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Writer Waking Up - A Publication Blog

On the experience of launching...

The thirty days have passed. The book is launched. A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations is in the world: in the hands of friends and strangers, on booksellers' shelves, and--just a few days ago--mounded before me for signing at my local independent bookstore, Malaprop's in Asheville.

How do I feel? My whole face is one enormous, goofy grin in the photo from the book signing. One of the many congratulatory comments when I posted that photo on Facebook said, "You sure look happy."

I am happy. But I am also chagrinned by the attention. Yes, honestly, I am. Writers are known to be weird and one of the particular ways I'm weird is this combined compulsion to a) share my truths by writing about them while b) wishing to not impose myself on others. I want people to have the choice to read or not read my book, but to make that choice, people have to know the book exists, and thus, nowadays, it's part of my job as author to create that visibility.

To aspire to write a book and then to persevere in writing it to completion is an existential feat. And to get a book published is a huge lucky break after--usually-- another feat of perseverance and courage: a years-long search and dozens if not hundreds of rejections. That I've managed to achieve this twice (the memoir is my second book) is almost a miracle. So, yes, I am happy. I am amazed.

I am also transformed. Or at least transforming. Let me try to explain that.

One of the values I was raised with was never to be beholden to anybody. I'm not sure if this arose from my parents' Depression-era privations or the grit of their hard-scrabble Appalachian ancestors, but the message came down to me like this: Don't owe anyone anything. Avoiding indebtedness had to do with money, yes, but equally with favors or attention. Don't ask for help. Don't call attention to yourself. Keep quiet, keep your head down, and keep working.

Self-reliance and a work ethic are good things. But as with any value, this one can be taken too far. It took me a long time to give myself permission to speak my truths (hence, the urge to write). It took me a longer time to be okay with lifting my chin while I spoke, since doing that means you've got to be willing to take one on the chin. I haven't yet gotten past the "keep working" dictum but I'm working on that. (A blown-out knee recently forced me to relax more often--how funny is that?) More to the point, bringing A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice into the world has invited and encouraged and required me to get past the whole prohibition on being beholden.

In order to make this book visible to potential readers, I've asked dozens of people for favors and called attention to myself repeatedly. I've let friends and strangers teach me new skills, open gates, and show me alternate paths. I've watched old and new friends go out on limbs for me, and afterwards I've thanked them, and they've said, "Sure thing," and rather than a debt I feel a stronger bond.

Of course it's not always easy to do this. There have been rejections and strange silences. And when favors and attention find me I've still got that chagrin thing going on. But I'm okay, so far, when people say no and when people say yes. I can grin and say thank you. Thank you, friends! Thank you, readers!

This is progress. This is transformation. And that makes me happy.
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