our life kind of went to pieces. A huge lesson in all of this becomes the contrast between who stands by you, who doesn’t, why, and what the lasting effects might be. In my case, I kept writing. And thinking about all the other women who had these stories to tell.
The comedian Jonathan Winters once said “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” I knew Brooke Warner from her days at Seal Press, where I had published a couple essays and had talked with her about another idea, a proposal I ultimately abandoned. I remembered her as skilled and enthusiastic. I hired her as a consultant/coach on Dumped. Through Brooke’s connection to another editor, I was introduced to an agent who was interested in my proposal. This was encouraging to me, a novice, and probably kept me going. But the agent needed famous writers as contributors to my collection if she was going to sell the idea. I was impatient. I had good writers–not famous, but really good. Then I got a couple of famous writers, but by this time, Brooke and I had the conversation about her press. At first I hadn’t understood how it worked (on some levels I’m still trying to figure it out), but it seemed like I was climbing up on the wave of publishing’s future.
As I wrote on my blog site: “Did I dream of the traditional route? Getting on the train to Manhattan to lunch with my agent and strike a big advance with a major publishing house? That image also has me in white gloves, nylons, and a tight-waisted suit, much like the one my mother would have worn when she accompanied my father to do just that when I was a little girl. And if I focus on that, I might just end up too old to even get on the train without serious help.” I signed on with She Writes.
In addition to renegotiating how we view publishing, I then had to renegotiate the “power” differential. I was now an editor. I posted a call for submissions to Dumped in Poets and Writers; I went to a conference on creative non-fiction in Oxford, MS and met several women who are contributing and one who has offered to write my foreword. A dear friend gave me a list of writers from her MFA program. I stalked a famous writer on a new book tour for permission to reprint one of my favorite essays of all time. I tried stalking a couple writers at AWP but the weather had grounded them elsewhere. I was disheartened by well-known women who would never get back to me. I was heartened by people who helped out in so many different ways. I got together with women who I thought had dumped me only to share our opposing perspectives. I stayed far away from others. And then I had to really be an editor and reject work. Yeah, I had to reject work. Me, the oft-times-rejected, had to reject. Me, dedicated to giving new writers their first chance. I’m a pro at my day job, setting boundaries all the time. But this is different and maybe the hardest part.
The hardest part except for time. We do not, but we should, anticipate the power outages, the cataract surgeries, the computer problems, the sudden injury leaving our back too twisted to sit at the computer. Problems at the day job that might require shopping for a new interview outfit. The death of a friend, then another, leaving us too breathless to focus. Enough time goes by and we will have to re-experience the holidays, throw in some Seasonal Affective Disorder, another ice storm. Terror. Lots of things get in the way. But to be so busy with something? A penance. A blessing. And now a deadline.
I take solace in the words of Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon who wrote in the May/June Poets and Writers about the birthing of an anthology, “Labor of Love”: “It’s just way more work than you can imagine. Even if you imagine a lot of work, it’s more.”
My focus today? I envision a beautiful book in a pile at AWP next March on the She Writes Press vendor table. Next March, the other side of the weeds.