Another Year, Another Novel

This blog has seen a lot of me. More than that, it’s seen a lot of my work. Over the last four or five years, I’ve written hundreds of pages in the way of essays, poems, operas, spoken word albums, obituaries, short stories, and novels. Every line, every word has been a real piece of me, a real piece that I place in a basket and send down the river hoping that it will arrive to some distant shore. I’m never really sure what I hope to happen after that. I don’t have many expectations for my words (letting go of outcomes is a mental shift I’ve been trying to make for awhile, to varying degrees of success), save one: I hope they do good.

This might be an exercise in futility because what does “do good” even mean when it can mean so much? Make people feel less alone? Help a person feel seen? The whole matter of “good” is up for debate, and we’ll have to leave it at that for now. Now, I must tell you that, after eight months of quarantine living, I’ve completed the first draft of something that is, to me, quite good. I won’t say too much about it here other than it’s a warm bundle of literary fiction still in its infancy that’s headed out to a small host of beta readers today.

I am: Terrified. Exhilarated. Exhausted. Punch Drunk.

In eight months, I conceived an idea, gestated, then gave birth to a fully-fledged novel. After affixing the closing quotation mark on the final sentence, I stared at the screen. It was a little past ten in the evening, and nothing was different. As I do with all my novels, I noted the date and time, closed my eyes, and took a selfie. It’s not a good photo. The harsh light makes me look old (my smile lines are already cutting deep), and the left side of my face is covered with a rash courtesy of my allergy treatment. It’s not a good photo, but it is me. When I’m done, I turn off the computer and get into bed.

The next day, I meet with my therapist to tell her that I’m done. She cheers. I tell her that I don’t feel anything about the novel, even though I know it’s good. Writing a three-hundred-page book is just something I did. She tells me that it’s almost like I’m suffering post-partum. I’m not one of those mothers flooded with oxytocin after delivering a human infant, weeping in awe of nature’s beauty. No, I’m a “let’s get to know one another and see where it goes” kind of mother. I have a pragmatic approach and will do what is necessary to get the book edited and off to an agent. I will do these things because pragmatism is a way of love.

Bailey Merlin in a black and yellow shirt, black pants, and yellow earrings holding a white manuscript with the words "A LOT OF PEOPLE LIVE IN THIS HOUSE" on it.

My therapist also thinks it’s interesting that my throat was covered in hives. I spent our entire session rubbing away itches. Your throat chakra, she says, is on fire, and something is trying to break out. Maybe what I’m really allergic to is pride. But that’s not it; I’m proud of the book as it stands on its own. I’m not proud of myself and my ability, but I’m trying to be. After our session, I took a photo of myself cradling my manuscript like it’s a literal infant. There I am, the beaming mother, the proud parent. Because producing a project is a form of birth. It is painful, and it can break your heart. I wonder if Zeus suffered post-partum after ejecting a fully-formed Athena from his head.

Allow me to lay myself bare as I figure this pride thing out. True things about me that I think are special (and maybe that translates to pride, eventually):

  • Following through on the things I say I will finish
  • Being genuinely inspired by everyone I meet
  • Writing good dialogue

My therapist encourages me to read the book aloud to delight in passages and dialogue. When I do, I can’t deny that it’s funny and warm. The story is relatable. It is good. As it develops with each subsequent edit and reader, it will become the sort of thing you’d find in a bookstore. Today, beta readers. Tomorrow, with luck, the world.

bam

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