I wasn’t sure I could articulate what had, until now, been an instinctive process for me: a search for abstracted inspiration through visual cues. So it was incredibly special, the moment I realized the group not only understood what I meant, but used it to launch into their own beautiful, nuanced writing. Like—instantly. Instant poetry. As if effortless. Maybe it was the magic of Joshua Tree National Park, or the magic of gathering creative souls in a joint endeavor. In any case, it was an honor to do this and a cool experience and I hope I get to do stuff like this again soon.
It’s not like I had no idea what to expect. As a bookseller I assisted with author events both swanky and huge (Pat Conroy at a Connecticut yacht-club brunch) and tiny and spare (local writers at my used bookstore in Kingston, New York). As a book buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor, I bought everything from small press titles to kids books to some of the largest adult trade lines (all of which have since folded into Random Penguin–yes, I know they prefer the names reversed.) Book promotion is an enormous challenge at every level. Even backed by a corporate publisher’s PR machine, many books struggle to attract interest. Every year, thousands of excellent books are published and ignored. It’s an honor to reach any readers. And if you hear from a few who loved your book and got what you were trying to say–well, let that wash over you, because that connection is everything. You get used to the non-responses from places you’d hoped to appear. You get used to leaving readings with unsold books. To empty seats in the audience. To other books getting more attention and praise. You stay grateful throughout.
So, to celebrate Not On Fire, Only Dying‘s first year, a multimedia look back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for hearing me.
Thank you to everyone who read this book (and to those who have a copy and might yet get around to reading it–no worries. Trust me, I know how that goes. Maybe once in a while something small and unrelated will remind you of Not On Fire, Only Dying.
Happens to me all the time:
Nature isn’t dependent on an audience. Life happens, often without a witness. -p. 213, NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING pic.twitter.com/MIRlO23kIR
As I pause for the holidays I’m finally starting to absorb and appreciate these last couple of months, which had me hopping here and there to promote the release of Not On Fire, Only Dying. It was thrilling and humbling and daunting and SO MUCH FUN. I wanna do it again. And I will–details TBA. I’m hoping to come to Philadelphia and Denver and the Hudson Valley. Where else? Wherever. Let me just catch my breath a sec, put up the Christmas decorations and restock the menorah candles (so early this year!)
Then tell me where to go. Yeah, however you wanna take that. Tell me where I can find you and your small press fiction-loving friends. Are you a writer too? Let’s read.
This fall I didn’t need Thanksgiving to remind me to be grateful. Thank you to the bookstores and reading series and homes that opened their doors to me. Thank you to everyone who showed up to listen and cheer me on. Thank you to those who picked up a copy, at a reading or anywhere.
September 2015 is just about through and I was lucky enough to spend some of it promoting my debut novel at events in Brooklyn, Knoxville (hear an excerpt from my reading at The Birdhouse courtesy of Citizen Lit), and Los Angeles. I just returned from LA, where I read at Book Soup (!) and celebrated with family and friends at what was essentially my launch party. I’m riding an adrenaline roller coaster, trying to fully experience every moment of this dream come true. I’m learning as much as I can, pushing myself far beyond my comfort zone. I’m overwhelmed by the love and support. I am exhausted.
(I’d better get it together. I only have a short break before I’m back on the road. First up: Maplewood NJ’s [words] Bookstore on Oct. 10–RSVP here.)
I’m not writing much right now. I’m starting to get that itch–you know? I really want to get these new thoughts down, I want to see this new thing take shape. I’m carrying around scraps of paper scribbled with ideas. But my focus and energy must remain on the baby just out in the world: Not On Fire, Only Dying. I owe that to my wonderful publisher, Twisted Road Publications, and to myself. For all that time I spent writing, rewriting, and revising, all that love and attention I gave this book long before I knew it would be published.
(It irks me when small-press authors are disdainful of self-promotion or overly modest about their own work. Who else, if not us? Isn’t that the point, being heard? What do you owe the small press that rolls the dice on your work?)
Thankfully, writing waits. It waited for me for years, when I couldn’t write, or wouldn’t. The words never left. The compulsion to tell stories and dive into language never left. They waited until I was ready for them again. Soon enough, and sadly, this will all be over. I’ll return to the writing, which always waits.
Until then…have I mentioned I have a new book out? It’s called Not On Fire, Only Dying. You can find all kinds of info about it and links to recent reviews right HERE. If you’ve read it and are so moved, please don’t hesitate to post a review to Amazon or Goodreads.
Forgive this self-promotion and my utter lack of modesty. But to be heard–that was always the point for me. I’m so grateful that some of you are listening.
“It’s all happening.” That’s what I thought this past Thursday as I sat in the funky, cozy reading space beneath WORD in Brooklyn, about to read for the first time from my first novel Not On Fire, Only Dying. I read with two tremendously talented writers who, it turns out, are also very nice people: Helen McClory and Tobias Carroll. Molly Templeton, WORD’s Events Director, made us feel welcome and appreciated.
I arrived in Brooklyn the night before and strolled the blocks surrounding my hotel, breathing in the beautiful filth, the shockingly humid air. I grew up outside New York City and can’t quite describe the longing I feel when I return. It is not my home but it IS.
“It’s all finally happening,” I thought, as the space filled with people who had come to hear us read. Not On Fire, Only Dying was a long time coming. Several peers published their first books as I sat on the sidelines, clutching this manuscript, believing this story deserved to be heard, that my characters Marko and Lola deserved to be known. I heard NO in every way imaginable. (Really, one day I will make a cut-up poem of my rejections. I want to count how many times “unfortunately” appears.) The encouraging rejections were the best and worst. I tucked my chin into my chest and charged forward, again and again, until I found the perfect publisher for this book. That’s how life works, I’ve come to see: It will not be rushed. Nothing makes sense except in retrospect.
As you may have heard me mention, I don’t love public speaking. But I always knew that if I was given the chance, I wouldn’t squander it. I would do right by my publisher and myself. I’d promote Not On Fire, Only Dying however I could.
(Up to a point, of course. I know there’s a thin line between enthusiastic and obnoxious. Very thin.)
Last Thursday I remembered that anticipation is the worst part. When you believe in something, when you’ve loved it for years, humble and hopeful: You’re ready. You step up, you speak up. You have fun, even. Late as it is, it’s time.