So, maybe you’ve heard it said that writing a book is like giving birth, and publishing it is like sending one’s child out into the world.
I have said that, and so have scores of others (although this one disagrees and makes some excellent points while she’s at it). The comparison works less for the degree of love and/or difficulty (parenting is fundamentally more in both regards) than it is the sense of personal investment, I think. To write something well is to labor over it in thought and deed for what is likely a Very Long Time. To make a story believable is to have drawn, again and again, from one’s personal understanding and experience. And although the result is not necessarily memoir, autobiography, or even that personal experience (I can, off the top of my head, point to perhaps three moments in Healing Maddie Brees that actually reside in my living memory), the finished book is naturally an extension of its author.
Not quite one’s heart walking around outside one’s body–as they say of children–but close.
And so, like parenting, having a novel out in the world requires a thick skin and the educated understanding that one’s book is not for everyone. Not everyone likes literary fiction, for example. Some read less for thought-provocation and more for entertainment, distraction, relief. Some people don’t like description, can’t work with metaphor, like their tales neatly told.
And this is Fine. The world needs all kinds of books. And all kinds of readers.
I don’t expect everyone who reads her to like Maddie. I don’t expect everyone I see to have read her. I never want to be the author that people duck and run from because they haven’t read or don’t like my book.
Most of the time I am not thinking about Maddie these days anyway. This is due, in part, to the satisfaction of having finished with the book: it’s done. The ideas that compelled me and overtook my brain are quieted now, perhaps like so much labor pain. And it’s due, in part, to work on a different project, a new book that will be finished soon and out in the world shortly thereafter and that necessarily occupies much of the mental space that used to belong to Maddie (details soon).
Still, it is lovely when people mention her to me, ask me how she’s faring in the world, express interest in or appreciation of the book. That is very kind. I love the novel and am exceedingly proud of her. And I still have great hope that more people will discover all she has to offer.
Recently Maddie has had some rather excellent attention: the novel was considered for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award, a top literary prize for small, academic, and independent presses.
My publisher nominated the book; being new (still) to the world of publishing, I have little to no idea about prizes until my publishers teach me–which they do. So in early May I learned that not only had Healing Maddie Brees been nominated for the Hoffer Award, but that she was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, an award within the Hoffer prize that honors the most thought-provoking books.
Then came Friday’s news. The final awards were out, and my Maddie had done very well, indeed. The book was a finalist for both the Grand Prize and the Montaigne Medal, and she earned an honorable mention in the fiction category for the Grand Prize.
Here’s what they had to say about the book:
This tale of physical and spiritual healing unfolds as a combination of current struggle and meaningful back story. The novel relates the tough process of recovery from cancer, misbelief in God, disbelief in God, alienation in marriage, and doubt. Perhaps the biggest battle faced by Maddie Brees is the need to be healed from a perverse self-centeredness. The superb writing conveys present and past with compelling images, beautiful words, and a lovely and relentless pace, even while skillfully confronting questions that belong in a theology class. The result is a story of wonderful characters who act so human in overcoming the pitfalls of life, love, and belief without the blatant miracle.
I have duly formed a thick skin. I know that not everyone will like my book. And from time to frequent time, I am struck anew with insecurity: maybe the book isn’t as good as I hoped, as I thought. Maybe what I have for this book is that blanketing mother-love that sees beauties no one else can see. And would anything be wrong with that?
No. The creator loves what she creates. It is enough to do one’s best.
But when, from time to time, I discover someone who sees and understands Maddie, who appreciates the struggle and beauty I tried so hard and for so long to tuck into those pages, well.
I think it’s fair to say that it’s similar to–though not quite the same–as witnessing one’s grown child thriving out there in the world.
(That’s my girl!)
And I’m grateful.