This week on the Ball, we’re letting our wildest author fantasies run amok. By day we’re stressed-out, excitable writers who are trying to write our next book while selling our first book. We’re simultaneously afraid we’ll never write another book as good as our first and convinced our first is gutterslop nobody will buy. The Imposter Syndrome has its claws in deep, and we wonder if our book deals were just a giant brain fart on the part of our publishers and that everyone will regret the whole thing come launch day.
But at night? At night we burrow beneath our covers and ask, in the tiniest of voices…what if? What if our book is actually brilliant? What if The New York Times calls it “a stunning tour-de-force penned by the most transcendent new literary voice in a generation”? What if it sells 10 million copies, even more than ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE? What if it’s still on bookstore tables in 2018? In hardback? And gets made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Judi Dench? What if it wins all the awards — the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, the Pen-Hemingway, even the Oprah Seal of Approval? What if it’s so legendary, so instantly classic, that it’s taught in our grandchildren’s high school literature classes?
If you’re not a writer, I can think of only one analogy to help you understand what’s going on in our fragile, delusional minds. Imagine you’ve bought a lottery ticket, and the $100 million winner will be drawn the next day. Wouldn’t you, just for a moment, imagine what you’d do with the money? Even though you know the odds against winning are titanic? You probably would, because before the ticket is drawn you’ve got as much chance at the prize as anyone, and anything can happen. That’s us. In fact, that’s pretty much any debut author waiting for her launch date. During the day we hope for solid sales that will ensure our next book finds a publisher. At night we clutch our fairy tales to our bosoms and dream of becoming gods.
The only difference this week is that we’re doing some of our dreaming out loud. We’re talking about our fantasy readers, the ones we secretly hope will read our books and love them. So who are mine? They’re other writers, mostly. Writers whose work I have admired, and whose books I’ve looked to help hone my own craft. Writers like:
(1) Marilynne Robinson: I love her elegant, quiet prose and her flawed, striving characters. Not even in my most delusional dreams do I imagine I write half so well as she, but if she would read my book and say, “Not bad. Not bad at all,” I would need no other thing.
(2) Jane Smiley: She’s the goddess of intricately crafted Midwestern family sagas with themes that resonate for generations. I would like her to read THE LOST GIRLS and see in me a kindred spirit.
(3) Tana French: This twisty mistress of literary thrillers takes my breath away with her exquisite plotting. I would like to surprise her so much with the secret that lies at the center of my plot that she puts my book down and applauds.
(4) Annie Proulx: She paints fictional places that come to life as vividly as a poem. I would like her to read my book and say to the person next to her, “Wow, I feel like I’ve just gone to northern Minnesota.”
I could go on and on. But in my nighttime fantasies, these four writers read my book and recommend it to all their writer friends and colleagues and students, and soon every writer I’ve ever admired who isn’t currently dead is saying, “Have you read THE LOST GIRLS? My God, such genius!”
I know. It’s ludicrous. I feel kind of embarrassed even typing it out. But please don’t judge me, or any of us. After all, if we weren’t dreamers, we wouldn’t be writers in the first place.
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