A Circuitous Route:
The reflection of the world is blues, that’s where that part of the music is at – Jimi Hendrix
I have no way to express how stunned I am, sitting here today, holding my newly hatched ARCs. It is surreal to see this book in galley form, it is surreal to see my family hold my debut novel in their hands.
By all accounts I should not have this book. Although it was mostly completed by 2009 — I lost most of it in 2010. And I had to start over.
Twenty months ago when the final draft of The Atlas of Reds and Blues was finally finished, remade and re-imagined, I dutifully sent it out. It was rejected by everyone. I entered it in contests, and I queried agents. I sent it to small presses. Nothing. The silence was deafening.
Once, after a long while, I received a well-meaning letter, good writing but…too experimental.
Still I had some happy news: the first of two poetry chapbooks was published & it was a thrill to see some of my favorite poems published in one book: Gas & Food, No Lodging.
After another long while, I shelved the Atlas manuscript – it went into the desk drawer. I returned to another novel, one I was six weeks shy of finishing when my house was raided, at gunpoint, in May 2010 (for more information, see joylaskarstory.com). I re-read both Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours – the novel I was returning would be a satirical, ethnic retelling of Mrs. Dalloway.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving of last year, 2017, I attended the reading of a good friend whose creative non-fiction book was released to well-deserved acclaim. There, I met a supportive acquaintance who knew I’d been working on Atlas the previous year. “How’s your book?”
“Sitting in my desk drawer,” I’d said, trying to keep my tone light, and trying hard not let the bewilderment and frustration creep in. “It’s finished but no one wants it.”
“I’d love to read it,” my friend said, “But I can’t promise you anything.”
“I’ll send it,” I said. When I got home that night, I tried to print it out for her but my printer was broken. I found a way and I mailed off the hard copy the next day.
“Fingers crossed,” one of my kids said, and I remember that I shrugged in response.
At that point, the legal situation surrounding my husband had been over for one year, a state judge in Georgia dismissed all charges, but the people who had instigated our trouble had refused to apologize, and to this date, have refused to return most of our belongings. Including my laptop.
Thanksgiving 2017 and Christmas flew by without a word from this friend. But some happy news: my second poetry chapbook was published: Anastasia Maps.
Around New Years Eve, my friend sent a cryptic email, saying she loved the book and wanted to share it.
Another eleven days crept by and I heard from her again, that the manuscript had been passed around and was now under consideration at Counterpoint Press. She said the editors wanted an electronic version of the book, not a hard copy. At the time, I, the workshop junkie, was in Mexico at a writing conference without my computer. I racked my brain, remembered the copy store I’d used when my printer was dead. Then, once my file had been retrieved, I sent an electronic version.
Another ten days, and I’d just returned from Mexico. It was the first anniversary of the new administration, and my outlook was particularly bleak. An email appeared in my inbox. The editors wanted my bio and any relevant context to my manuscript and my writing life. I must say that I started laughing – the past six and a half years of struggle had to be reduced to a couple of paragraphs. My training as a reporter came in handy as I whittled down my life to a less than a page. I called a friend to read aloud my paragraphs, but could not finish without breaking into laughter.
I sent off the letter.
Three long days later, a thoughtful, kind editor from Counterpoint Press called to speak to me about the novel. She understood what I was trying to write and she understood my choices in language and form. I was giddy with relief. That evening I received word I had the weekend to find a literary agent, that an offer would come the following Monday. Once again, laughter. This time it dissolved in to tears.
I wished aloud for kind representation. Through what I can only describe as iridescent magic, my writing community came together in a few hours, and introduced me to a literary agent who has been a perfect match, and just as wonderful as my team at Counterpoint. And now, a mere seven months later, I hold the galleys in my hand, still in disbelief. The lesson from this tale is to keep writing, no matter what. To keep believing. And, if someone asks to read your words, don’t be shy.
My “Classic” book recommendation: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.