Delivering Hannah

Hannah DeliveredI don’t understand how anyone, myself included, can create a dynamic story. Stories have a life all their own—their own wisdom, their own flaws, their own power. Today is launch day for Hannah, Delivered, and to celebrate I want to kneel down before the mystery that is story.

As you can imagine, I’ve been riding an emotional rollercoaster as I prepare to put a decade’s worth of effort into the public eye. One reader weeps, she’s so moved by the novel, and I’m elated. Another reader is furious about a mistake in the book, and I feel miserable. And so it goes, up and down, until I’m driving my family berserk.

When I’m having labor pains like this, my partner Emily sometimes asks me, “What would Hannah do?” The question makes me laugh, but it’s right on. Really she’s saying, “Consult something other than your mercurial feelings. What does the story say?” (more…)

Going Virtual, Staying Real

origin_2435823037In case you’re wondering, I’m writing this (at least the first draft) by hand, in a spiral notebook with a fountain pen. My laptop makes a great lap desk. I like the new paper against the back of my hand and the ink easing from my pen tip. Writing can be a calming, sensory delight.

These days I’m spending more of my day than ever before on the computer—on the internet, even, where privacy doesn’t exist and stimulation is the rule. (more…)

Author / Authority

large_4485740950What gives YOU the authority to write?  Not a nice question, but it’s certainly one writers ask ourselves.  I’m asking it afresh as Hannah, Delivered heads to the book stores next month.  Was I deluded to think this novel belongs in the world?  Surely I’ll be found out to be a fraud!

I’ve yet to work with a writer who doesn’t question his or her right to tell a story, or to devote tremendous time revising it, or to launch it into the world.  A colleague of mine wrote a gorgeous memoir which her agent had difficulty selling.  At long last she got bids from two different publishing houses.  Later she told me how relieved she was.  “If I’d only gotten one offer, I’d have thought they made a mistake.”  I found my colleague’s comment deeply disturbing, but indicative of the strange mental games writers play with ourselves to convince ourselves we really do have authority.  One pat on the back’s not enough, but two?  You’re in! (more…)

Penny Friend

penniesAnnie, my neighbor one block over, bends down to the curved rut running the length of the alley and scrapes a penny out of the sand. She brushes its scratched surface against her blue-jeans, then presses it into my palm. “You’re the lucky one today,” she says.

I slip the rough penny into my pants’ pocket, laughing at our odd ritual. It’s not strange that Annie bothers to pick up a penny; she is Buddhist and a poet, a woman who treasures details and is as frugal with resources as she is with words. Even one cent, tarnished and of little value, gains significance by our attention. (more…)

The Story about the Story Revisited

large__11336221185I’m in the marketing trenches now, preparing to launch Hannah, which means, strangely, that I’m reading books like Seth Godin’s All Marketers are Liars and I now actually know what The Long Tail is.  The majority of writers reading this will probably think, “Marketing?!  I’m not there yet.  I’m still in the private stages of writing.”  You’re absolutely right to protect your tender, beloved process.  I’m with Rilke when he told the young poet:

“You ask whether your verses are good… You send them to magazines.  You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts.  Now…I beg you to give up all that.  You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now.  Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody.  There is only one single way.  Go into yourself.  Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.”  –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What has surprised me about marketing a book this time around is how often I’ve had to “go into myself” and “search the reason that bids me write” as a key part of an effective book launch.

Here’s one example.  Seth Godin says you need to wrap a story around your product; you need to sell the story.  When I launched On the Threshold, I did what publishers have always done:  I said to the world, “Here’s a collection of essays about the spiritual dimensions of making a house a home.”  I described the story.  Now I know I must create a story about the story for potential readers.  (You can see my story for Hannah below.)  Just summarizing the product isn’t effective.  So I had to “go into myself”, back to that quiet space of deep listening.  I had to identify the book’s heartbeat—it’s life force, which is also, in part, my own.  Then I had to articulate it in a way (hopefully) links it to others’ hearts.

Here’s another interesting example, again from Godin:

“If a consumer figures something out or discovers it on her own, she’s a thousand times more likely to believe it than if it’s just something you claim. … But then you have to tell a story, not give a lecture.  You have to hint at the facts, not announce them.  … The process of discovery is more powerful than being told the right answer—because of course there is no right answer, and because even if there were, the consumer wouldn’t believe you!”  –Seth Godin, All Marketers are Liars

Doesn’t this sound like the creative writing advice, “Show, don’t tell”?  And anyone with experience showing knows that it’s a process packed with surprise for the writer.  So the writer’s surprise—and personal growth—continues beyond the bounds of the book into the terrain of marketing.

I’m beginning to believe that effective outreach, be it commercial or humanitarian, begins in the heart and lands in another heart.  So the quiet, soul-searching work that happens while we draft and revise a work isn’t over when the book hits the stores.  It can continue, if we’re willing.

photo credit: Thomas Geiregger via photopin cc