Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Novel that Won't Die

It’s the epitome of a dreary winter’s day.


If you live where I do, here in Southern Oregon, you know what I’m saying. All week long, the sky has been the color of brushed stainless steel: imposing and clean, yet lacking the reflective, shiny undercoat. Instead, it hangs like vapor, the exhale of a collective sigh continually dispersing into the cold air.

My hands have been freezing all day. (Have I mentioned it’s cold?) Yet I know, I know, it’s not as bad as it could be. Is it ever? Chatting with my friend near Toronto, I am informed it’s -15 C at the moment. And this is at 4:30 in the afternoon. That’s cold. *waves to Lindsay*

But why am I here, with all this time on my hands to bemoan the weather? Because I have a sick child home today. Calvin’s been complaining of a stomach ache for three days now, but as it’s the kind that comes and goes depending upon whether it’s time for school or time for dessert, we’ve been largely ignoring it. We ignored it when he came home early from school yesterday, we ignored it when he barely touched his dinner, but finally, last night, we could ignore it no more. We took his temperature (normal), gave him Maalox (ewww) and filled the hot water bottle. After having more than our usual share of trouble getting all the kids into bed (you know, so we could pop in the Dexter Season 2 disk like the junkies we are), Calvin appeared, white-faced and tight-lipped in the kitchen doorway to once again mumble about his tummy troubles. In a classic bit of parenting, Charlie turned to him, exasperated. “What exactly would help you, Calvin?”

Without a word, Calvin threw-up all over his shoes.

Point taken.

So now we’re lying low, and when he complains that he might possibly lose his lunch, I sit up and take notice. Right now though, both he and Toby (every day’s a sick day for him…what a life!) are deeply engrossed in The Land Before Time: Journey Through the Mists, and I’m alternating between frowning at the whiny voice of Cera the spoiled Triceratops and working on the Novel that Won’t Die.

It occurs to me now that I should probably outline for all of you the long, sordid history of the Novel that Won’t Die. I’ll spare you the goriest details, such as the all-nighters and the nightmares, but long story short, it’s a 120,000 word manuscript I began almost exactly a year ago, and, through blood, sweat, tears, and invaluable hand-holding, finished last June. Since then, I polished it, hammered out a synopsis and cover letter, and pitched it to exactly six agents…to be turned down exactly--wow, you guessed it!--six times. Out of those six, there were several requests for partials and even fulls. Hopes were raised and hopes were dashed. In the end, after crying my way through Costco after a particularly painful rejection, I decided to set it aside for a while. This January, I’ve dusted it off, reread it, and decided it may not be quite as horrible as I remembered it (hence the moniker the Novel that Won’t Die). So now I’m on my second re-write, on my…counts fingers…fourth loyal reader/editor/hand-holder, and ready to subject myself to the misery once more. What was that Weird Al song about ripping one‘s heart out of one‘s ribcage with one‘s bare hands? Oh yeah… this one. That pretty much sums up my current relationship with the Novel that Won’t Die. Stay tuned.

But I have to end this post on an up-note, because however discouraging the fiction market these days, however severe the writing angst, there are tremendously kind people out there, ready to encourage in tremendously touching ways. Example? A copy of David Sedaris’ latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames arrived in my mailbox yesterday (as in, my actual mailbox, not my email in-box) from my fellow writer friend, Maureen.

I was touched. I happened to know that Sedaris had visited her favorite English language bookshop in her hometown of Paris recently, and that she had met him and bought several copies of the book. What I did not know was that she had stood in line to have him sign one of them for me:

Upon opening my shiny new copy and reading this, I can‘t tell you how moved I was, nor how suddenly terrified. There it was, in black and white, pen to paper: I'm not speaking of David Sedaris‘ generous sentiment (although it was, of course, very kind) or even Maureen’s boost of encouragement (which was priceless). No, what frightened me was the sight of my own aspiration, laid bare on the page. Throughout this writing process, I’ve been half-tempted to keep my steadily growing word count under wraps, telling only a few people that I’m actually attempting a novel, because what if (so likely!) it amounts to nothing? That fear still holds true (more than ever!) but I’ve grown weary of it. I’d rather all of you know that I tried and failed than think that I was too afraid to try at all. You know…tis better to have loved and lost…and all that. And come to think of it, I’ve been pretty lucky in love, so maybe I’m due to have my heart broken a few (more) times.
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