I wonder what my friends are really thinking right now.
A few pre-purchased "Free Fall" on Amazon in December when the pre-order option first became available. This week "Free Fall" arrived by mail, almost a full month before the official release date. I'm getting e-mails as I blog, so I know they're reading the book.
A handful of copies of "Free Fall" are now strewn about, mixed in with the rest of the world's published literature. Someone may, at this moment, hold the book in her hands as she rides the commuter rail to work. Perhaps it's balanced on a girlfriend's lap as she nibbles a piece of toast and reads. Or, it's
Friends Ruth and Matt photograph a sculpture by Richard Recchia
located in the Pleasant Street Cemetery in Rockport.
left on a nightstand, under a glass of water, till bedtime. I wouldn't be surprised if a copy or two gets tossed across a room. I did this myself with "The World According to Garp" and "Rosemary's Baby." No doubt there's one or two copies still in their envelopes, buried in stacks of mail in the hallway. Worst case scenario — it's already stuffed in a bookshelf between an old edition of "Miss Manners" and "Anna Karenina." From there it will make its way to the recycling center or, if this person is thrifty, to a used bookstore in the boonies.
Aye. I've been to those dank make-shift shops in old barns where mold blossoms on book spines and the inspirations of creative souls languish, silenced between damp covers. I have have seen my share of well-intentioned inscriptions, a flurry of dashes and curlicues made with a proper pen, hushed, mere whispers now: "To my dearest friend Bart. With all my love on your birthday." How could Bart let this sweet gift go? Perhaps Bart died. Or is he on the outs with his friend? Rendered blind, maybe, by some horrid disorder? Or did our Bart merely purge his bookshelf to make room for his new flat-screen TV?
Twice I've seen inscriptions made by writer friends of mine who have, in friendship or love, presented a book of theirs to a valued friend. These are shocking finds. Fortunately my writer friend is not there with me as I freeze in recognition, bent over a table of used books, rubbing my hands together in the chilly barn, caught mid-search for a good read, diverted from my travels because I spotted the handmade sign offering up "cheap books," its arrow aimed toward a gravel back road in rural Maine. I pick up the book and think of my writer friend inscribing a personal note to a friend. He wrote and paid for this, he probably wrapped it up in thick paper, and he made the trip to the post office where he paid to mail it.
I grab the book and give it a good home.
Is there a worse kind of humiliation for a writer?
Probably. With my own book now out of my control — no more last-minute edits, no more tweaks to the back cover blurb — and now in other people's hands, I wait to see what's worse than rejection.
As I write this blog, I get a message from my very good friend Matt, with a subject line: "Ruth refuses to get out of bed...till she finishes Free Fall."
Ruth writes: "I'm 'roiling' in delight." She uses the word "roil" because it's a word used in my book.
Another friend writes: "Good heavens, Rae, what an extraordinary book you've written."
Wait! This is fun. More! I want more of that. But there are silences, too, deep long silences, and I feel those. I tell myself: Live with it.
At this critical moment, it's easy to forget that I like my book. I liked writing it. It was a privilege to be given a contract to do something I really wanted to do and I did my best to honor the opportunity.
Every word in "Free Fall" belongs there. Round after round of edits, both before I released it to the editor and afterward, were acts of purpose. The words left standing are the ones meant to be. It's as I intended. When someone in an editorial office moved a word or replaced it with another word, it sometimes rang faintly false. I crossed it out, restored the sentence or rewrote it, all the time working toward something closer to final. All this to say: No regrets.
What's different, though, what makes me wonder how my friends are feeling as they read, is that "Free Fall" is intensely personal. I tell things about myself I had to dig deep to discover. I have to remind myself: Live with it.
In "Free Fall" there are scenes where I am naked. Literally naked. What is now a book was once a series of actions. I was aiming all along for free fall, a stripping away, where finally — after years of distractions, after way too many back roads taken — I get down to who I am and what the hell I'm doing. Now it's "Free Fall" the book, and my friends have it in their hands.
When you're doing the writing, you aren't usually thinking about who's going to read the book and how they will react. Writing, like any creative process, lacks that kind of self-consciousness. You're tuned into the words. You're listening to how the sentences sound as you read them back to yourself, again and again, in the countless iterations, till the words sound like they belong on a printed page. There. It's done. Now it's someone else's turn to enjoy "Free Fall."