I was really stumped about how to start this blog — does this happen to everyone, I wonder, the first time out? — when a friend appended the following quote, from Rilke, to an e-mail greeting: “Welcome to the New Year, full of things that have never been.”
Seeing as I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve (it’s a wild life I lead, huh?) and just three hours before we turn the page into 2013, it seems as good a way as any to get rolling. In the distance, I can hear fireworks going off over the beach, and there’s a big party going on at the house across the street. Town cars are picking up and dropping off droves of young women in black cocktail dresses, accompanied by loud guys still holding drinks in their hands. Somebody is blaring one of those annoying air horns. (Where’s your BB gun when you need it?)
Me, I’ve just come in from giving the dog her last walk of 2012, and now she’s curled up in the knee hole of my desk. A black lab named Becky, she can become almost invisible when she closes her eyes and goes to sleep in a dark corner or under a piece of furniture. More than once, I have inadvertently stepped on the poor thing’s tail, though she appears to hold no grudge.
Last year was a mixed bag, but then, what year isn’t, for everyone? For now, I’m looking forward to the publication of my next book, The Romanov Cross, in a few months. Waiting for your book to come out is an interesting time for any writer. You’ve read the thing over so many times it barely makes sense to you anymore, you’ve combed over the galleys for typos, you’ve studied the cover proofs and offered the publisher your suggestions (most of which have been politely ignored), and now all you can really do is wait for the bound books to arrive on your doorstep.
Oh, and read the industry reviews, if you dare.
So far, for this book they’ve been good. Which comes, more than anything, as an enormous relief. For me, and most authors, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus are like Scylla and Charybdis — twin dangers that you have to sail your little boat between without getting sunk, and now — phew — I have successfully navigated that narrow channel. In March, the book will be launched into the open seas, and then, of course, it’s all up to the public.
And isn’t that an odd thing about this enterprise? Writing a book is the most intensely private task I can imagine — you’re holed up in your room, with just your thoughts, your characters, your words, for months, or even years, on end, and then — boom! — you’re thrust out into the public eye, begging for attention, and at the mercy of every opinionated reader on the planet. It’s like that moment in To Kill A Mockingbird, when the recluse Boo Radley is suddenly revealed behind the bedroom door after saving Scout’s life.
But that’s the nature of the beast, and I can’t complain since I’ve been lucky enough to keep doing this for many years now, even as the publishing world has shifted ground and been tilted on its axis by wave after wave of change. To be honest, I’m one of those guys who can remember a time — should I admit this? — when the IBM Selectric, with its revolving ball, was state-of-the-art technology. As for 2013, who knows what “things that have never been,” to borrow Rilke’s words, will show up? Maybe the Kindle and iPad will be replaced by an implant that allows books to be beamed directly into your cranium. (But what, I wonder, would that do to the traditional royalty structure? And if you went swimming, would the book get waterlogged?)
Plenty of time to worry about that later.
For now, Happy New Year.