I’ve had a novel out for a week now, and I feel ready, finally, to sit down and write about the process and the result a little bit.
Sparrow followed a different process than anything else I’d ever written. It wasn’t done when I tried (and, in this case, succeeded in) selling it. Having sold it unfinished, I had to title it before it was finished. I also had to write on a theoretical deadline (though I was always way ahead). But most strangely, it was published in serial (not cereal, though that might have been delicious).
I talked about this some on a podcast with my friend Chad Dotson, so forgive me for repeating myself, but writing in serial was weird. It is pretty much impossible to not have the end of each chapter feel like some kind of ending. As such, much of each chapter had to be dedicated to some kind of immediate conflict as I tried hard to work the larger themes in over the course of the book. Also, once something was published, I couldn’t go back and change it. That was really hard. I change what happens in my books quite a lot, and there were several times when I wanted to change something in Sparrow, but I couldn’t. The only substantive difference between the online text and what was published as a book is that I inadvertently inserted an extra out into one inning and had to take it out for the print version (this was a big pain in the butt, but it would have bothered me forever).
So, writing in serial was interesting. It’s something I might repeat one day, but I do think I prefer a longer arc with more time to ruminate. Still, I understand Dickens much better now.
The Publishing & The Shelf
The big thing, of course, is that I now have an actual novel published. I have a copy at home and more coming and it’s real and people who are not my mom have purchased it. That is pretty cool. I said for a long time that if I could publish a book just once, I’d be really thrilled. And it’s true. I am thrilled. But I find that now I am greedy. I want more books published.
You see, some people I really respect have said very nice things about this book and my writing and so, it is hard not to think that maybe I can continue doing this and hope that other stories, that have nothing to do with baseball might eventually find there way into the hands of others.
The coolest thing for me about all of it, has been this: Joe Posnanski blurbed my book. You may not know who Joe Posnanski is, but let me try to explain…
In my house, I have a fancy, glass-fronted bookshelf that my dad made for me a number of years ago. I keep the books that are the most important to me on it. it is filled almost entirely with fiction. Sherwood Anderson, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Tolstoy. Those kinds of folks. A lot of the writers on there are dead, but some are still kicking. In the small nonfiction section is a book called The Soul of Baseball. it is about former Negro League player Buck O’Neil, and it is the best sports book I have ever read. Joe Posnanski wrote it. And he blurbed my book. Joe Posnanski liked something I wrote and he is on the shelf I reserve, basically, for the best authors I’ve read. This matters a great deal to me. There’s a crack in the door now, and I can see that maybe I belong in that club just a little. Maybe only barely, but if I stand along the back wall, they might let me stay as long as I keep my mouth shut.
And so, in a few days, I’m going to take my little half-inch thick paperback, a mere 226 pages, and I am going to slide it onto that shelf. This is a shelf of books that have felt as though they had the power to change me, and as Michael Chabon once said, the only books that really changed him were the ones he wrote. My first book doesn’t feel, to me, like it belongs there, but at the same time, I can’t imagine anywhere else to put it. I hope, in time, it comes to feel comfortable there.
I finished Sparrow in August, and for a while, I didn’t write a thing (as you can see if you look back at this blog), but I’ve started to feel like I have something to say again. And, as it happens, I have three projects that are currently “in-progress.” One is a collection of inter-connected stories. Another is a short children’s book involving fairies. And then there’s the novel I was working on before Sparrow, which involves, among other things, reindeer herding. I’m eager to work on and finish all of those and then send them out into the world.
The point, I guess, is that I’m busy and writing again, though it probably won’t be in the public eye much for a while. Whenever I can get a little time away from my job, I’ll be writing on something, until I finish it, and then I’ll probably catch my breath until, as Barry Hannah wrote, the voices start up again and I have to get down to work and do something about it.