February 14, 2007
Fairhope is full of writers. I am just one of the crowd. Not in any particular writers' circle, I guess I'm the one who just writes.
In 2001 I was set to be in the in crowd of Fairhope writers. My book Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree was published by local publisher Sonny Brewer. Sonny was known as a nurturer of writing talents; he provided them with a yearly platform called "Southern Writers Reading," putting writers onstage to read excerpts of their work for the delight of Fairhope audiences. The event took over a whole weekend, and including lots of parties and gave many locals the opportunity to read the works and shake the hands of some very talented people.
I was on the outside of the passel of writers, looking in. My book was one of about 20 available at the big booksigning, and I went to some of the parties, but clearly I didn't quite make the cut as one of the hungry young writers swarming around Sonny. I didn't get a review of my book in the Mobile Press-Register until the book had been out for about ten months and the momentum of sales had clearly gone by. John Sledge, the book editor of the paper, said he had given a copy to the man he wanted to review it but since the pay was so low he didn't feel comfortable giving the reviewer a deadline. We tried setting up book signings in Mobile, but turnout was low. I even did a reading at Bay Minette at the Bay Minette library, for which library Charlotte Robertson had to phone everybody she could to get a turnout of about five people. (Everybody she called said, "A book about Fairhope? This isn't Fairhope!") Charlotte was one of the few loyal champions of MMATBT, which is about considerably more than Fairhope.
I was excited at that time about becoming a real writer, getting on the inside, defining myself at last as a writer. That didn't happen for a number of reasons, but mostly of my own making. I hammered out a short story about my own 35-year writer's block and showed it to Sonny. He was encouraging, urging me to keep at it and read the short works of Joyce Carol Oates. I bought a couple of her books in paperback and was impressed to be in her company. I attended Sonny's "Third Thursday" readings by local writers at his bookstore. Once or twice I staged readings of my own book there, but I was never on the official roster.
When the first run of 1,000 copies sold out, there was no reprint. By that time Charlotte was working at the rival bookstore, "Page & Palette," and urged me to self-publish. By the time this was done, Charlotte was no longer working there, and as far as I know the store's initial purchase of 30 copies was never re-ordered when it sold out. The book is an on-demand offering, always available on amazon.com.
But the real reason my writing career flagged was personal. Stuff started happening in my life, beyond my control, in which I felt personally attacked and maligned, and the little creative light went out. I had a very close friend at that time constantly urging me to put such stress aside and write like a sumbitch, but I just couldn't. I was dry as a bone. This period lasted for several years, during which I did manage to work on another Fairhope book, When We Had the Sky, (later retitled The Fair Hope of Heaven) which I felt was better than the first, but by this time Sonny had become a writer himself and was no longer publishing. The University of Alabama Press and River City Publishing in Montgomery both turned it down with rejection letters both of which said positive things, but basically that the book would not sell outside Fairhope and it just wasn't enough of a market. One publisher suggested I go the self-publish route. I sent the manuscript to the third Alabama publisher; talked with the main man Randall Williams on the phone. He promised to read it, but I never heard back.
I started a blog to promote both books, and put up a website. The blog became an end in itself and writing daily got me back in the groove. The stress of my personal life abated. The light was beginning to flicker once more. So I wrote a book that had nothing to do with Fairhope, and was chatting with a friend who out of the blue said, "That sounds like something my agent would be interested in. When you get it in shape, let me know and I'll see to it she reads it." I had forgotten that this woman had written a book years ago which was still in print. I had no idea she could get me in with an agent in New York!
The agent passed on the book. She said that her associates had read what I sent and didn't feel passionate about it, so they wished me luck in finding the perfect agent. It seems to me they're overstating their emotional investment in this project, but who am I to say? I don't need passion or perfection so much as a friend at court, someone who'll hawk this manuscript to the right people and help me get it published.
In the meantime I have a nephew who is a very respectable published writer, and was lunching with him on my New York trip over Christmas. He offered his agent if the first didn't work out, so I did email him yesterday.
His agent said, "Why don't you get her to send me 50 or 60 pages and see if I respond to the writing?"
That's enough for me. I sent him a packet with the first three chapters yesterday. If he says no, I'll think about self-publishing. but I probably won't. What I'll probably do is start another book.