It Lives!

It Lives!res-021

The books arrived in my apartment five days ago. Copies of my book. For several minutes I just stared at the box in awe. I couldn't bring myself to open it.

Something flashed through my mind then, a scene from that old childhood favourite, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964). Harriet, who reveres writers, happens to be visiting her best friend Sport, just as his dad receives the news that his novel has been accepted for publication. As you can imagine, the guy's dancing around the place like a maniac. Here's what happens:

"Harriet looked at him with wonder. He was a writer. A real writer. What did he think? What was in his head?....She couldn't resist a question for the notebook. Would he answer something profound?

"What does it feel like to get paid for what you write?" What would he say? She waited breathlessly.

"It's heaven, baby. Sheer heaven."

Harriet felt irritated. Was he like everybody else?

harrietthespySorry, Harriet. I've had several friends ask me the same question, and nobody seems entirely satisfied with my answers. For the record, they come in three flavours:

1) Inarticulate squealing noises

2) Duh? Is this actually happening?

3) Well, there's a lot more to do yet. I shouldn't get too damn happy.

The first set of responses tend to appear in print, mostly in responses to texts or tweets. 'Yay!' I'll opine. Or after a thoughtful pause, 'Woo-hoo!' If I'm in company I might hum the baseline to Kool and the Gang's 'Celebration' and attempt to sing and dance. I suppose I'm doing this because I can't think of anything profound to say and am buying a few seconds waiting for some wise phrase, but it never arrives.

The second type of response ('Wha? Duh?') is also common. I've spent the past few days feeling stunned, like I've walked into another dimension where everything is the same except for a few bizarre details which tell me I couldn't possibly be living on Earth. The bookstores of Dublin are stocking my nice little story about Stephen Shulevitz of Riverside. My life's goal has been realised. I'd be less surprised to wake up and find the buildings made of carrots. And part of me is also waiting for that enormous foot from the Monty Python credits to come down. I have a feeling I'll be glancing at the sky anxiously for a good while to come.

But let's go back to the box of books. Eventually I forced myself to open it. I ripped off book room windowthe plastic, took out a copy of my first novel, held it in my hands. I looked at the front cover, the back cover, the spine. I think I might have smelled it. Then I turned a page at random. A sentence jumped out at me. I closed the book, shocked.

Why? Well, I suppose I've come to think of the computer screen as an extension of my head. It doesn't surprise me to see my innermost thoughts appearing as lines of type on a Microsoft Word document, or even on a web page. But a book is real. It's an object. Strangers can pick it up and flip through it. They can put it down again, shrugging. Or they can buy it and take it home. And then what? I want to follow each copy and see what happens to it. Hey! Don't put it in that pile under your tax returns. Still on page seventy-three? Come on, hang in there! There's a really good bit coming up. The charity shop? What kind of monster are you?

But instead of spying on strangers, I've been doing the next best thing: checking the book's progress obsessively on the internet. This is exactly what I'd promised myself I'd never do. 'Reviews?' I always scoffed. 'I won't read any. Instead I'll print them and keep them in a drawer. And I'll only allow myself to look after the second novel's finished – even if that's several years down the road.' Yep, I had the strength of Popeye and Atticus Finch put together, as long as there was nothing testing it. (Hmm. Interesting casting choice for an animated Mocking Bird...) But when confronted by the book's first ever review on Goodreads, I lasted roughly four seconds before I caved. I had to know what people were thinking.

Of course I'm making the assumption that anyone in the wide world even cares. If you  hang out with other writers, you tend to get stuck in a bubble of shared perceptions. Being published is the ultimate pinnacle of one's existence! Duh! What else is there? Except when you return to civilisation and try to tell co-workers about this miraculous event:

A: My first novel's getting published!

B: Hey, that's really nice. Well done, you. Congratulations. (Awkward pause.) Am I in it?

A: Um...sure! It's about you! You're the main character!

gfs 18745 2 9(Polite chuckles. Then the subject changes – a meeting, the weather, an upcoming wedding. Real life.)

The truth is that for the vast majority of people the world of fiction hardly registers. I talked to someone recently who said he liked to keep up with current releases – but he'd never heard of Emma Donoghue's Room. I also remember when The Sisters Brothers came to Ireland, with what seemed to me to be substantial hype. It was shortlisted for the Booker, after all, as well as every Canadian award going. But I mentioned the novel to a friend who loves reading, and she just seemed mystified. No, she told me. She'd never heard of it. Funny title. What was it about?

This leads me back to my third response: 'There's a lot more to do.' Getting published is literally a dream come true, but it's also a first step. The book's in stores. Now it has to leave them in nice paper bags, and I'm still not sure what I can do to make this happen.

I've cleared the first level of the video game. No more jumping over killer turtles and bouncing on mushrooms. Whew. But now I'm going to be dodging flaming barrels and swinging across pits of snakes while shooting bad guys over my shoulder, and at the same time trying to be happy about it all and hoping I won't do or say anything that will turn people against the book. Getting to the next level. That's what it's all about.

But for now...

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