Posted at 06:59 am on May 15, 2007
You know, this past week has been amazing, and in many ways, life altering. I want to tell everything that happened, to leave nothing out, but as I sit here, back at home after the literary conference in New Orleans at which my novel Miss McGhee was launched, I find myself thinking of very personal things.
There’s a page of acknowledgements in the book. I wrote it and rewrote it many times, for fun, for inspiration, over the years. It was like writing your acceptance speech for the Academy Awards before you ever land an acting role. It was a way to keep myself motivated.
Sometimes I began it this way: “It takes a village to raise an idiot.”
Or there was the version that didn’t really thank anyone at all, but in a back-handed way, sneered at those who never supported or believed in me.
Then there was the secret version, the one I never committed to paper, in which I thanked my family. The one I knew I’d never put in any book I wrote, because I didn’t really believe my family would ever accept or appreciate what I write, because I write about lesbians.
So here’s what happened: I met some amazing people, writers I admired, and signed my book and gave it to them. I sat in some wonderful workshops, listened to some pretty smart people talk about writing and craft; I gave a reading from my novel to a room full of people who laughed and applauded. I sat on a panel with three other writers and had a very interesting discussion.
I also had several meetings with my publisher and editor from Bywater Books, and really came to know them as people rather than scary, power-wielding types who hold my writing career in their hands to play with like a toy. And this is what I learned.
Kelly Smith and Marianne K. Martin are very smart, very concerned, and very, very good at what they do. They are committed to finding and publishing the best work in this segment of the publishing industry, books by and for lesbian women.
We talked at length about what I did wrong and what I did right with Miss McGhee, and even sat and went page by page through the editing decisions that were made and told me why and how they made those decisions. They taught me to look at my work differently and to do some of that editing myself. It was an intensive seminar with professionals who want to help make me better at my craft. I don’t know of any other publisher that would do that. Most would probably say, your first book took too much work, so go away and get better before you submit anything again. Instead, Kelly Smith, who I have to believe is a brilliant editor, patiently explained what she did with my manuscript and exactly how she improved it and made it into a book.
Then, Bywater spent a couple of hours of time that is limited and precious at these events to listen to me tell the story of my next novel, then they told me they are accepting it!
I’m exhausted, but elated. Home, but still stuck back there reliving everything that happened.
Now here’s the good part. I forgot to call my mother on Mother’s Day. I was too excited, nervous, too caught up in what was happening. I lay in bed late Sunday night, and thought about that acknowlegments page, in which I did not mention the name of any family member, and I thought about those to whom I owe the most.
I called my mom very early Monday morning, told her all about the conference and the book, and she was so happy for me. My mother said she was going to have someone sit and read every word of the book to her. (My mother is virtually blind, distinguishing light and dark, some color, but is long past the point where she could read the book herself or even see my name on the cover.)
I hung up the phone, and my partner Sandy said, you want to go see your mom, don’t you. I took a deep breath.
I thought, in a moment of clarity and courage very rare in my life, (through which I usually muddle by keeping silent about what matters most, hoping for good things but not expecting them, and by dodging important issues because I don’t give anyone enough credit to understand what I need them to see) that my mother is proud because I wrote a book, but she has no idea of the subject matter. If anyone is going to tell her what it’s about, it should be me.
I had chickened out over the years, and when anyone in my family asked what I was writing about, I told them it was a novel about the civil rights movement. It is, but it is also about two women who fall in love. It is a novel about what I know best, living in fear.
Folks, my mother is a champ. I took my book and put it into her hands and she held it up to her face. I read the title and my name for her and told her what it looked like. Then I sat down and read it to her. I told her the whole story. I read the inscription I’d written to her.
Ladies and gentlemen, I cried through the whole thing. My mother hugged me, and said she was proud of me. That she’d always been proud of me.
One by one, my sisters, my brother, and my nieces gathered as the word spread. They all looked at the book and hugged me, squealed and exclaimed. They promised to buy many copies, so it’s destined to be a best seller.
They all were so pleased and happy. I sat there feeling like the biggest idiot in the world.
It’s the best Mother’s Day I’ve ever had.