Good Grief: After Finishing the Book
November 22, 2019 § 12 Comments
By Nancy Kay Brown
I scuff through the house, watching my boiled wool slippers navigate the floor: left, right left, and once again, right. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon. Plucking at the tattered cotton nightgown my mother in law gifted me thirty years ago, I scoot around the kitchen searching for something to fill the void and pick at the last corner of the lemon cake I made to celebrate. Yes, I finished my memoir. That same day I printed and bound the 24 chapters with a card stock cover, a title that one reader thought sounded hopeless. I sent an agent a query letter and the first 5 pages, another query with 25 pages, a query letter and a proposal, another pitch with a stronger bio and warmer handshake in greeting. Though selling my book is not my cup of tea, I alone must promote it. It’s the alone part that’s hard. Had I moved to promotion too quickly? I’d written a fabulous story and written it well. Ready to be done is what I was.
Ten years in the making and while it took everything I had, in the process, it squeezed the writer in me to the surface. Some days it hurt like a nasty boil. Others, I soared. Shelved and bound in a fat plastic coil, the manuscript haunts me like a relationship turned sour; the kind that had once been good.
Time has lost its boundaries, purpose and structure. I wash a window, floss my teeth. Maybe I’ll send out another query letter, a pitch to an agent: personally directed, requested additions included (never attachments). Each communication takes an hour to recheck the agents wish list, assemble the packet, review, line edit and send off.
The blue satin ruffle of my gown, a well-worn nightie, dusts along the desk’s edge. I am that close to sitting down and getting back to work. My desk is tidy for the first time in months: sharpened pencils in cups, a stack of fresh notebooks and a variety of color-coded folders hang like dresses waiting for the right occasion. Just a few months ago, for 5 hours at a time, sometimes more, I’d sit and tackle adjectives, massage metaphors, align descriptors and arm wrestle for the perfect image. No, I can’t bear to write another word.
I did everything we talked about in writing group: showed didn’t tell, dropped us into scene, organized, planned, reorganized and reconsidered. I employed a rubric, used the grid, beat by beat, and revised the arc. Weaving threads into Act 1, I cut and redrafted Act 2, added sinew to Act 3, increased the pace at the climax. Then I kissed it deeply like sending my lover on a journey. 340 pages to an editor, we cut a hundred. Then, off to beta readers. The feedback, a note from each, several pages from one, among other things, “powerful” they said, “what a story,” “I missed your humor in this.” After more cutting and revising, some connective tissue, and another arm wrestle—it was as good as I could make it, my best. Humor? It was not a funny story. That burr took its time to fall free.
I never considered “the afterwards.” My writing group thinks a break is a good idea. Sit with the emotions. Honor the space. “Don’t let it lie fallow.” In farming it’s a good thing to rest the soil in readiness for a fresh start. In art, it can be a dangerous state, a type of neglect. The point of writing a story is to share it and getting it published is the way to do that. I slide a tube of lipstick across my lips, because you never know, this could be a special day. I check my inbox for the fifteenth time. Maybe I’ll do a YouTube promotional piece, a read-aloud on Audible. I am lost. I’ve forgotten what I do besides write.
Do I still have any friends? Never mind about them, I’ve chosen to honor the space. But first I prop myself with a broom and scuff around to sweep up the crumbs from yesterday’s cake.
Nancy Kay Brown‘s memoir, Fallen From the Nest, is finished and awaits representation. Her stories and essays appear in Brain, Child, Full Grown People, Brevity blog, Wising Up and a short story called “Burn Pile” appears in an anthology for rural youth, Fishing for Chickens, edited by Jim Heynen. “Letters To Montana,” a WordPress blog, can be found at NancyKayBrown.com.