Thursday, March 11, 2010

My friends are reading 'Free Fall'

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.



Friends Ruth and Matt photograph a sculpture by Richard Recchia
located in the Pleasant Street Cemetery in Rockport.
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
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."


  1. let me be the first to comment.

    first...I am enjoying the picture of matt and me looking totally ridiculous.

    second, I did make it out of the bedroom this a.m. as promised, when I finished the novel....albeit horny as hell.

    you wanna know where the book is now? on the half wall next to our toilet. matt is reading it. hmm...handy spot next to toilet paper.

    I had some issues with the whens and wheres in your book. but that is because I am a visual person...don't give me text directions to build a bike. give me the diagram.

    you touched on some important issues in this book. mental health in particular. really wakes you up if you know/love someone in eli's situation.

    I loved reading about your childhood and life in a latino household. for as long as I have known you, I can't get enough of this information. such an interesting life! I also loved reading about jim's background, his kids, and eli's family.

    a couple of notes:

    martinis have a whole new meaning for me now!

    I can't believe that jim has put up with that freezing attic bedroom!

    I will never admit a loved one to the hospital during the holidays. (but knew this from working in a hospital for five years)

    matt and I will not be able to sit across from you both and not be 'wondering'.

    I need a leather jacket!

    your book was so much fun to read...enlightening for older women. I will pass it along...

    love you, rae!

  2. p.s. to jim

    if you look closely at our can see a panty line!

  3. Hey Ruthie,
    Here's looking atcha kid.

  4. What I think when I read is how brave you are. Braver than I could ever be. And how beautifully you write about it.

  5. What a great picture of used book places you posted ... (the Book Mill in Montague MA excepted I trust). No, I haven't read Free Fall yet but I know I'll like it because I too tossed Garp across the room.


  6. I realized yesterday, after posting a tweet about Zombie Jesus, that you never know who's reading what you wrote and what they think about it. And that's really the bravest thing that a writer does, isn't it? It isn't putting the words down on paper, it's letting other people read those words. go you! You're the bravest mom out there.