My First Year as a Novelist

One year ago today, on March 1, 2016, my debut novel Oil and Marble was officially released.

What a year: My husband and I have been living on the road. We went on a book tour that even took us to Europe. There was that review in The New York Times, landing on bestseller lists (including the Los Angeles Times) and being named one of Hudson Booksellers best books of 2016. I’ve seen my novel translated into Spanish and Slovak with other languages to be announced soon. It’s out in ebook and audible. And it’s not over yet. It’s still selling well, and I continue to work hard every day to make sure new people hear about it. Yes, it’s still in hardcover, and no, I don’t know when the paperback is coming out (I don’t make those decisions; my publisher does). And yes, I have some very smart, talented people working hard to make the movie. I will tell you about that when the time comes…

It all still feels so new… I’d dreamed of being a novelist for nearly 40 years before I finally achieved it, so it’s still strange to find the moment has actually arrived.

My favorite part of this whole journey is that Oil and Marble is now a THING sitting on the shelf, staring back at me, this physical manifestation of my childhood fantasy… And no matter what else happens in this lifetime, no one can take that THING away from me. I look at it every day. A year later, that still feels amazing.

I’ve also been grateful to receive good reviews. Reviews are key to selling any novel — certainly a debut — and I appreciate every single reader who takes the time to review my novel in a newspaper, a blog, or a review site like Amazon or Goodreads. Yes, there have been some bad reviews — which sometimes make me cringe, sometimes make me laugh, sometimes make me wrinkle my nose and pull the covers over my head — but the vast majority have been good. Which is amazing… And you know what else?

TERRIFYING.

Those great reviews gave me an unexpected bout of self-doubt. (I’ve never had writers’ block, but for a moment in there, I was suddenly second-guessing and rewriting more than usual…) I was surprised by how much that positive feedback haunted me. I feared not writing anything good again. Readers tell me they can’t wait to read my next novel. That’s great!… but those are expectations. What if I don’t reach them? What if the next one’s not as good? What if readers want something different? What if they want more of the SAME? What if, what if, what if?

Finally, I learned to block out that noise, and once it was silenced, I locked myself in a room again, alone with my characters, and found a new story to love.

A year ago, I would’ve said that I was put on this planet to tell the story of Oil and Marble, and yet, today, I feel like Oil and Marble was just the practice round to prepare me for this next story. This is the story I am meant to tell. This is the story that has been living in my head the strongest, the longest… This protagonist, in its own way, has lived inside me longer than either of the main characters in Oil and Marble.

I guess that’s how it should be — or at least how I would hope it would be. Every new story should feel urgent and necessary. Every new book should be your life’s purpose. How else could you ever do something as long, tedious, frustrating, awful and beautiful as write a novel?

So, one year into being a novelist, that’s how I feel. Like the the beginning is beginning all over again, and I’m just here — once more — breaking apart a draft of a story that’s already been written four times over, and then sitting in a pile of index cards, putting those puzzle pieces back together again, so that this book can be better than the first. And I’ll repeat this cycle again and again, so that the third book can be better than the second, the fourth better than the third, and so on and so on until I’m 90 years old working to make the thirtieth book better than the twenty-ninth.

One year into being a novelist, I better get to writing.

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