Just After Yes: The First Book Deal

April 5, 2019 § 40 Comments

sandramillerBy Sandra A. Miller

Your wish of four long years is granted in a blink. You just got a “Yes!” A book deal for your memoir. “Congratulations!” your friends at work enthuse, trying to shake you from the stupor of the news, that, just one-hour old, still doesn’t feel real.

Later that night in your warm, messy kitchen, the pop of the champagne cork punctures the not-quite numbness, more like disbelief, and a tiny bit of uh-oh.

You aren’t a narcissist. You know the world is bigger than your book, your life of searching for treasure with the hope of filling that ache inside, the hollow place in your heart that you’ve been pressing on since that day you were five and had to send a piece of yourself away for protection. The memory of that girl, all pigtails and longing, is as clear as the crystal champagne glasses that your husband is setting on the counter, cluttered with bills and pens and a coffee mug that your daughter painted for you—the quiet, lovely ordinariness of life.

But this moment doesn’t feel ordinary. Something has changed. Until today the full story of searching for your heart has been private, except for essays, small ones, easy to hide, to dismiss. A book, rather less so.

Your colleague Maureen, also a memoirist, says it’s the pride taboo, and I’m not good enough. And what will people think of me? Earlier that day, you huddled in her office, two Catholic girls in their 50s, talking through their shame about sharing intimate secrets. It’s okay you assured each other over salad and chocolate bars. “We asked for this. We wanted this.”

As a girl you huddled in the back of your dark closet writing stories in a pink diary with a flimsy silver lock. Still you kept those stories safe. Soon you’ll be sharing them with anyone who wants to hit the buy button. And all of those anyones will be able to access that diary full of longing, a yearning so alive it flows off the page, like the geyser of champagne that your husband, scrambling for a dishtowel, tries to catch in one of the crystal glasses.

Your husband. Have you been fair to him in this narrativized version of your marriage? And is he up for the exposure? You wanted to tell the story of a middle age woman looking for hidden treasure, both real and metaphorical. It’s a conversation about marriage that you’ve been trying to conduct for years, and now you have been handed a baton of sorts. This privilege of yes means the chance to be visible, to step in into the light. The funny thing is, you rather like the shadows.

Only yesterday you were asking who will ever publish this? Today you are asking, when this is published who will see me? And will it even matter? Will your first boyfriend read it and learn of your indifference? Will the married man? Your children who are both nearly adults but very much okay with a limited knowledge of their parents’ private life. You hope so. You hope not. You want to sell a billion copies as much as you want to crawl back into the safety of your closet, that smelled of cedar and mothballs, and find that pink diary and burn it.

You think of your parents, both deceased. Your mother’s closest friends have either passed or are in their final years, so you’re almost safe there. Except for Peg, nearing 90 and still sharp; you call each other now and then. “I miss your mother every day,” Peg always says, her voice a raspy cackle, reminding you that there are people who never knew the back side of your mother’s hilarity, the detailed affronts that drive your story.

Your husband hands you a cool flute of champagne, and you both pause. How many times have you envisioned this moment? No less than 100, you guess. And here it is, almost ironic. The two of you toasting to a book, one that opens your marriage to scrutiny. But you make yourself hold still and try to savor the complexity of this writing wish coming true.

Then you look at your husband, beaming pride, and think of all the moments your readers will never see, like this one, when he lifts your chin to meet his eyes, and puts his mouth close to your ear and whispers, “You did it.”

You smile at him and nod. You hear the thin clink of crystal. When you sip, the bubbles rise inside you, a counterpoint to the heaviness of this uninvited worry. And for the first time, you realize something: that this pale gold dream coming true is complicated, like your story. But it’s also just another part of that story, a good part, one in which you are vulnerable, grateful, joyful, terrified, and maybe even a little bit brave.

Sandra A. Miller’s memoir Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure is available for pre-order from Brown Paper Press and Amazon.



§ 40 Responses to Just After Yes: The First Book Deal

  • This is lovely, enviable, glorious! Best wishes, congratulations, and a reminder that you are never quite done. There will be more.

  • Mo says:

    Oh my, Sandra! I can relate! Love this!

  • Heather Roberson says:

    Congratulations…….I’m waiting for this feeling….Congrats again!!

  • Madelaine Lock says:

    Congratulations! If your book is written as beautifully as this essay, I can’t wait to read it. I am also writing a memoir and anguish over reveals that will affect my family and friends. I too went down the list of deceased and open-minded versus those who may not be quite so thrilled, even though I’ve been open about their role in my story. The biggest question is always: do I really need to put this out there? I can only hope my intention shines through. I’m sure yours did, so enjoy and stay calm!

    • Sandra says:

      I’ll enjoy…calm is another story! But I wish you the best with your writing– and emotional state. I heard a gorgeous talk today by Luis Alberto Urrea who reminded the audience that our stories are ours to tell. A simple idea, but it was good to hear it from a pro.

  • A bit of a syrupy and sappy style. I would assume that your readers are 96% female.

  • mjhowes says:

    Thank you for this reflection. What is the name of your book and when will we be able to join those who appreciate it?

    • Sandra says:

      Thanks for asking! The book is called TROVE: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure. It’s out on 9-19-19 but available for preorder now.

  • Loved this. And glad you’re not a narcissist. I had to unfriend a few instead of celebrating along with them, I felt icky. Congrats and can’t wait to read it!

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you for your kind comment. As for narcissism–it might make this easier. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying for bravery, as all writers do.

  • camillasanderson says:

    Congratulations! I’m looking forward to not only reading your memoir, but also the next Brevity piece that you write about how it feels as a memoirist after publication! 😉

  • I love this. Beautiful. For myself, a real-life look into what could be for me, too. Thank you for sharing and congratulations.

  • Ellen Mencer says:

    What a beautiful description of the joys and fears of success! Thanks for sharing this important insight. Best to you!

  • gmabrown says:

    The bubbles rising inside you, I want that too, and you have informed me that there will be more, that feeling of exposure, sharing seems the wrong word. Maybe I can assure you after I read your book, follow you and soothe your worries. Thank you for capturing this moment for fella memoirists.

  • ascreamin says:

    You inspire me (and my inner child). The feelings you express here also remind me of the fears i have while just trying to write this thing. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • camillasanderson says:

    “I would further maintain that this process of turning oneself into a character is not self-absorbed navel gazing, but rather a potential release from narcissism. It means you have achieved sufficient distance to begin to see yourself in the round: a necessary precondition to transcending the ego—or at least writing personal nonfiction that can touch other people.”

    Lopate, Phillip. To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction (Kindle Locations 381-389). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

    • Sandra says:

      Thanks for the reminder. I might be able to say that to my students (maybe not as eloquently), but it’s a challenge to apply it to one’s own work.

  • dorothyrice says:

    Congratulations and well said!

  • Great writing. I love the energy you put into this. It feels like I am talking directly to you. All Love!

  • Tears are welling in my eyes. You hit that spot dear lady! Congratulations.

  • cwhilty says:

    Love love love this! Like the others, I cannot wait to read the whole book! You go girl!! 🙂

  • I really loved this essay! It speaks so beautifully of my own experience with publishing a memoir. All the ambivalence about being seen: “The funny thing is, you rather like the shadows.” The struggles with adult children who don’t want to know too much, the elderly friend of your mom’s, the exposure of your marriage. The ending was very touching. Your reflections so resonated with me, I am really grateful that you shared them.

  • camillasanderson says:

    What a beautiful compliment for a writer: “Your reflections so resonated with me, I am really grateful that you shared them.” You really struck a chord Sandra! This essay is resonating! Congrats!

    • Sandra says:

      Thanks Camilla! I hope the book does the same. It’s real purpose beyond telling a good story is to make people more compassionate toward their own journeys.

      • camillasanderson says:

        oh Sandra, I love that so much! I’m very passionate about memoir as an agent for radical social change, and what better radical social change is there than for people to develop more compassion! It’s very Buddhist too 😉

  • […] Only when you get there, only when you are clutching that treasure to your heart and finally sobbing with gratitude, will everything you’ve endured along the way make perfect […]

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