How will I limit this post to a reasonable length? The list of authors I fangirl over is long. Really long. So I’m just going to start with those at the top and stop when I think you may have passed out from reading too much gushing.
You may remember, way back in September when our group took over this blog, that our very first guest author was Rene Denfeld, author of the award-winning The Enchanted and the bestseller The Child Finder. Her third novel, The Butterfly Girl, is set to come out later this year and I can’t wait for my preordered copy to come in!
I actually owe my connection to Rene to my mother. We have almost identical taste in books, as in most things, so when my mother tells me I have to read something, I listen. She said I would love both of Denfeld’s books, so I purchased The Enchanted to start with, and it blew me away. (By the way, if you’re into books that are heartbreaking and beautiful and create a strange magic out of the darkest corners of life, pick that one up immediately—you won’t regret it!) This was long before my book came out, long before I started doing this blog. I found Rene on Twitter and followed her, and to my surprise, she followed me back. This was my first inkling of the kind of open and generous person she is…and there was a lot more to come. Around eighteen months before my book was due out, we had started sending out blurb requests, but as we weren’t having much luck, I was asked if I could think of anyone else to approach for a second round. I’d interacted with Rene on Twitter many times by now, and since I couldn’t admire her writing more, I mentioned her as a possibility. I wrote her a letter about how much I had loved The Enchanted, and how I thought our books might have something in common—the desire to look for beauty and magic even under the worst of circumstances. I also admitted that the only reason I hadn’t yet read The Child Finder was because I wanted to save it (once I read that one, I would come to the end of her published fiction for the time being), and trusted that she’d understand what I meant.
It was during the summer when Rene messaged me on Twitter to tell me that she’d love to blurb my book. I remember it distinctly because I was visiting my mom and stepdad in Ontario, and I came in from their balcony pretty much screaming this news, and my mom screamed with me and we jumped up and down. This is only the second time in my life that I can remember literally jumping for joy (the first was when the Fulbright Foundation offered me their scholarship), and I have to say, I don’t think there can be anything more fangirly than jumping up and down because the writer whose work you love has written to say hey, your stuff is pretty good, too!
Rene Denfeld represents everything I could wish to be as a writer, and I never want to forget that. It’s not just about the quality of her work, although it is astounding. It’s the kind of person she is, how generous she is within the writing community, that I try to remember when I’m feeling less than. Rene gave me a wonderful blurb for my book, and she reviewed it for me as soon as it was up on Goodreads, and mentioned it from time to time in interviews. She is also a tireless advocate for prison reform and an incredible foster mother in addition to all her work as a writer. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to accomplish even a fraction of what she has, writing or otherwise, but looking up to her and aspiring to be more like her is one of the best parts of being a writer for me.
I’ll just briefly mention a couple of other ladies who make me swoon and I’ll leave it at that, since this has gotten so long already! First, Tayari Jones. Like many readers, I only came to this writer because her fourth book, An American Marriage, got so much attention, but going back to read her backlist is now high on my reading priorities for the summer! That book was just a gut punch. I loved it so much, and I don’t know that I’ve ever come across a finer example of epistolary writing in a novel. I ate it up. There is so much to learn from Jones, and again, this is not just because her fiction is so powerful—it’s because her journey wasn’t easy. I recently listened to an interview in which she reveals things about her history in publishing that I hadn’t realized, although I knew there were several books that came before the “breakout” An American Marriage. After her third book, Silver Sparrow, didn’t sell as well as expected, Jones was told she was a failure—that if she wanted to continue publishing, she should do so under a pseudonym. She refused because it was important to her to write under her real name, and she persisted, and the very next book she wrote was An American Marriage.
I think about this a lot. Persistence in publishing. I think what Tayari Jones went through must have been incredibly discouraging, to say the least. And I’m not one of those people who believes that “real” writers keep writing no matter what because we have to, because we’ll die if we stop or life will become meaningless if we stop, and so on and so forth. I don’t buy that, and I don’t think it’s fair to put that burden on creative people. If we keep going in the face of all the ups and downs and discouragement, it’s because we’re made of tough stuff, not because we have no choice. On the contrary, it is a choice, and we deserve all the credit for making it. Like any writer, I sometimes have bad days. If I’m being honest, I have a lot more of them now that I’m published than I used to before, because now I have to contend with how my book sells and how others react to it—it’s not just me and my words anymore. When I’m having a bad day, I think about writers like Jones and how they didn’t give up. How they never would have known such incredible success if they had given up. More importantly, how we would all be worse off for losing out on the beautiful books these authors insisted on writing.
This post has become very long, so I’ll just briefly mention one more brilliant person: Roxane Gay. I first came to Gay through her memoir Hunger. I’m always drawn to books about women and food, or women and our bodies, and how those things intersect. The word hunger encompasses so many desires that women are not supposed to have—for food, sex, power, success, respect. After reading this moving and incisive memoir, I became a fan for life. I read Bad Feminist next, and now I plan to check out her fiction in Ayiti. I’ve been stalking Roxane Gay on Twitter for a long time now, for her humor and political commentary. Unlike Rene Denfeld, she will probably never follow me back, but that’s okay. When we fangirl, we only expect it to go in one direction.