"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Saturday, May 03, 2008

An Anniversary

In May 1988--twenty years ago--my first novel was published.

Let it be said that I was very, very, very young, for a debut novelist. Seriously. I was in my twenties. Practically an infant.

In some ways May '88 seems like ages ago. But when I remember the unfamiliar excitement of bookgnings and author appearances and travel, how proud my spouse and parents were, and how much joy it gave my late, great grandmother (who was dying at the time), I get a big emotional rush. And then it feels like yesterday.

The debut novel is by no means my best work. It won no awards (as later novels did) and deserved none; it received no critical attention. And it's so very obscure that it's usually omitted from listings of my backlist. There's an assumption that my second, far better-received novel was my debut.

Naturally over the past two decades I've matured as a person and as a writer. My style has become far less derivative and ultimately led me away from genre fiction. I now write an entirely different sort of novel for a very different audience.

Still, I consider it an achievement in perseverence, as were the 10 novels and the novella published subsequently. An especially necessary reminder as I face a week that allows for no writing time whatsoever on the novel-in-progress.

And it was the foundation for what turned out to be a moderately successful (by my definitions of "success"), occasionally lucrative, and overall magnificently fulfilling career.

My favourite--well, I suppose my only--story about this book:

Sometime in 1987 I'd submitted a partial (first 3 chapters and synopsis) of my third completed manuscript to a hardcover and a softcover publisher--on my own, without an agent. An editor from the former telephoned me to request the full manuscript, she was interested in buying it. I rang up the agent atop my wish list and asked her to submit it for me, and to negotiate any deal that might result.

A few months later, the book sold.

I never heard a peep from the paperback publisher, and in the throes of ecstasy forgot all about the other submission.

Some time in May '88, a couple of weeks after the book was published, I got a call from the paperback house. Someone had been cleaning out the desk of an employee who had been let go, and my mouldering manuscript was discovered in a drawer. The someone looked it over and must've been impressed. It ended up in an editor's hands.

"We're very interested in it," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Is it still available?"

"As a matter of fact," said I, not even trying to keep the triumph from my voice, "it came out in hardcover earlier this month. So no, it's not available."

Publishing being what it is, the hardcover publisher was bought out by a mult-national conglomerate as soon as my option book landed on my editor's desk. She lost her job in the transition and the imprint folded. I moved to a different hardcover publisher. And eventually I wound up writing for that paperback house, too.

And here ends my trip down Memory Lane. I've got rose bushes to plant....

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