Whose Story is it Now?

“A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Launch week for a new novel is an exciting time. Friends and followers send good wishes, the marketing campaign heats up, and now that I’ve finally landed a publisher, I’ve learned how they really kick into gear to try and build excitement and get the book into the hands of readers and booksellers and interviewers. It’s busy and great fun. And, don’t worry, I plan to keep my pants up.

It’s also a little bittersweet, sending a story that you’ve birthed and nurtured and lived with, mostly alone, for several years, out into the world. It’s a lot like sending your children off to college. You know, deep down, that you can no longer protect them, and that they will never be the same again. Stories, like people, become influenced by everyone they meet, and grow in ways never imagined.

“When a book leaves its author’s desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator’s have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it.”
Salman Rushdie , Joseph Anton: A Memoir

But, it’s what we writers do, and what we say we want. We have something to say, something we think matters, and we want readers to read it. So we turn our story loose, and strangely, the minute readers get hold of it, you just know it’s no longer yours. And the magic of imagination and different points of view take over and produce something you, the author, never imagined. It’s surprising and extraordinary.

“Launching a new book is kind of scary; you spend such a long time alone with your characters, and then, in one sudden moment, they’re running wild into the hands of strangers…”
Nanette L. Avery

When I was young, I marveled at all the things writers put into their stories, and could not imagine how I could ever learn to do that. Many years later, I came to realize that much of what my teachers taught me and much of what I myself found in stories had likely never occurred to the author, at least not consciously. Every writer has themes, and most will utilize motifs and symbolism consciously to some extent, but mostly, at least for me, I write a story, and the story itself touches readers’ memory and emotions and experience and leads them to create new connections within the story that I had never intended.

It’s a great gift from readers, their willingness to invest the time it takes to read a novel. After all, it’s a made-up story, but I know that lovers of fiction have learned that subjective truth, the great truths that are portrayed imaginatively through fiction, can be the most powerful. And I believe some of those truths come from the readers, who have generously suspended disbelief for a considerable period of time and become intellectually and emotionally invested in the story.

“One of the greatest gifts we can give someone is our undivided attention–a thought that whispers constantly in the ear of any author who respects their readers.”
Ella J. Fraser

So, now my new novel is published. I wish it well, and hope you discover something it in.

“What you have not published, you can destroy. The word once sent forth can never be recalled.”
Horace, Satires and Epistles

As was often the case, I think Hemingway said it best. I’ll leave the last word to him.

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and places and how the weather was.”

Ernest Hemingway


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