Book Lovers

Yesterday I spent the day at the ALA Midwinter meeting.  Early in the morning I had breakfast with booksellers.   We met at the U.S. Grant Hotel, and the conversation flowed instantly.  Put book lovers and coffee together and off we go.  We  talked about The Silver Boat, and I was thrilled to hear they plan to recommend it for book clubs.  I love and am honored to know that readers discuss my novels, using my stories to reflect on issues in their own lives.  No Woman is an Island; that's my motto.

Publication of The Silver Boat, once seeming forever-off, is just around the corner in April.  It was wonderful to convene with such great book people. Tom Benton of Penguin (a recipient of Publisher Weekly's Sales Rep of the Year award) organized the breakfast, where nourishment came much more from the booksellers' warmth and love of books and my appreciation and love of booksellers than the (absolutely delicious) muffins.

Heading to the Convention Center, I was greeted by the elegant, kind, and incredibly delightful Dominique Jenkins, whom I absolutely adore, and who did so much to ease my day and welcome readers to my booth signing.  She stayed so vigilant on my behalf, waiting to hear from a friend trying to park outside, guiding her (a Facebook friend turned actual friend) Machel Penn Schull, through the maze of displays so we could finally meet.  Machel is a talented, dear-hearted, compassionate friend and writer.  

The Penguin booth was a haven where along with Dominique, I got to hang out with Howard Wall, instant best-friend since the Penguin 75th anniversary party at Vroman's and the Keeper (librarian in his own right) of Penguin History; Alan Walker (rock star when not overseeing major events such as ALA...humble rock star at that; it took my mentioning guitar lessons for him to tell me just a little of his music life.  The man and his band have played everywhere,) and the luminous, efficient, and visionary Tanya, with whom I enjoyed deep conversation between signing copies.  Publishing people are angels, pure and simple.

Many visitors to the booth commented that it was great to know that I'm back at Viking, working with Pam Dorman.  Over and over I heard how wonderful Pam is (it's so true,) and people who know our history together remarked that Pam knows me so well, and is doing such an amazing job publishing The Silver Boat. I couldn't agree more.

Hildy Barger, one of the first people in line, told me I was her favorite writer, completely making my day and causing me to hand Dominique my camera and ask her to take Hildy's and my picture.

The librarians!  Many stopped by to talk about and pick up signed advance-reading copies of The Silver Boat.  They were so kind and enthusiastic, and I thank them all.  Two have inaugurated what I believe to be The Silver Boat's first official Book Club selection.

Here we are, Robin Hoklotubbe of the County of San Bernardino Library and her friend Carole Macias.  They belong to the Girlfriend Book Club in Corona, CA, and I'm so excited to know they've chosen my novel to discuss.

Another librarian told me she has sisters and is going through something similar to the sisters in The Silver Boat, having to do with the death of their mother and the sudden reality of being left with her house, a place where they'd all gathered and been happy, spent holidays together, and now what?  Having gone through that situation in my own life, I've drawn on it in fiction.

I was happy to meet Meredith Myers of, whose business card reads, "So a comedian walks into a library and decides to work there."She wore the cutest hat.  She's not your grandmother's librarian, but then again, who is?  Librarians are hot.  That's the truth.

At one point I was interviewed and asked who my current favorite librarian is.  Very difficult question.  But Amy Rhilinger of the Attleboro (MA) Public Library is up at the top of the list.  Amy uses her art and creativity to enhance the reading experience; recently she instituted a poetry program for middle schoolers, and any librarian who gets an eighth-grader into W.B. Yeats, Mary Oliver, Charles Bukowski, fringe poets, romantic poets, haiku poets, activist poets, any poets-- is great by me.

The Gala Author Tea, (sponsored by ALTAFF) was enchanting, literary, and so important: encouraging love, use, and support of libraries.  I shared a panel with Conor Grennan (Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal); Paula McLain (The Paris Wife); Richard Louv (The Nature Principle.)  We were welcomed by Marilyn Johnson, (This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.)

The writers' presentations were varied and incredibly interesting, and I feel so lucky to have signed books from all.  Susan Schmidt, Division Councilor of ALTAFF, gave me perhaps the most wonderful introduction I've ever had.  Thank you, Susan, for seeing me that way...

After the tea, it was great to speak with Carol Fitzgerald.  Founder and president of, among other sites, Carol gives so much time, wisdom, and support to writers and readers, bringing us together.  She is dynamic and wonderfully warm, and I only wish we'd had more time to spend together.

P.S. I love our surprise visitor in the photo, but she was on her way before I could get her name.  Hi!  I love you.

Life of a Book

The Silver Boat feels very alive to me.  It's only October, and the novel won't come out until April 2011, but already it's making its way in the world. I'm always amazed at the secret, labyrinthine, enchanted life of a novel, and I thought maybe you would be, too.  First it has to be written.  That in itself is pure magic and spirit.  The initial idea lodges in my heart, I live with it for some time, and soon I find yourself looking for a pen, jotting down the first lines, the character's name, a vision of where she lives, what she sees.  Or maybe the idea is big and fully formed enough for me to go straight to the computer, open a new file, and let the story flow.

Living with the novel, listening to the characters, is more privilege and joy than work.  To wake up every morning, hit the desk and start up where I'd left off the night before, let my characters lead me deeper, is the best.  I'm never happier than when writing.

When I've written the last page, reread the draft, feel it's time to let it go, I send the manuscript to my agent and my publisher.  For many years, since my first novel, I've incorporated talismanic elements into the submission; I almost always find a card, or a postcard, that somehow illustrates the essence of my new novel.  I still remember the one I used for Crazy in Love: Winslow Homer's Summer Night, a painting of a couple dancing in moonlight on the beach.

The postcard I included with the manuscript Secrets of Paris, was a photograph of a woman writing at a Paris cafe, and actually inspired Viking to use it as the book cover.

Talismanic postcard or not, There are some tense days, waiting for a reaction.  When it comes, if it's good, I'm thrilled and ready to dig into the next phase--revision.  The first draft is a gift, and revision is really work.

Finally the novel is finished, accepted, and a new round of fun begins.  Cover sketches, proofs, choices.  Pam, my editor, had a very clear idea for The Silver Boat's cover; I remember sitting in her office when she showed it to me.  I loved its simple beauty, luminosity, and the way it drew me in to the novel.

Now the ARCs (advance reading copies) are finished, being sent into the world.  Publishing industry people will read it.  Peggy, the agent in charge of foreign rights, went to the Frankfurt Book Fair, and showed the cover to foreign publishers, and reported back that they loved it.

Tonight I'll have dinner with a woman from LA who will help publicize the novel.  I love all these moments, pre-publication, because I see how each one helps the book come to life.  Books are like the Velveteen Rabbit--they have to be read and loved for them to truly be alive.

I have a shelf of much-read and greatly-loved books--my own private Velveteen Rabbits.  Actually, The Velveteen Rabbit is one.  Honor Moore's The White Blackbird, Alice Hoffman's The Story Sisters, J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Laurie Colwin's Happy All the Time, Ann Hood's The Red Thread, Joe Monninger's Eternal on the Water, Katherine Mosby's Twilight (published way before the other Twilight,) Rumor Godden's Little Plum, Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague, James Joyce's Dubliners, Sylvia Plath's Letters Home, Gretel Ehrlich's The Solace of Open Spaces, Pam Houston's Cowboys are my Weakness, Braided Creek by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser,  and so many more: I've read and read them, loved them all, in some cases until they're threadbare.

April seems a long ways away, but I know it will come fast.  Actual publication is something else again--exciting, satisfying, and I never tire of walking into a bookstore and seeing my novel on the shelf.  But by then I'm usually deeply into a new novel, with a group of new characters, and a whole new life is underway.  Another book, another life.