Tag Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Imagine, as you hold it in your hands…

(Note: this sprang from a Plinky prompt, “What are you looking forward to?” Thank you, WordPress.com Post-A-Day people!)

Years ago, at a writing workshop, I did a guided imagery exercise that involved visualizing my first published book.

After the workshop leader took us through a relaxation sequence, we began. I imagined the heft of the novel, because my manuscript stretched on as seemingly endless as a John Irving tome, and was weighty enough to make a fine doorstop or a traction-control device for the back-end of my car. Then I imagined the cover: the bright colors, the illustrated scene, the inlay of the title and my name. My name. My name. My name on a book. I never thought it would happen.

It didn’t, at least for that project.

But this year, I’m looking forward to seeing that old dream become reality. This time, the book will be thinner, as I have learned how to carve away the excess marble. This time, I know exactly what the cover will look like, because I watched my husband design it. (It’s adorable and quirky, like my protagonist. And my husband.) This time, I am just as excited, if not more. I can already see it on store shelves, and as a tiny icon on Amazon. I can imagine flipping through a copy to find the marked page, clearing my throat to begin readings at local bookstores.

I’ve watched so many writers do this, from TC Boyle to Audrey Niffenegger, from Valerie Martin to Joyce Carol Oates. I watched eagerly, at the edge of my metal folding chair, as the writer du jour pushed hair behind an ear, slipped on a pair of reading glasses, did any number of those nervous little gestures that ready them for interaction with the crowd. I made note of wardrobe choices. (I especially loved TC Boyle’s Chuck Taylor cons and Joyce Carol Oates’ knee socks.) I studied posture, body language, and whether they put on a fake reading voice or sounded more natural.

I watched as, clutching my book, I waited on line for a signature and maybe a word or two. Some were better at this than others. Some knew better how to engage a crowd. Some were shy and disappeared as soon as possible. Some did not appear to hold up well under the stress of a national book tour. Some reveled in it. When I told TC Boyle (while I was trying not to throw up or wet myself, because I adore him) I love his novels because he invariably sends me to the dictionary, he grinned slyly, then signed my book in Latin.

I wonder how I will be on the other side of these equations. I’m a little shy, and not very comfortable in crowds. But I want to meet people. I want to learn how to engage an audience. This is hardly going to be a national book tour, but still, I’ll be doing events wherever I can arrange them. I have this vision of standing behind a podium and despite feeling slightly queasy, reading my words with power, pathos, and gentle amusement when warranted. Maybe people will laugh in the right places.

I have a feeling that once this process starts, with reviews and appearances, virtual and hardwired, it may pass in one fun house blur. But what I do so want to remember is every sensation surrounding the moment when I have a printed book in my hands. I’ll be upstairs, squirreling around on Facebook writing my next novel. I’ll hear the groan of the UPS truck hauling its boxy self up my driveway, then the squeal of its brakes. Then the shuffle and thump of the delivery person’s boots, the thud of a heavy package landing on the landing, and an aggressive ring of our bell. My stomach will tighten. (Because I’ve worked in printing, and know what horrors can result.) I’ll wake my husband, and we’ll trot downstairs and get the package. I’ll cringe as he approaches it with his Leatherman.

“Will you relax?” he’ll say, huffing out exasperation as his hand slices through the tape.

Finally, after much too long, he’ll get the thing open. We’ll both grab a copy. He’ll examine the cover for printing errors. I’ll just hold it in my hand in silent gratitude and wonder. Then notice I’ll something odd on the front. Is that…an Oprah Book Club sticker?

I know. That sticker won’t really be there for this novel. Must be my powers of guided imagery working it for the next one. Hear that, Ms. O?

What are you looking forward to this year?