Monday, May 31, 2010
I've always thought of writing as an addiction, and I'm not sure you really have to believe in yourself to sell a book. You just have to be obsessed. This theory hit home with my recent sale. A few people have said, "You believed in the book. You believed in the story and yourself." No, I didn't. I didn't believe in it at all, but I was obsessed with telling it anyway. And later, I just needed to follow the thread to the end and have definitive proof that this was a story no publishing house would want so that I could just move on.
Years ago I knew a guy named Willy Dixon. He and his wife are long dead, so they won't be reading this. But Willy spent about twenty years working on a memoir. It was horrendous stuff, and he sent pages to me and he sent pages to the little rural community paper. And people, being what they are, would sit around and read his stories out loud and laugh. Over the years, I gave Willy advice, but he wouldn't listen to any of it. He just wrote and wrote and wrote. He was obsessed. And while I was writing The Orchard, I kept thinking: This is my Willy Dixon book.
When I sent it to my agent of twenty years, he sadly said it was nothing and couldn't rep it. Another male agent read forty pages and came to the same conclusion. I put the material away for a year, but I couldn't quit thinking about it. I began to wonder if the story didn't appeal to men. If men simply wouldn't respond to it. And at that point I decided it needed to be read by female agents. They would tell me the same thing, and I could move on and put the material away once and for all. But of course that didn't happen. Three publishers were interested, and my sense that this was a book for women proved to be right. I think it's a book for single women and childless women and mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and grandmothers. I think women connect to the earth and the soil in ways that men don't. Not that men care less than women -- God, no! We just connect in a different way.
Sorry to talk about this again, but I keep replaying pieces of the last three years, analyzing, trying to figure out what key elements led to this particular place, and I think it comes down to obsession. I always have to finish what I start, and I couldn't let it go long after I quit believing in it.