Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writing and Waiting

My search for a publisher for my first novel began and I became obsessed about checking email. It became my last activity every evening and my first each morning. Truth be told, I should do nothing requiring active brain cells before my first cup of morning coffee.

There was an unknown name in my inbox on July 1. Thinking it spam, I almost deleted it. Something stopped me. I got out of bed, drank a cup of coffee, read the undeleted emails. That unknown name, Jesse James Freeman, was an offer to publish my first novel. I danced around the kitchen. I wanted to celebrate, but I was afraid to jinx my luck. It was an offer not a contract.

By July 31 with no contract in hand, I decided I needed a change of scene. My friend, Barb, and I left on our annual camping trip. I was determined to leave my worries behind. But I took my cell phone.

We arrived at the state park. We set up the tent, the camp chairs and the Coleman stove on the red checkered picnic table.

"I think I'll send a picture home," Barb said. "I want to show them what a great camper I am."

"I wonder if we've got service out here," I said.

I turned on my phone. Unable to resist, I opened email. A month had passed since I received the offer. Waiting comes with the territory.

You wait for a response to your arduously crafted query.

You wait for an acceptance.

You wait for a contract.

You wait to begin the edits hoping against hope that they will be minimal.

You wait for a cover design you love.

You wait for a release date. 

You wait to hold your baby in your hands.

And through it all you keep writing.

At the state park in front of the tent, I scanned my email messages. I hollered. I laughed. I was stunned silent. There it was: Kenneth Shear, Booktrope, a contract. I tried to open and read the document, but I have yet to master the skill of reading a tiny screen. It was enough to know I had received a contract.

I enjoyed the lake, the sunset, the beauty with greater intensity. A state wide burn ban, a rare August rain, and a very noisy campground sent us home early. I arrived to an empty house, my husband in Ohio visiting family. Barb and I unpacked, cooked the steaks intended for the camp fire, shared a toast to my contract. Then I was alone. I read the contract, complete the electronic signature, and hit send. I sat in a happy daze trying to let it sink in. Running Secrets will be published by Booktrope, a Seattle-based indie press known for its team publishing model (see Seattle Magazine).

Now I wait for my team, for the editing and design to begin, for a release date. I remind myself of the bumpy road to publication taken by my first book. I began writing The Thirty-Ninth Victim  in 2002 and signed a publishing contract in November 2004. Later I learned that my publisher had been bought out. In October 2006 I signed a new contract and the memoir was released in April 2008. Four years from contract to release. I tell myself to be patient. I tell myself that it won't take four years this time. 

Running Secrets is under contract!

It's a novel about family secrets, attempted suicide, and racial identity. A suicidal young woman and her Ethiopian home healthcare provider forge a friendship that bridges their differences. Together they learn that racial identity is a choice, self expression is a right, and family is a personal construct.

I don't remember when I started writing this novel. Sometime in 2005, I think. The Thirty-Ninth Victim was under contract (the first contract). I knew if I was really a writer, I'd keep writing. I knew that the hardest story I'd ever write was behind me. So I began a novel. A first draft, a lousy first draft, finished, I set it aside. I was distracted by the editing and eventual release of my memoir, by my family's reaction, by my mother's gradual descent into dementia.

When The Thirty-Ninth Victim came out, I received questions about my mother from readers who wanted to know more about this woman in the shadows. I too wanted to understand my mother. Sometime in 2008 or 2009 I returned to memoir to explore motherhood, but I was unwilling to let go of Gemi and Chris, the protagonists in Running Secrets. I started a second novel and soon knew I had a trilogy. I kept writing and was relieved that my submissions of the early draft of Running Secrets had been rejected. I pulled the manuscript out of the proverbial box at the back of the closet, dusted if off and rewrote it. And rewrote it again. And then again.

I began another round of queries. I am happy to say I did not need to follow Joyce Carol Oates's questionable advice nor did I meet my self-imposed target of one hundred queries (See Summer Plans 2013). Twenty one was the magic number. After eight years of writing and waiting, my first novel is under contract.
I hope to have Running Secrets out within five years of The Thirty-Ninth Victim, but five months is a tight schedule. I may have to settle for a six year gap between books, and as I wait (and edit) and wait (and edit), I will write. Because writing and waiting is what writers do.


Unknown said...

Arleen, what wonderful news! A very big CONGRATULATIONS!

Anonymous said...

Arleen -- I am so happy for you! This is such great news. You should be so proud. I can picture you around the rainy campfire, warm and happy inside with the news your words have found a home. I look forward to the updates! Take care --Melissa

arleen said...

Many thanks to both of you!

Pamela said...

The best news! Congrats!

Jack said...

You have what it takes--talent, patience, a couple of good mentors, people to hold your hand while you grit your teeth, and, the biggest of all: manuscripts finished, done, edited, ready to go. You can't publish'em till you write'em.

Mindy Halleck said...

Arleen, so happy for you. So excited to read what I've heard you write - bits and pieces of - at Louisa's. You are such a talented writer and gentle soul that I know your work will be a much needed, well received healing voice.

Roxana Arama said...

I'm so excited for you, Arleen. And for me. Because I love a success story where talent and hard work and determination get rewarded. You're an inspiration to me and many of our friends at Louisa's. I'm glad I got to hear bits of your story as you wrote it and I can't wait to read the whole book. Congratulations Arleen!