Just After Yes: The First Book Deal
April 5, 2019 § 40 Comments
By 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.