Monday, June 16, 2008

Perspective and Publishing -- Patti Callahan Henry

Book Tour.
Just the name brings up so many different images and emotions, doesn't it?
Well, right now I'm on one. A book tour that is.
For THE ART OF KEEPING SECRETS. I have three more cities remaining after visiting twelve already.
I think it was Pat Conroy who said that book tour was designed to humiliate authors, but that is another subject. Right now I want to talk about two things -- perspective and publishing.
The traveling tends to offer me many moments of insight. For example, right now I am sitting in the Atlanta airport at 7AM waiting on a plane to board. Nothing offers insight into FRANTIC STRIVING like the Atlanta airport on a Monday morning.
For example: the guy behind me was in a frantic and immense rush to get through the security line (aren't we all by the way?). But I guess he assumed he was more important than the rest of us. He finally cut in front of me, then changed lines five times looking for the fastest way through the massive crowd. He did get through security two people ahead of me. Good for him, right?
Now he is sitting here waiting on the same plane as me. Shows where FRANTIC STRIVING gets you, right? To the same place as everyone else, just a bit more frazzled.
My conclusion -- steady, calm determination will get you to the exact same gate, boarding the exact same plane.
You apply as you see fit.

While out here on the road, I have had this question more than any other:
"How did you get published?"
So, I finally sat down in a hotel room one night and wrote this little ditty about getting published.
Here it is:
The desire to publish is a paradox in this: the more I wanted it, the further away it ran from me. Like a guy. Like a really good looking guy who wants nothing to do with me until I am going out with another really good looking guy.
When I first started writing, I just wanted to tell a great story. I had this internal need that was stronger than anything I’d felt since childhood. I hid my desire, and my writing, for at least three years. I wrote the story I wanted to tell: a story I really wanted to tell. I went to writing classes, read writing books, traveled to writer’s retreats. Then I showed my work to some other writers, who, like the miracle of the Red Sea parting, loved it and showed it to an agent who then also liked it and took me on as a client. This is where I’d like to write – And they Lived Happily Ever After. But this is actually where I became almost hopelessly lost.
Suddenly I thought I’d turned into an “author” (how delusional is that –a couple opinions make you any more or less than you were only moments ago?). I lost sight of my real desire. Now I wanted to publish to national and international acclaim. I’m not sure where the transformation took place – somewhere in my EGO, I am quite sure. Somewhere in that mushy place of need.
The big-time agent said she loved my work, just loved it, but could I please rewrite it to make it clearer, better, nicer? Of course I could – I am an author. Then she asked again – could I please rewrite it to make it clearer, better, nicer? Of course, I said again. Then she asked me again…you get it….
So, I began to write with big, pompous words. I wrote long, flowing paragraphs full of metaphor, analogy and alliteration. The return comments were “nice writing, don’t get the story. But we think you could be the next (fill in the blank with any writer you imagine).
What? I don’t want to be the next anyone.
I gave up. I really did. I wasn’t an author. I was a hack (which of course goes back to the delusion that someone else’s opinion makes you any more or less than you were only moments ago).
After months of trying to pretend that I didn’t care about writing, I ended up sick (really, pneumonia) and I turned back to desire – that true deep-down desire to tell a good story. I wrote another story, a different story. I found a new agent. And I sold the story – my first novel, LOSING THE MOON was born of desire and passion, and not the incessant need for approval.
I am now working on my sixth novel, and I still fight this fight within myself. I will be honest: sometimes I still get lost and must remember what I forgot: this storytelling stuff is powerful, and if it is to be any good, it must come from a deeper place within ourselves.
If someone had asked me (which no one did) what I looked forward to the most with publication – I probably would have said something idiotic like, “the money” or “the awards” or “the fame”. Embarrassing to admit, don’t you think? Now if someone asks me (which they do) what I love the best about publication, I will tell them – the writing world – the relationships, the camaraderie, the beauty of the written word, the honor of telling stories…and so much more.
Publishing is a business; storytelling and writing are passions. The mix between the two doesn’t always make a tasty cocktail. There is not a lot of glamour, or money for that matter. There is fulfillment and a great amount of joy mixed with the exhaustion and frustration.

Stay tuned as I travel on book tour, and we’ll talk more about the joys and travails of the book tour life. Visit, and then BLOG.

Patti Callahan Henry is the National Bestselling Novelist of four novels with Penguin/NAL. Her latest, THE ART OF KEEPING SECRETS was released on June 3, 2008.

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