“What’s Happening With Your Book?” About that…

Posted by on November 2, 2016 in Reading & Writing | 50 comments

Twelve years ago I went fishing to save my life. I begged a six-week sabbatical from the non-profit where I ran a dinner program and trolled alleys for young people in crisis, asking for a week at sea for every year I’d spent on land. My childhood best friend, Marlin, needed a deckhand. I needed to know if I still existed outside city shadows.

 

Fishing’s familiar demands soothed me. The physicality of the work pulled me back into my body, while the monotony forced introspection I’d long avoided. The six weeks washed by. Each revealed a new layer of how burned-out, broken, and outright fucked-up I’d become. When the realization that I couldn’t go back to my job outweighed my shame and fear of letting people down, I sent a mass email to my colleagues, rather than honoring my employer with private notice. I didn’t even see the impropriety. That’s how far gone I was.

 

I’m recalling that group email today as I write to share some news. The kind of news that should be shared in person, individually, with eye contact obscured only by steam rising from a cradled cup. Instead, we are here, communicating across screens and time. Once again, it’s the best I can do.

 

Join Me for a Cup of Coffee

 

 

 

The Nerka spent most of last May trolling off the Washington coast. We leased a permit and charged out to fishing grounds known as the Prairie, 35 miles offshore. With weekly catch limits of forty king salmon, it didn’t take long before we’d be back at the dock in Neah Bay, guests of the Makah Indian Nation.

 

During one of those times in port, I scheduled a call with my literary agent, Pamela, to see if there was any news about my book. We hadn’t heard anything from my editor since I submitted the fourth revision in late February. I’d reminded myself everyone’s lives are chaotic and complex; her silence didn’t have to be about me or my book.

 

Standing on the deck, I laughingly warned Pamela about the background noise, a pride of sea lions lounging on a neighboring pier. Even over their bellowing, I could hear her take a deep breath.

 

“I have some very hard news. Your editor has decided not to accept your latest revision. They’re retracting your contract.”

 

We each have our own walk through grief. Automatically, I always first turn to the path my parents cleared: don’t wallow, problem-solve, get shit done. Even as my stomach dropped to my toes, my brain focused on getting shit done. Okay. Okay. If she doesn’t want it, who else will? Do I have to rewrite the original proposal, or can we submit the book as is? What do you need from me first? I fumbled for a pen to take notes.

 

Pamela’s gentle words were extended palms, urging me to stop rushing to the next task. Stop trying to outrun my feelings. And those feelings did indeed catch right up with me, steamrolling over me. I don’t understand; she responded so well to the third revision in December; she named the problem areas, I thought I addressed them. What changed? How did we go from “We’re so close!” to “Never mind”?

 

This confusion was what broke me. I puddled to the deck, struggling to mask a thickening voice. Pamela wasn’t fooled. Being the bearer of hard news takes a special kind of strength and compassion. Then and now, I’m grateful to have heard this from her, steadfast support audible as she spoke. After confirming Joel was with me, that I wasn’t alone, her voice steeled. “This is not your book. This is a terrible, shitty, shitty experience, but it’s not your book.”

 

Joel was waiting in the cabin. I crumpled into his arms. Mouth stretched in silent keening, I couldn’t answer his questions, join in his outrage or accept his consolation; couldn’t hear anything but my own insecurities, affirmed. I’d held the golden egg writers dream of – and I’d lost it. How am I going to tell everyone who’s been so supportive of Hooked?

 

Sometimes, in times of deepest wounding, even the gentlest touch is too much. Maybe especially the gentlest touch, when we believe ourselves unworthy of such kindness. I shrank from Joel’s hand stroking my back as I bent over the galley sink; his insistence, firm as water’s downstream promises, that this wasn’t the end. I pulled away from it all, went down to the fo’c’sle, crawled into the bunk fully dressed and drew the blanket over my head.

 

I dreamed I was going fishing with Marlin. Marlin: my chosen brother, the captain who provided a refuge from social work, the friend who urges reflection. I dreamed we were in a mad scramble to throw everything on board and charge out to the fishing grounds, no time to consider the chaos or tend to the details, now we had to go, go now! I dreamed my nerves vibrating from the urgency, the recklessness, the absolute absence of control.

 

Only as I cut the dock lines did I get a look at the boat taking us to sea. Below the spray-painted name and littered deck, the rusted steel hull was visibly thin at the waterline. It was a derelict I’d noted in my waking life. I’d cringed walking by. That doesn’t look like a boat that’s ready to leave the dock.

 

There is nothing subtle about my subconscious.

 

I woke from that dream knowing my book and I were going to be okay. Not only okay: knowing this was for the best.

 

Yes, this was a shitty experience. It hurt. But my natural tendency is – as author Heather Lende urges – to “find the good,” and it didn’t take too long a look to recognize this hurt was one of ego. Rejection lands so personally: fear of what it says about me, my work; fear of what people will think. Pamela’s firm assurance (“This is not your book”) pulled me through this initial response of ego, through the fear and pain. The friends who’ve accompanied me on this journey – you, reading this – have always embodied love and encouragement. How could I imagine you’d receive this news with anything other than compassion?

 

So I find the good:

 

Hooked sold on proposal, as an idea and a few sample chapters. After conversations with a handful of interested editors, I chose the one who most responded to Hooked’s feminist themes. That she was with a remarkable publisher, home to countless authors and books I admire, was a serious confidence booster for this first-time author.

 

Midway through our work together, my editor took a job with another publishing house. I didn’t think much of it, assured that her new employer would allow her to see pre-existing contracts through. Maybe that didn’t end up being the case; I don’t know and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What I know is that I came into this partnership with little more than a dream of a book and now, thanks to her initial enthusiasm for and belief in the story, that book exists. As those 319 carefully crafted pages and I move forward on our own, I’ll never forget the impact Hooked’s first editor had on both.

 

I can’t find the good without seeing you. You gave me the courage to pursue this work. You give me the conviction to continue.

 

If you’ve asked me about my book recently, I’ve lied to you. The contract had to be formally revoked, our divorce finalized, before I could talk about it or make public this post. So I’ve spent the past six months lying – to the barista at my favorite coffee shop, to the beloved teacher who is Hooked’s godmother, to my stepmom who opined that no news must be good news. To every loving friend who’s championed Hooked. Over and over again, I answered with a shrug and a smile, forcing a casual tone, I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything, I’m just going fishin’… That, dear ones, has been the hardest part of this experience. Writing memoir is about truth-telling – valuing, believing in, committing to the truth as I know it. Whether by direct falsehood or omission, I have hated lying to you.

 

Of the few friends I told in person, some questioned my need to publicize this news. Posting this was important to me. Despite my silence over the past year, we made this blog an honest place, a safe place, through years of intimate public conversations. I wanted this to be a space of online vulnerability and trust. Your willingness to reply in kind made that possible. How could I not share this with you, in this way?

 

I wish I could have come out to you sooner. I’m glad to be here now.

 

 

Fairweathers in Fog

 

 

History repeated itself. As the North Pacific received a social service refugee all those years ago, she took me back in this summer of need. I went fishing. I again lost myself to the work and the mountains, to long days and maritime meditations. I practiced being present with Joel and friends in a way that I haven’t been for the past three years. I made a plan for Hooked’s next steps, determined to make sure this paper ship is seaworthy, and allowed periodic waves of sadness, garnering strength for the work ahead. Preparing – once again – to get shit done.

 

50 Comments

  1. I took a big deep breath in after reading this one, Tele. I thought about all the things I wanted to say. As someone who cornered you on the dock for news of your book, I do and don’t want to say “I’m sorry” about that because I know I am one of many who take your words like vitamins – and I just want more. Maybe we do a disservice to writers (and others) who give us what we need – we becoming demanding of them. I want to support you as a tender human and celebrate you – not just the words that come out of you. You continue to inspire, well beyond what you write, but with how you live.

    • Ah, sweetie… Thank you. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for. Our dock conversations are nourishment for me, both as a tender human AND as a writer. Hearing from other women who grapple with the intimacy/independence balance has enriched the book and the way I think about & question my own experiences. I’ve cherished those dock “cornerings”!

  2. You are so brace, perceptive and honest, Tele. Thank you for this. Writers everywhere should read it.

    Hugs and love.

    • Thanks, Pops. Thanks for shining one of the lights on the path to get here.

  3. Tele, I don’t even know you but I’m an advid reader, love memoirs, & love the Pacific NW & the Pacific Ocean. I don’t recall how I heard about your book, possibly Heather Lende, but I’ve been following you & looking forward to for a long time. I am so sorry about this huge setback, but I thank you for your courage in sharing the experience. I plan to share it on FB, where I know I have a number of friends going through or who have gone through experiences of having the rug pulled out from under them. I hope you find another publisher. I still want to read your book!

    • I’m glad to meet you, Kate! Thanks for introducing yourself; you’ve just reminded me how much I enjoyed the new friendships that came from the earlier days when I was blogging more frequently.

      Thank you for sharing this experience with your writing friends. In the two days since posting it, I’ve been amazed and touched at how much writers have been in touch, sharing their own orphaning/rejection/rebound survival stories. There’s so much “Self” deeply entangled in our words (especially, perhaps, with those writing memoir) that it’s challenging to experience a rejection of the work not as a rejection of ourselves. As one writer friend said, “We don’t talk about it enough.” I’m glad to be part of that conversation.

      Hooked will find another home – after I’ve had this opportunity to make sure it’s the book I want it to be. When it’s ready, I’ll be pleased to share it and hear your thoughts!

  4. Thanks for keeping us up-to-date Tele. I’m moved by your experience and your reflection. I’ll look forward to the post in the future when you tell us where we can get our copies of Hooked.

    • Amanda! I’m always glad to hear from you; thanks for your support.

      Speaking of writing… I’ve been thinking of you, wondering if you’d be interested in submitting any of your fishing letters with the Young Fisherman’s Almanac project. They’d be an awesome contribution! Think about it, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

      http://www.akmarine.org/working-waterfronts/young-fishermen/young-fishermens-almanac/

  5. The book will happen. Love your writing. You will get through this. I am sorry you had to experience this pain. I think I even asked you about the book. It will happen. Good luck

    • Thanks, Poppy. I’m okay – for reals! Having had the fishing season to process my own feelings about this, I now feel like I have a second chance with this book – and second chances are a real gift.

  6. Tele, Your voice and your story are strong, vulnerable, honest and compelling. The publishing world is a mess (I have other friends caught in the churn of editors and contracts). With self-publishing options you can maintain control, and with the love and lure of Alaska and strong women, I believe you could launch yourself well on your own. Start with Pacific Northwest booksellers and opportunities, get an excerpt in Alaska Magazine, get on Talk of Alaska, …. Record the book as an audio book in your own voice. Do a TEDx talk somewhere. Be prepared to negotiate hard when the publishing industry and film industry come begging to you.

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement and fantastic suggestions, Karla. I have friends who have done well in their self-publishing experiences, and have enormous respect and admiration for the work they’ve done to get there. Such an achievement!

      For the time being, I know I don’t have the focused devotion self-publishing takes. That particular attention is all in fish, since Joel and I took on the self-marketing end of our salmon harvest last fall. It’s predominantly my gig, as he shoulders the winter boat projects, and has consumed far more time and energy than I’d imagined it would. That’s largely because I find it so enjoyable to build/nurture those partnerships with the chefs and food co-ops buying our fish, and – as I imagine is true for many self-publishing authors – am always finding more opportunities to get the word out and connect new friends with our work.

      For now, I’m relieved to focus on the book itself without an attachment to an outcome. Just tasting the story in my own mouth, without adjusting it to anyone else’s palate. I do trust that, when it’s ready to share, there will be new options. I’m just going to do my best not to be distracted by the shiny lure right now, and instead settle into appreciating the work for it’s own sake. Easier said than done! 😉

  7. Hard news to share, that’s for sure. Perhaps the Universe has something else in mind for your book. That said, you have created something amazing and you have grown through this experience. Congratulations for making it this far! Take time to breathe and enjoy your friends and family. As Scarlett O’Hara said,” After all, tomorrow is another day.”

    • Oh, Meg, you & I have a similar faith. Hard news, yes, but I trust the Universe performed a good intervention here. It is indeed all okay. Hugs and love to you & Cary.

  8. I agree with Mary ( even though I don’t know her). You do continue to inspire me, not with your writings, but with how you live. You are one of the kindest, most honest persons I know. You live your truth. And ultimately, I believe truth is a high form of love!
    Love you.

  9. Always always the tears come when I read your truth, your brave vulnerability. Thank you for your realness. I have felt that shame tied up with my own projects and inevitable shake it brings to my worthiness. Thank you for sharing your fall, your process and your resilience. I always feel so alive reading your words. Now I am even more looking forward to the book!

    • Thanks for being here, Kristin. (I think we have a mutual friend in Krissy?) Totally understand the shame/self-worth shake cycle… That was definitely the first place my mind went with this news (which is probably something worth examining, the immediate go-to of “What will people think about this?” vs “What do I think about this?”) Fortunately, when I slow down to actually visualize those people, it’s love looking back. I hope you have a similar source of support.

      Also: thanks for the work you do. My earliest childhood home was my parents’ vet clinic; all respect & appreciation for you & the compassionate care you provide. SO important, SO very worthy.

  10. We love you and your bravery, on sea and land. That doesn’t change, dearie.

    • I miss you, Jennifer – you AND your words. Thank you for your love; right back at you.

  11. That is what we love about your writing the hard truth. You have to live fully through the grief, get to the other side and find the goodness. Hard journey but now you are ready to tell the story and write it. I grieve a bit too but it is powerful and healing to read your writing of the experience and your strength to make it into positive.

    • Thanks, MJ. You know how handy the boat & the fishing season are for having time to process feelings… I made use of these many months! It’s a relief to have it out here.

  12. Beautifully said, as always dear friend. It’s not your book. Your book will find a home, of that I have no doubt. Sorry this has been such a long and challenging process, and I feel very honored to be able to be part of the beginning and this next part of the journey. XXOO

    • You HAVE been here since the beginning! Bet you wouldn’t have guessed, going around the table doing introductions in Laura’s class all those years ago, what an enormous pillar of support you’d become for one of the strangers on the other side of the tables. You’re a generous friend – writer-friend and otherwise – and I am SO thankful for your presence in my life.

  13. beautifully said as pam noted;; i guess all my dreams and hopes are all for naught; so be it;; i would like to give you a big hug but joels will have to do; remember me to bearcat and joel ;; i will look for a book to read in this wet weather elsewere!! well tele your writing talent will not be lost ; or your love of trolling either; hugs your friend tom

    • We’ll see what happens, friend… You keep taking good care of yourself & I’ll do the work on my end. While I’m going to take a deliberate break from the distracting lure of publishing, I wouldn’t yet go so far as to say your hopes and dreams have been for naught. Patience, fisherman. 😉

      (As I type this, Bear the Boat Cat is curled up in the chair next to me. Told her you send your best.)

  14. Hugs

    • Thanks, Joe. Your recognition of the value of your experiences & the importance of writing them down is one of my sources of inspiration. You keep at it, and I will, too.

  15. I love you and your pure raw heart.

    • The love is mutual, Janet. <3

  16. I’m really sorry that happened to you, Tele. I have no doubt that another publisher will pick the book up; you have a fantastic story and a beautiful voice.

    And, in the meantime, should the fraud police come knocking again (they tend to be stubborn bastards), remember that they are a bunch of liars and tell them to fuck right off.

    (((((Hugs)))))

    • Ha! Wait, have those fuckers been at your door, too? Sounds like the same dudes. I’m using your response next time. 😉

      Also, thank you. Hugs back; stay safe & happy in your current adventure. Super-proud of & inspired by what you’re doing.

  17. Thank you for the raw look into the life of a writer when things, for whatever reason, go wrong. We look forward to seeing your next act: getting shit done…re-Hooked. Good luck to you!

    • Thanks, Jon. It’s been helpful along the way for me to hear other authors’ raw stories, coming to understand that the gorgeous published books I see are the end product of exhaustive writes, rewrites, and bumps along the way. (Kim Heacox put THIRTEEN years into his beautiful novel, “Jimmy Bluefeather.”) Being honest about the struggles along the way will just make the eventual celebration that much more of a shared, communal experience. 🙂

  18. You wrote….you write better n anybody I know about our experiences on the water…..you finished…..youre talented and courageous and ours….xoo

    • That’s generous praise, Judi. Thank you. All love & respect to you.

  19. Tele, from one introverted soul to I’m pretty certain another, I’m so sorry to read this opportunity didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped it would. In fact, I kicked myself after running into you this summer for not asking you about Hooked because I can’t wait to read it AND make it available to my high school students in Alaska Lit. I’ve respected the hell out of how you’ve handled this entire writing/revision process and that you’ve put yourself out there – AWP panel and all – to support your work. You and your work are one. So this particular publication opportunity has slipped away, but that simply means you haven’t yet met the right publisher. It will happen. Hang in there!

    • Kersten, this means a lot. Never a need to kick yourself – I was so delighted to run into you, it was just a treat actually getting to connect outside the interwebs. The respect is mutual! All’s well, in all the ways.

      (Yes, of course you called it right on fellow introvert. 😉

  20. Another beautiful lesson on how to lead an authentic life. Thanks for your naked honesty. I continue to look forward to reading my signed copy of Hooked. You are an amazing writer and a true human being.

    • Thank you, Angela. Speaking of signed copies… I don’t think I’ve told you yet that I finally got to read Sonya Lea’s “Wondering Where You Are” this summer. I read A LOT of books this summer, and hers was one of my absolute favorites (and very helpful for me in reflecting on some of the points in my book, too.) Thank you for sharing such a wonderful gift!

  21. Tele,
    I blew my first handshake of a book contract, a not quite pre-contract, as they used to call them. I worked hard to get it, and I was also lucky. Then I got a more than full-time job. I worked on the book here and there, got some chapters published as articles, and I got another job, and then two more.
    Time passed, and I found myself in Iowa. I adopted a baby, and I finally re-contacted my editor. He’d moved on to another press, and the original press was no longer interested.
    I redid the proposal, shopped it around, and finally got some interest. I spent another few years reading and rewriting, then finally submitted the ms. The press sent it out to readers, one who really liked it and another who was just plain snarky. It took another couple of years to get all the revisions done. I was totally spooked about sending it in, so I asked two dear friends and colleagues to read it. They confirmed my fear that the order did indeed need changing and also encouraged me to hold strong againt the snarky reader.
    The book saw the light of day in 2012, over a year after I’d seen final proofs. It was not the book it would have been had I finished it years ago, and it was better for those years—and the right publisher (and editor).
    You and your book will also find the right publisher, and it won’t be the one you thought it would be. There will be a better one, a better fit. And we will all celebrate with you.

    Love and hugs,

    • Riki, thanks for sharing this. While four years is awfully belated to congratulate you on your publication, picture me bowing in recognition of all you endured to bring that book to life. Your perseverance and belief inspires me.

      There have been a few well-meaning friends who’ve asked along the way, “Why is it taking SO LONG?” From your experience, Seth Kantner’s 10 years for the gorgeous “Ordinary Wolves,” to Kim Heacox’s 13 years on his novel “Jimmy Bluefeather,” I have yet to hear anyone say they wish their book had been published faster… Or, at least, that they think it would’ve been a better book if it had happened faster. Really helpful hearing other authors share their twisty, bumps roads to publication!

  22. Never heard of you before now, but I’ll be looking for this book.

    • Thanks for being here, Marta. I look forward to sharing this book with you!

  23. Wow. Thank you and well done you for sharing. How cruel not to have allowed you to share this news earlier, to have at least given you the choice to allow your supportive community to console.

    The news itself leaves me feeling that spirit has a plan, you are right not to force outcomes, you are such a brilliant writer and storyteller, it’s impossible that your work stays only with us, and I know you feel this inside. I feel courage and optimism for you, and excitement for the uncharted path in front of you. Maybe you are going to start book number two, Hooked needs a longer gestation, the golden egg is not broken, just not ready to hatch yet – her follow up is going to be so much easier. Keep writing and keep sharing.

    Bonne Continuation Tele.

  24. The world is so wildly unpredictable, like the sea I guess. And you have always captured the beauty, passion, and pain of the world with such vital, courageous, and elegant language. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. I look forward to reading the book that is yours, my friend! Many blessings to you for the rest of this journey.

  25. Rock on, Tele – It’s a bitch when those beautiful Kings spit back the hook. But you’re a fisherman and you ain’t done yet!

  26. While I have long admired you, and wished to know you better, I feel so moved and honored that in the past 16 hours, I have shared this and your other piece. Both, take strength of character and honesty, that not everyone can manage. You do it graciously and humbly, and I am moved. I’m so sorry for this setback, but I know you will find a better path, with a book we are all waiting to read! Peace on the journey, Tele. xo

  27. Oh Tele that must have been so difficult, sending you lots of big hugs. I realized something wonderful today that I feel is a testament to your power as a writer and as an authentic, wonderful, strong woman. I am one to stuff my feelings and avoid the tough ones as much as possible but after reading this post and the one you did as a guest blogger I realized that I crave your writings even though they often bring very difficult feelings to the surface. That is the power of a wonderful author. I am so frustrated right now because I can’t put my thoughts and feelings into words other than to say that you are amazing! I know that Hooked will be published at the time that is best for it and I eagerly await the day when I open it for the first time.

  28. Wow, Honey, I didn’t know any of this. How hard that must have been.
    So glad you have so many who love, support and validate you, including
    MOM.
    Love and hugs, Mom

  29. I have no idea how I missed this post, but when I saw your most recent post in my email and decided to revisit your blog, I came upon it.

    So a belated but heartfelt response, as I can only imagine how difficult your editor’s pulling out of the publication deal must have been. That said, I definitely echo all the other comments that your story, your book, in whatever iteration or form or delivery or time, will and must find its way to us. You are such a wonderful, talented writer, your words surely a reflection of the very moving way in which you view and take on your world. Absolutely tuck that disappointment away and don’t lose sight of the integrity of your work.

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