Tusday is the on-sale date for my newest book from Random House, Written in Stone. I can’t help showing off, yet again, my beautiful cover art done by Richard Tuschman. Canoes are iconic to the tribes of the Northwest and I’m beyond thrilled to see them portrayed here so faithfully.
But what I find myself thinking about as this long awaited day approaches is how very long it took me to get here. This is the book I worked on longer than any other. I finished the first draft of this book when my youngest girl was a baby and my oldest had just finished third grade. My youngest girl will begin high school this fall and my oldest just graduated from college. Now on the one hand that might be discouraging. Many times as I worked on this book I walked past this particular tree in the Arboretum in Portland and reflected on how much of the work of this book has been roots that will never see the light of the page.
I didn’t keep count of revisions. I do know that this book started out in third person. It has been re-written both in present and past tense, in blank verse and prose, and now in first person narration. I researched a thousand things related to this story. Spoke to dozens of experts on everything from weaving to wildcatting. I developed an appreciation for reference librarians who have patience for my many obscure questions and for public universities who support the publication of such fascinating books as The Ethnobotony of Western Washington. It is a listing of every native plant in the region, it’s name in a dozen native languages, and its medicinal and practical uses. Fascinating!
And here’s what else I learned. EVERY revision made the book stronger. EVERY research source made the story richer. I could have self-published this book at any point in the last ten years. I probably could have sold it to a regional press at any time in the last five years. And yet I am grateful that both my agent and editor were willing to wait for a stronger book to emerge.
My agent Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer DiChiara Literary Agency, loved this story five revisions ago. It was the story for which he first offered me representation. He was more than happy to shop it around as a novel in verse, which is how he first came to know these characters. When the book didn’t get picked up in the first round of submissions, he continued to believe in Pearl and her family even as he sent around other manuscripts. When Heart of a Shepherd was picked up by Random House and made a very strong showing for a debut novel, Stephen resisted what might be a reasonable impulse to refashion Written in Stone more along the lines of Heart of a Shepherd. He was willing to wait for me to think through what the story needed rather than what the market might want. My editor (who also liked Pearl’s story from the start) was willing to wait for my Quinault and Makah sources to have time to read and respond to the story and offer me fuller resources for research. I am not a patient person by nature, but I am grateful to both of them for waiting long enough to get this story which is the one I was trying to write all along.
Here’s the thing about Twitter/Facebook/Youtube/Goodreads/blogs/and the whole social media juggernaut–they make it seem like all your favorite authors are releasing a new book at the rate of one every ten days. If you are still in the pre-published phase of your writing career it can seem like your publication day will never come. And yet what I’ve heard over and over from readers that I trust and admire is this: “I’ll wait ten years for your next book if that’s what it takes to write a good one. Just don’t disappoint me.” Molly Gloss and Virginia Euwer Wolff are Portland writers that I admire very much. They take years with each book–not writing and teaching part time or writing and raising family. They just write. One novel. Over and over for 3 to 7 years or more. And guess what? Their books are worth waiting for!
So that is my new writing goal. Not the path to fame and fortune I am sure. But I hope the path to stories with staying power and books that I’m proud to have carry my name.
There is a summary of the book and some great reviews here including one by Mira a very articulate nine year old. It was sent by the owner of McNally Jackson Bookstore in New York. The page also has a link to Powells or your nearest Indy bookstore. I hope you will consider checking my book out at the library. Strong library circulation is just as important to me as strong sales. And if you’d like a chance to win a free copy there are giveaways this week at Literary Rambles and The Styling Librarian–both great book blogs that I’d recommend even if they weren’t giving away my book. Thanks to Natalie Arguilla and Debbie Alvarez for the beautiful blog posts for Written in Stone. I’ve also got a post up here at the Mixed Up Files on the topic of writing characters from a culture not your own.
If you’ve got a story of perseverance, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Last but not least, I hope you can come to my book party at the Cedar Hills Powells Friday night at 7pm. 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd. I’ll have treats and first foods, art and activities for kids and a special gift for teachers and librarians from the good folks at Random House School and Library. I hope to see you there!