A few days ago, I received an email with the signature “Remote Host.” I didn’t recognize the name in the sender line, and having read and written a fair amount about cyber security over the course of a recent freelance gig, I hesitated, as I more and more frequently do now, before opening the email and reading the message inside.
I’m so glad I didn’t let my wariness get in my way. Here is what the note said:
I just finished reading “Dream Journal,” which I loved. It felt very honest and real. A friend of mine once told me that her mother died of cancer when she was sixteen, and that she nursed a secret anger at her mother for getting sick and messing up her life. You combine Livy’s love for her mom with some “acting out” that feels true to life. I look forward to reading your other books.
I immediately wrote back:
It is so very meaningful for me to read this email. Dream Journal was my first novel . . . It’s now out of print, and though friends and family have said they remember it fondly, I always feel a bit that the work (though very much worth it on every possible level) has a bit slipped into the shadows. And here you are, writing to resurrect it. Thank you!
And then I asked Julie (who is a writer as well, and who is in fact working on a book set during the Depression, as my forthcoming novel, SING FOR ME, also is), if I could quote her message as I am right here, right now.
Here’s why. Truth told, it can be a long, lonely work we writers do, and sometimes we can get discouraged, especially when manuscripts are rejected again and again, or the words aren’t coming out right, or a book goes out of print—poof—just like that.
I try not to dwell on the discouragement. I try to count my blessings and keep perspective and do all good things like that. I try to be like this, even when the climate is a frigid, and there’s cold comfort all around.
Just lately, I’ve felt abundantly grateful for the fact that I have a novel coming out that so far has gotten good reviews, a novel I’ve been working on for nearly (dear God) twenty years, finally coming to fruition. But those twenty years had some hard times, and I imagine there will be more to come, and I am human.
Poof. “Ashes to ashes,” I write on the eve of Ash Wednesday. “Dust to dust.” So be it.
I once had a friend say to me that she wanted to write the kind of novel—a good book, a little book, and as it was good, but little, overlooked by reviewers and readers, the way so many books are in this nano-second-of-a-shelf-life age. (I’m talking books here, not chicken nuggets.) This friend said she wanted to have written the novel, and then let it go into the world, let it slip into the shadows, knowing that it might have a second life—born again, because someone is rifling through the 5 cent piles at a garage sale, and this special someone picks it up, this little, good novel, and pays their 5 cents, and takes the novel home, and reads it, and loves it, and passes it on to a friend. Who passes the previously overlooked, little, good novel on to another friend. And so on. With its yellowed pages and out-of-date cover, this novel of a certain title (no one remembers the author’s name) lives again.
And that’s what this email from a stranger who is now an acquaintance, who one day (who knows?) may be a friend, did for me. It breathed life back into seven some years of the work I did when my daughter was a baby, and my son not even born—wait, no, when my son was a little guy, I was still working on DREAM JOURNAL. Take that back. Julie’s email breathed life back into years upon years, and hundreds upon hundreds of revised and edited pages. All those words. Julie’s email made me think: Let us assume that nothing is ever finished. There is always a changing, a turning. There is always hope. “A crack is the place where the light gets in,” as Leonard Cohn says. If that crack is a book sale at the library (which is where Julie found DREAM JOURNAL—not at a garage sale, but at a library sale . . . hurrah! for that means I gave a little bit back to one of my favorite public institutions ever . . . well, then so be it. Amen.
On the heels of Julie’s email, I found an author interview I did with a wonderful, award-winning blogger in the children’s and young adult literature publishing world, Cynthia Leitich Smith. The blog is called Cynsations, and if you’d like to know more about DREAM JOURNAL, you can read about it here:
Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find DREAM JOURNAL at a 5 cents sale near you. Or perhaps your library still has it? And if you pick up any remaindered, lost or out of print, 5 cent treasures, please do let the authors know. If they’re anything like me, they’ll be grateful.