FALL INTO BOOKS
The first spectacular fall day takes me right back to my first fall in New England. I had run away from home, as it were, to college, outside of Boston. Until I was 15, the end of summer meant grief and loss to me: I left my true home, summer camp, and was forced to return to school, which I hated. I cried for days after camp. I was an outsider everywhere but there.
Then, at 17, I drove north. North. I am still here. Camp had been in New England, so I already knew where I had to go to college, but the glory of fall lived only in my imagination. (Leda, stop now and take a deep breath. Do not begin a rant about climate change and what is happening to fall and to everything else. Deep breath, I say.)
Fall in Vermont: buying peaches becomes picking apples and freezing applesauce. Planting the garden becomes clearing the garden. Stacking wood becomes burning wood. And wrapping up all the endless outdoor chores means more time for reading. Reading books. In paper. Real books. Books in piles in the living room, the bedroom, the basement, the bathroom. Books by VCFA folks, in particular.
Clever segue: there was a time, my children, when I took it upon myself to more or less keep track of books published by the faculty, alumni, and students of our exceptionally wonderful VCFA/MFA/WC. I even sent emails of the congratulatory sort, many of which I titled “World Domination.” It wasn’t an impossible task. There were only about 10-15 faculty at the time (this is ancient history), 60-75 students, and most of us were too busy teaching and learning to have more than a book or two a year published (am I funny, or what?). I knew the names of almost all of the graduates because I’d started hanging out at VCFA way back in another century. Plus, I was still reading review journals—all of them—and I kept my eyes open. Blogs were few and far between, and no one had ever heard of Facebook.
Ah, it was a lovely time. A simpler time. I loved sending out those little cheery notes.
Writing for publication is an odd thing, isn’t it? I don’t think there are many of us who write novels just for ourselves–or for fun (hold your laughter). We tend to want readers, and not only the readers we know. We have, in fact, probably dreamed of holding our first published book for a very long time, if not forever. Didn’t you imagine how it would feel to open your book for the first time, smell the paper, look under the dust jacket, check the binding, memorize the ISBN, call your friends, maybe throw a party? Didn’t you imagine the first time you would see your book on a shelf in a bookstore? A library? Did you—oh, did you—imagine a child (red-haired, pigtails, maybe? A sort of Anne Shirley child?) approaching you with your book held to her chest and a secret sort of smile, the child who might whisper to you, “I loved your book”?
I think I’m not making this up.
As the semesters piled upon each other, however, I noticed I was falling dreadfully far behind. VCFA books were being published right and left! Reviews appeared everywhere! Milky Way numbers of stars glistened hither and yon! People were winning awards practically every second! There were two-book deals, three-book deals, six-figure deals: World Domination indeed! (I have used up my 2013 quota for exclamation marks now.)
The task has become overwhelming, and I have apples to pick, wood to burn, books to read. But this is not about me. The point is this, I think: each and every book is cause for celebration. Each and every book means that people can still read, can still find, purchase, or borrow books, and might even be eager to discuss their response with others. Each and every book means that someone’s dream is out there for others to discover.
Some of us, however, are still struggling, still hoping. It is you I celebrate as well. Either someone will publish your hard work, you’ll publish it yourself, or, maybe, you’ll stop writing. People, you can have a full and rewarding life without that particular dream fulfilled. Your friends and family will still love you, you will still love them, and there will be perfect fall days when the earth is so beautiful you can hardly bear it.
I have come full circle. Happy fall, happy writing, happy reading, and congratulations to all of you.