Why is it when something really thrilling happens to us (or maybe it’s just me?), it evokes two opposite (thankfully not equal) reactions? When dreams come true and prayers are answered, why do we not simply embrace the upside and ignore completely the possible downside? I think of myself as an optimist, I really do. But right now I feel a bit as if I’m skating on thin ice … flying along, doing amazing figures and leaps, but with an eye to the dark water lurking beneath the ice.
I’ve been writing for, well, I’ll admit it, 20 years now. I’ve been published regularly for the past 10. See, there’s the proof. If I wasn’t a certifiable optimist, I never would have made it through to the second ten. During those first 10, I’d thought if only someone would publish my book, it would be totally amazing. No downside. I thought all writers’ careers went forward, tortoise or hare, but forward. But after my first book was published (BACK ROADS, mass market paperback), I learned more about the realities of publishing. I did embrace the good and wonderful, certainly; but now I understood that beneath that ice was some darn chilly water. What if everyone hates my book? What if it doesn’t sell? What if, what if, whatif, whatif whatifwhatif…? The book got awards. It did sell. So all of that what-iffing was so unnecessary. And totally unproductive. It’s certain, the what-iffing didn’t bring the awards, or the sales.
So, I’ve learned my lesson. Or have I? WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, my “breakout” novel, is due to be released on July 2nd. What is happening right now is beyond my wildest dreams. I wrote a book that stepped outside genre fiction, so far out I wasn’t sure any publisher would buy it. But at that point, I was having so much fun writing the story of fiery nine-year-old Starla Claudelle that I was able to ignore that particular what if. Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster bought it on proposal—see it’s good I didn’t waste my energy on that particular what if. Once it was finished, they loved it too (hooray!). So much, they decided to change the publication format from trade paperback to hardcover. Hardcover! Oh, my. What if the cover is bad? What if it doesn’t get good publisher support? What if nobody likes it? (This is an echo from my first published book that comes around every time I have a new release.) What if it languishes on the now-discounted tables, sad and unread? What if it is successful and my next book can’t live up to it?
Here’s the reality. It has a fantastic cover. The publisher has given it phenomenal support, amazing support. It was a success with advanced readers. It’s on IndieBound’s Indie Next List for July. It’s a SIBA Okra pick. My cousin just called to tell me she saw it in Southern Living Magazine. I’m skating! I’m flying! Did I just hear the ice crack? It’s still possible that it could languish on the now-discounted tables. It’s still possible that my next book will pale in comparison. But has my worry about the possible downside changed anything thus far? No, but it has given me a raging case of heartburn.
Well, here’s a what if: What if I’d listened to those fears and decided it wasn’t worth the possibility of failure? What if I’d let those what ifs paralyze me to the point that I wouldn’t take the chance? Dreams are risky. But where would we be without them? So now, today, I pledge to close my eyes to the possible downside. I know it sounds easy right now, since things have turned out well thus far … in truth, that can make it even scarier, the disappointment more stinging should it come.
My fears do me no earthly good. All that worry didn’t make this book what it is; it was my love of writing and dedication to my craft that was responsible for that—and a good dose of luck, which, of course, no amount of worry can produce. So when I close this file, I’m throwing the possible downsides away. I am going to enjoy whatever comes with Starla and WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD. The truth is, I love this book for reasons that have nothing at all to do with circumstances outside my control. And that’s what I’ll embrace as I begin writing my next book, the pure love of writing, and I will not look for a possible downside.
Dreams and fears go hand in hand. Don’t let the former be stifled by the latter. ’Nuff said.
WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD: A coming of age story set in 1963 Mississippi. Spunky, impetuous nine-year-old Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother. Starla’s daddy works on an oil rig in the Gulf, and she hasn’t seen her momma since she was three—when Momma went to Nashville to become a famous singer. She’s waiting for the day Momma’s promise will come true; Starla and her daddy will move to Nashville and live in a big house and her family once again be whole and perfect. But Starla can’t stay out of trouble, when the threat of reform school inches closer to reality, Starla runs away to Nashville with no preparation. She’s picked up on the road by Eula Littleton, a black woman she’s never met. The two set off on a road trip packed with both adventure and danger. Starla’s eyes are opened to the wider world as she discovers something unexpected inside her own heart.