Yesterday I got the latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine and discovered an essay about getting blurbs, which was kind of apropos. My publisher told me that he was waiting for a blurb to put on the front cover of my novel before going to press. I assumed that he’d sent the manuscript to lots of famous writers and was waiting for them to email words of praise. On the backs of other books published by the same publisher there are such blurbs from Pulitzer Prize winners and writers that I admire like Lee Smith and Ann Beattie. After reading the essay in Poets & Writers, I’m thinking that the authors of those books actually know the Pulitzer Prize winners and asked them directly for blurbs, and that my publisher was waiting for me to send him the blurbs. Oops. A little breakdown in communication there. I suppose it seems to him as if I know what I’m doing, but I ‘m just making it all up as I go along.
I did put a bunch of blurbs about my writing in general on my new website. I should have gotten these people to blurb about Losing Kei. Oh, well. I did manage to procure one blurb, but the book is supposed to go to press right about now, so there’s no time to ask anyone else.
We narrowly missed Princess Masako’s (er, Prince Naruhito’s) motorcade on Friday. There were policemen at every corner when I went to pick up Lilia at the deaf school, and also clusters of on-lookers, preparing to wave their little Japanese flags.
Princess Masako has made the front page of the newspaper two days in a row. She looks well, in her beige pantsuits, with her Chanel handbag, but it’s hard to tell her state of mind. This is her first public appearance in five months.
Speaking of princesses, I was both intrigued and dismayed to learn that John Burnham Schwartz has a new novel coming out. The novel, entitled The Commoner, is inspired by the life of Empress Michiko, who has had many stress-related health problems of her own. There is also a Masako-type princess in the story. The book got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. It’ s going to be published in January, the same month as my novel, Losing Kei. Of course I’m going to read it, but this book has obliterated any slim chance I had of having my own novel mentioned in Vogue, Vanity Fair, etc. There’ s no way they would mention two novels about Japan in one issue, and Schwartz, who has already published three novels, one of which has been made into a major motion picture, and who writes features for Vogue and is obivously well-connected, will get all the ink.
I recently volunteered to be one of three judges for a writing conference in South Carolina. I just finished reading the big box ‘o stories and novel excerpts yesterday. Having spent some time with writers in South Carolina, I wondered if there were any stories by people that I knew. There were no names on the entries, however.
I was riffling through the entries and I found one that looked familiar. In fact, I remembered reading it before…nine years ago at a castle in the Netherlands. It was the first chapter of a novel by a Canadian woman who was living in France. This woman, Lise Leroux, already had a contract for her first novel, which she’d sold with only a synopsis to Penguin. I later read the book, One Hand Clapping, and I thought it was brilliant. She called it a “contemporary fantasy,” and it involved, among other things, a woman who grew hands on her body after they were grafted onto her.
I didn’t really think about this much before, but upon reading a review the other day in an online disability-related publication, I discovered that the woman in the story is autistic. I wasn’t as invested in writing about disability when I first read it, but I intend to read the book again with this in mind.
In the meantime, I wish Lise the best of luck in finding a home for her second book. (I withdrew from the judging of her story because I had preconceived notions about its greatness.) She is immensely talented and her first book was nominated for the Orange Prize. Finding her entry in a box of submissions from South Carolina reminds me that I should take nothing for granted. Getting one novel published does not guarantee that my next one will be. Humbling, but true.
Well! I’m now finished with editing my anthology, Love You to Pieces. The book will go into production soon, but it won’t be officially published until June of 2008. Working with Beacon has been, so far, a very positive experience. They took my suggestion for cover art (a photo by Angela Buckland, who is herself the mother of a child with special needs) seriously. Happily, a photo from Buckland’s “Where’s Nikki?” installation will grace the front of my book. Also, Beacon was cool about the word count. Although I tried to comply with my contract, the manuscript wound up being several thousand words over the stipulated word count. I expected them to ask me to cut, but they didn’t.
The downside of the process was that reprint rights turned out to be far more expensive than I’d imagined. What seemed like a generous advance when I signed the contract has now dwindled to nearly nothing. But this is a labor of love; I never expected to get rich from an anthology.
In other book news, my agent is going to start marketing foreign rights to my novel. A scout for a French publisher is taking a look. Very exciting!!!
I’m feeling sort of grumpy today. Maybe it’s the heat. I also keep thinking about the email message that my mother sent from Michigan, where my dad was attending his class reunion. My dad went to high school in Reed City, which is kind of a podunk town (sorry if you’re from there). One of his classmates had a son who grew up to write a book. This son, Doug Stanton, was a special speaker at the class reunion. His book is about the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which sank during WWII. It was published by a major publisher and it’s going to be made into a movie. I’m happy for him. Really. It’s not the kind of book I’d normally read, but I understand that books like that are popular. Fine. So what bothered me about my mother’s email was her writing, “Maybe your book will be made into a movie, too. You never know, honey.” It’s as if having your book made into a movie somehow validates it. I’m sorry if people are too lazy to read, but how many times do you see a movie and think, “The book was so much better!” And I understand how movies reach more people, but why can’t the book be enough in itself? I would be happy about the money that I might get, but I don’t see how my novel could be turned into a movie. Some Hollywood screenwriter would make lots of changes, turn it into a thriller, and then it wouldn’t be my work at all. *Sigh* I suppose I should get used to this kind of thing. Next, Mom will say, “Maybe you’ll get a story published in Good Housekeeping, you never know.” Or “Maybe Oprah will have you as a guest. You never know.” But even if none of these things happen, I am still happy that I am about to publish my first book.
I’m happy to report that we (meaning my editors at Beacon) have finally come up with a title for my anthology of literature on parenting disabled children. My original title was However Green the Cup, which was taken from a the lines of poem by contributor John Morgan: …”what we hold too close our hands/may crush, however green that cup, however full.” My editor said that her colleagues thought the title elicited a dirty glass with green scum, and also said that it was too cryptic. My second choice title (which I never brought up because I realized no one would go for it) was It’s Sad to Be Poor and Living in Kansas, taken from a poem by Michele Battiste. The real title is….drum roll, please….Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising Children with Special Needs. I love this title because it is warm and fuzzy, like my mother said, but it also suggests something darker – loving something that’s in pieces, loving someone absoutely and desperately, loving someone in a way that breaks your heart.
I love the title, and I hope that readers love the book as much as I do when it comes out next spring.
So I finally found out when my novel will be published – January! – and I got a look at the cover. My publisher sent me some cover samples a couple of months ago and asked me to pick out what I liked. Most of the covers featured a photo of a woman smoking. I thought she looked desperate, like the woman in my book, and that the photo captured the mood of the story, but I worried that a lot of potential readers wouldn’t even give it a try because of the cigarette. (For the record, she quits smoking in the course of the novel.) Also, I asked my American sister-in-law to throw a book party for me, and I told her that I want there to be a cake of the book cover. I didn’t really think a smoking woman cake would be very appetizing! The cover that my family liked best featured a sweet little boy holding a pink paper heart behind his back. My woman friends and I thought it was very appealing, but I have to admit it was a little too treacly. The new cover – the one my publisher just sent – is perfect. It’ll look great on the cake and it’s not at all sappy. It perfectly conveys the tone and theme of the book. I will post it here when everything becomes a bit more official.