Monday, December 15, 2008

First-novel freak-out & the weirdness of immediate gratification

With Carolyn Jourdan and Quinn Dalton flanking my entry in this month’s blog-calendar, I feel a bit like an author sandwich. I hereby slap my baloney between two slices of warm, rich, lovingly hand-kneaded bread. (I would have been less intimidated, thanks, by crusty sour dough and wry.) So while I was considering a half-baked entry, the fact is I’ve got a meatier issue on my plate: Next month, the wait is over.

My first novel will be published.

After two decades of dreaming and working and . . .
For the past two years, I’ve been telling friends that the slow crawl from acceptance to publication is akin to watching a glacier melt. But now that the glacier’s melted, to throw even more metaphors in the soup, the time hasn’t flown, it’s been an intercontinental supersonic missile.

Now – and I should way not go there, but what the heck: after this 24-month gestation period, the contractions are beginning, along with the wonder, awe and tingling OMG fear.

THE PLUNDER ROOM will be published Jan. 20.

It took 20 years and seven novels, including four incalculably bad ones, to get to this place. The four earlier books were banging-my-head-against-the-wall practice sessions; receiving form-letter rejections; and going through the same hazing that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of artists have endured before me. (“What IS ‘voice,’ anyway?” I actually put that question to Russell Baker once and, uh …)

If anyone had asked me one score years ago what my most compelling goal/dream was – and few did - I would have said, To get a novel published. I daresay the endeavor might have been a bit easier then, but that’s just sugarcoating history, much like saying that Gordon Gekko could “earn” money with far more debonair savvy than his turn-of-the-millennia successors on Wall Street. The truth is, throughout that entire period, I had a devil of a time, as most everyone does, I imagine, to keep from Going Faust, without selling my soul to some worser fate, whatever that might have been.

In the previous year or two leading up to the abrupt and surprising sale of THE PLUNDER ROOM, I had been working on, then peddling a whole ’nother ms., one I still love. Bear in mind, this was nearly four years ago, and at the time, the particular draft of that particular book that wasn’t so much a street urchin as it was in need of a strong foster home, where it could grow and mature. One of the writers I admire most, Ashley Warlick – in part, for her mystifying generosity and her willingness to believe that I might actually make something of myself one day – had told me the novel wasn’t ready to send out. Neither, she told my wife with adroit end-run tact that I really do appreciate now, was I “ready” to do the archaeological digs required to get at the trinkets that could salvage the thing. However, being that much younger, smarter, blah blah blah, I went ahead and ran my Titanic premature-draft into the expected iceberg of rejections and heartbreak. Devastation so severe that, one pseudo-maudlin morning after receiving a fresh batch of rejections (“The book has too much internal monologue,” followed by, “a well-written story that could use infusions of internal monologue”), I emailed her, “I quit.” I had decided that so many years, the effort and heartache that went into trying to achieve my Paramount Dream had overwhelmed me. I was done. Ashley sent me something back. One of her trademark hyper-pithy emails or voice mails or calls that went something like one of these: Blessit. Get over it. Whatever.

Shortly after that the idea for THE PLUNDER ROOM blasted me like . . . like that time you’re sitting at one end of the bar and that really beautiful smart – you get the picture. In the three months that followed, God did the writing, I did the typing, the manuscript was done. Next, I took an Intensive Novel Writing Workshop, thanks to the Emrys Foundation and a fortuitous Metropolitan Arts Council Grant, taught by the too-well-read and redundantly beneficent Ashley Warlick. She read the first two chapters of my first draft, which was required seminar homework, and declared it the best work of mine she’d ever seen – not a bar too high to vault; she had seen enough of my earlier efforts.

With resurrected vigor (and the support I had always had), I heaved my fresh new project over the transom at Thomas Dunne Books at St. Martin’s Press in April 2006. One morning in early May, I received an email from the editor, opened the message and went into a writer’s equivalent of anaphylactic shock; one never develops immunity to rejection allergy. Then I woke up my wife, and we started rejoicing, me in my immediate-gratification way. Two years later, the baby’s about to be born.

Talk about pacing, frayed nerves and high anxiety. What if folks think my firstborn’s ugly? I know it’s already got 10 fingers and 10 toes. Has a beautiful face, too. Ashley’s been nurturing. Ron Rash said nice things about it. Even Mom likes it. My wife, who’s been putting up with this quixotic nonsense for our 16 years together thinks it’s great (she better, she spent as much time editing it as I did writing it, so that the house changed not a word once they got the final draft). George Singleton was kind. And Karin Gillespie … well, I’m here, and that’s an honor as large as the largesse she lavished on my book-jacket blurb.

Still, in 30 days, the world -- which apparently isn’t buying books – will be invited to enter THE PLUNDER ROOM. So I must sprint to unlock the mysteries of and unleash the nuclear energies behind the marketing wizardries of Joshilyn Jackson and Mindy Friddle to convince said non-book-buying world to buy my book.

In any event, we’re having a book-launch party at The Handlebar on Jan. 23. My wife and I opened the venue in Greenville, SC, 14 years ago, and it’s a concert-hall nightclub, my day job, which frightens my Muse away, but that’s a whole ’nother blog. Everyone’s welcome to the party. There might be food. Probably going to be a band. The whole thing’s free. And you’re guaranteed immediate gratification.

(Book trailer: David Martin & Glen Craney (c) 2008)


Anonymous said...

John Jeter is a South Carolina treasure! This novel is fantastic! And make sure you watch the trailer!

Carolyn Jourdan said...

Hooray! You overnight success, you.
Wow, that's a great synopsis of the writing-to-publication process.
I'll save your blog post for further distribution as necessary. And it's often necessary.
Way to go.
: )

MIndy said...

Wonderful video trailer, John. Great blog...can't wait till Pub Day for the Plunder Room...and I'll definitely be at the party.

Karin Gillespie said...

Woo Hoo! What a great way to start the new year!


John Jeter said...

Awwww, you guys ... !!!

Scobberlotcher said...

Congrats, John. Your novel sounds exciting. I can completely relate to your pre-birth metaphor! I felt the same way. Keep us posted!