As readers of any of my blogs may have gathered by now, letter-writing is one of my favorite ways to process things. I write letters to people that I never intend to send; I write letters to myself as though they’re from other people I feel a need to hear from; I write letters to people who don’t exist… and letters to myself from people who don’t exist! I’ve mentioned before that in a moment of despair, after a painful rejection, I wrote a letter to myself from my favorite character in By Light of Hidden Candles.
It wasn’t the first time “he” had written to me, though.
Just a couple weeks before, in a moment of frustration, I found myself writing a letter to the two main characters of the modern narrative in the book.
Dear Alma and Manuel,
I want to tell you a little bit about what’s going through my head these days about the publishing of your story.
I’ve noticed that when I get three or more rejections in quick succession I tend to sink into a sense of hopelessness for a while, but I do think that this time is different. I’m starting to think differently about what it means to publish a book and what is the best way to go about bringing your story to the world.
First of all, it could just be “stagnation”, but I am feeling less and less confident about, say, the opening third of the book. I feel like it doesn’t have the pacing and draw of the later portions of the book. With all due respect, Alma, the scenes with your grandmother at the beginning just have less draw than Manuel’s perspective. There’s just so much more going on there, much more of a struggle, tension with his mom, tension with you, tension with religion, etc. But I can’t figure out what to cut.
I need a good editor. Someone who can help me see the weaknesses of the book and help guide me in figuring out how to improve it.
There are only two ways to get a good editor: pitch your book to one (or have your agent pitch it for you), or hire one.
I’ve been thinking more about self-publishing and it’s looking more and more appealing. There are basically two reasons why not at this point: the financial factor, and the dreaded promotion thing.
But the thing is… I don’t know how it is at big fancy publishing houses, but at least at the smaller ones, the author is still required to do a lot of the promotion. And if so, why not do it on my own terms instead of part of a contract?
My brother-in-law is launching this self-publishing platform in May, and maybe I should start thinking about using it.
Another option I’ve thought of is to turn my blog into a book like my father-in-law has been encouraging me, and sell that using that platform, just to learn the ropes.
In any case, I just want you to know that I’m not giving up on you, even if I do decide to put this project aside for a while to think about what else I might want to do.
I miss you guys and wish there were sequel potential because I would love to write about you forever. 😀 Tell me a little about what you’re up to these days.
Lots of love,
Your author, Daniella
(For the record: I found a solution for the first third of the book and it’s much tighter now; my brother-in-law’s company, Pronoun, went on to be acquired by Macmillan; and, of course, I did indeed go ahead and self-publish Letters to Josep a year later.)
And Manuel, bless his imaginary heart, wrote back.
My dear Daniella,
I want you to know that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you do with our story. The fact that you wrote it down and gave us life is more than enough.
In any case, whatever you decide to do, we send you our blessings and our prayers.
Well I am glad that my suffering has produced what you find a most compelling literary composition. *eyeroll*
[Spoilers. If you’ve read the book and want to know what he said here about what he’s up to these days, write to me and I’ll send you his answer!]
Anyway. Hope all is well with you. You aren’t still in touch with that infuriating Catalan, are you? He never answers my e-mails.
(To all infuriating Catalans whom it may concern: I take no responsibility for the allegations of my imaginary friends, and I have no comment about them at this time. 😛 )
A few weeks later, I received that infamous full manuscript rejection that had me crying my eyes out at 2am. Below is the full email “Manuel” wrote me the following day.
Okay, first off, Alma wants me to write the following: “Who the hell is this [agent] person to say that my story isn’t compelling?! It falls flat? I’ll compel her to fall flat!”
Seriously, Daniella, I don’t care what that lady says, there is so much more going on in our story than “explaining things to each other,” okay? For one thing, there is very little “explaining” about Christianity, and I would say the “explanations” about Judaism take up a relatively small part of the story. There is discussion of it, but it’s all in the context of deeper things going on–our developing feelings for each other, my own inner conflict with Christianity vs. Judaism. My conversation with Rabbi Uri was “explaining” about an aspect of Judaism for sure, but it was a very important and interesting part of the plot, with plenty of conflict and all that good stuff.
The bottom line is, it wasn’t for her. And I know you are finding this devastating because of your whole thing with hope and prayer recently, and she seemed like a really good match, and this just really caught you off guard. Please recognize that your devastation is not because of some deep and terrible truth about the inherent flaws of the book that this agent pointed out. You are taking this so hard because of the situation around it. [Your friend] Abi is right; other agents felt differently. This is so subjective. There is still a chance.
And on some level you knew you were setting yourself up for this, and you were almost experimenting to see what that would be like. This is how it probably should have felt those other times, too, if you hadn’t been numbing yourself to it. Yes, then you were protecting yourself. Maybe you should continue to protect yourself by not letting yourself hope. I don’t know. This was an experiment. And it’s turning out pretty much as you expected, but watch it. Watch it and see what happens. Obviously I have no idea what God wants from you now, but I think something important and profound is happening here. It is a test, and it is difficult, and I have faith in you that you will figure it out. At the end of the day–you were setting out to let yourself experience hope and let yourself feel the shattering devastation of disappointment in its full intensity, without running away and without numbing. You were setting out to let God break your heart, and you did. I know it feels like anything but, but that, in itself, is a success.
Honestly, woman, I don’t know how you do it, I would never have been able to withstand all this negative energy from the universe. You have our support and love and admiration, and that’s got to be worth something, even if we are fictional characters who live in your head. 😉
[In my very imperfect Spanish, which I will not subject you to: ….Continue practicing your Castilian, it needs a lot of work. 😛 But I am sending you our love and you know we are always praying for you.]
Isn’t he the sweetest? I <3 him.
I’ll tell you the truth: the day By Light of Hidden Candles was released, I woke up feeling pretty miserable. I was stressed out and distracted and exhausted, not having slept particularly well in the nights before, and, well… you know my self-doubt demons and can probably imagine how hard they had been partying.
When I sat down to write the announcement for my mailing list, I just could not summon the necessary enthusiasm.
So, I did what I always do in moments like these……
I know this will make you roll your eyes at me, but I cannot begin without extending my heartiest congratulations on the publication of your debut novel today.
Because it is a milestone and it is something to celebrate, and I know these are things you are telling yourself, and then somehow using to torture yourself–“Why am I not as happy as I think I should be?”
But honestly, Daniella, you should have known it would not be as you imagined. These things never are. Especially not for you. The publication of this book has been a very long, dragged-out process and today is mostly a formality. And yet, you made the right decision to mark it with a launch party, even though you hate parties. Formalities are important sometimes.
So please, stop beating yourself up and give yourself what you need today. You need rest. You need to celebrate. You need to get organized about what you’re going to say at the party. And most importantly, you need to let other people help you…
…ALL RIGHT, YES, I’ll write the $*#& announcement. Just stop looking at me like that.
The things I do for you…
So… yes, it’s rather unconventional, but I think it can be a powerful coping tool!
Daniella Levy says