It is with great pleasure that I introduce the 2008 Debutante season’s final guest author, Kate Veitch. Kate and I met recently at Books Inc in San Francisco where I read from Falling Under, she read from Without A Backward Glance, we held a Q&A and then hung out afterward with some friends and fellow debs. I loved Without A Backward Glance–it is deep and powerful with vivid, complex characters and beautifully nuanced writing. In addition, Kate is a great reader, a lovely, intelligent woman and Serious Fun. (she’d better come to the Deb Utopia of my Thursday post!)
I am posting her official bio below the post, but let’s get to Kate herself…
Let me begin with a grateful curtsey, for I’m honored to be Guest Deb-in-the-Middle at this wonderful Ball, at such a significant moment. Liminal Deb, that’s how I think of myself, standing in the doorway watching one lot of lovelies leave the dance floor, nursing blisters and a wealth of stories, as a new group sashays forth, tiaras sparkling. “What a year you’ve had!” I murmur to the debs departing, “And what a year you’re about to have!” to those just stepping forward.
I should know. I’ve been a deb myself — twice! My recent deb experience in North America has been so very different to that in my native Australia as to be like a first time. (And I thought you could never be a virgin again!) At home, everything that is not meant to happen with a debut novel, happened — the manuscript scooped promptly from an agent’s slush pile, snapped up by a big publisher, featured book in Australia’s biggest women’s magazine, reviews and interviews up the wahzoo. It was unbelievable. The day I opened the weekend paper in my hometown of Melbourne and saw my book, LISTEN, on the bestseller list, I was so startled I literally fell off the sofa. Then, that thrilling news: an American publisher. Oh boy oh boy!
And now, ladies and gentlemen, having debuted for the second time — same book, different title: WITHOUT A BACKWARD GLANCE — I know what the more usual first-time author experience is like. Here, I’m just a teeny little fish in a very, very big pond. Australia’s population is one-fifteenth that of America’s, and the flood of new books released in the US is relentless. I went into the Barnes and Noble store on Union Square in New York City, rode the escalators up through floor after floor of books to find my little offering tucked away in the deepest recesses of the fiction maze, and felt discouraged almost to the point of tears. Why in the world would anyone choose to buy and read my book, I asked myself, when it had received no media attention, and another couple of thousand titles are pouring onto the shelves each week?
In late July I went on tour, feeling like a hatchling turtle scuttling down the beach toward an unimaginably vast and unknown ocean. My lowest point: the reading at an out-of-the-way bookstore in Austin Texas attended by just one person, a gal I’d met at a bar the night before. (Donna, my lone star — thank you!) The high: sharing a reading in San Francisco with Deb Danielle, with Debs Jess, Lisa and Jenny and a goodly show of other folks there too, cheering us on. You could truly say we had a ball! And over after-drinks we moaned luxuriantly about publishers, publicists, book covers, media, and anything else that came to mind. Just like new mothers; it was so good to talk honestly to other women, all going through the same exhilarating, anxiety-inducing, often painful experience.
My epiphany came a few days later, after a reading at the fabled Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. A couple attended whom I’d met for ten minutes in Bali, months before, and as we talked (yes, again over drinks: reading from your novel is thirsty work!) they told me why they’d hired a babysitter for the evening, even though their son is sixteen: he has severe cerebral palsy. As they told me, with love and calm dignity, about how their son’s condition has changed their lives, I felt all my anxiety about my foundering literary debut just melt away. So my book wasn’t going to be the hit in the US that it had been in Australia — so what? Look at how lucky I am, to have achieved something once only dreamed of. Enjoy! Smell the roses!
For the rest of the tour I felt touched by grace. I met wonderful people, and had a marvelous time. In Portland, Ann Patchett, whose droll and incredibly timely article about the trials of book tour in August’s Atlantic Monthly had given me heart, read the night before me at the great Powells bookstore and — imagine this! — I got to sign their Visiting Authors book on the page opposite her. Then, just before I got on the train to Seattle, I received an email from my agent in New York. She’d just had a call from my publisher to say how thrilled they were with the sales of WITHOUT A BACKWARD GLANCE. 30,000 copies shipped! 3,000 in the previous week alone! In its third printing! My jaw fell open and stayed that way. I had to read that email 47 times before I believed it. And then I started to get reviews — good reviews! Here, you can read them for yourself, on the MEDIA page: www.kateveitch.com
So, what have I learned from my North American debut? That, like that little turtle scuttling for the ocean, we owe it to our creativity, our art, our writing, our lives, to give it everything we possibly can. Why be half-hearted? There’s a lot of hungry fish out there: swim like mad! And what advice might I give all you dear and beautiful and talented Debs, both those passing their tiaras on and those about to step onto the floor? Simply, to remember always how lucky we are to be at this wonderful Ball. A curtsey to the orchestra, to the chaperones, to our fellow dancers and to those who are so kind as to applaud our efforts, for we’re all in this together.
Thank you for inviting me. And may your dance card always be full!
Kate Veitch was born in Adelaide in the mid-1950s and left home and school early, eager for color and movement. Her work over the years includes writing articles and reviews for the Sydney Morning Herald and Vogue, collaborating with other mothers on Feeling Our Way, a book about becoming parents, and producing a series on women writers, Their Brilliant Careers, for Radio National. She lives part-time in Manhattan and part-time in Melbourne, while she and her partner build a home for themselves in northern New South Wales. Without a Backward Glance is her first novel. To read more about Kate, go to www.kateveitch.com.