This morning I was thinking about the odyssey that this book became. We all know the way time marches onward, and I hadn’t really thought about how long the process had been. Sure, it’s been about six years since I finished the first version of this collection, but it’s been nearly eight years since I wrote the first story, “Like Swimming.”
It’s hard to put into words the mix of thoughts and emotions that come with an eight-year labor of blood, sweat, and tears coming to fruition. Hemingway referred to feeling empty after finishing a story. In a way I feel that now. There is a profound sadness involved and maybe that’s not uncommon.
Though I often refer to the book as my baby (it is barely older than my younger son), I don’t mean it in the way some people refer to their pets. I say it because my hopes for it are not unlike those I have for my sons. I want them to grow up and be healthy, happy, and successful (by their own standards). Books can’t necessarily be healthy or happy, but we inevitably hope for their success.
In general, I don’t take compliments well. They make me feel squirmy. I’m a hopeless neurotic who has a hard time accepting anything I do as being “good” or “successful.”
That’s where this book is different. I feel it is good. I feel I have done my very best. So more than anything I’ve written before I want people to read this book, to notice it, to affirm that I have written something worthwhile. These are feelings that are nauseating, too. Who wants to want to be liked? Or admit to it?
There was a time when I thought this book was the one that would end up “making a splash,” that would somehow elevate me as a writer. That sounds egotistical as all hell. Now I’m seasoned enough to know just how hard it is to make a splash, to be elevated, for a book to be noticed. Especially for indie writers and publishers who have to hustle until they have no hustle left and then hustle some more.
Over the years that this book cycled through the hands of agents and editors I was asked several times to link the stories, to turn it into a novel. How I would possibly turn twenty-four separate stories into a single coherent novel is beyond me. I insisted it was a story collection and would stay that way. I believed in it for what it was, for what I had put into it as a writer. And I was equally aware that some of the stories had changed me as a person a bit, too.
So, here we are. Almost eight years since I wrote a story in my MFA that turned into five stories, then twelve, eighteen, and finally twenty-four. It’s everything I ever wanted to write and, in a way, everything I ever wanted anyone to understand. About me, my writing, and my connection to my first and true home, Alaska.
Is the hard part done? It certainly felt hard writing and crafting the stories, but it feels hard now, too. If nothing else, I hope that’s reflected in the work. That if you read it, you’ll be able to tell.