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Friday, February 22, 2013

Night and Day: What changes the moment you sell a book: VILLAGE IDIOTS

I was deleting emails while sitting on my son's futon at midnight in New York City. Really, I was waiting for Rory and his fiance Kaitlin to say goodnight so I could hit the futon and sleep, only I wasn't, really, because we all were prolonging the moment, sitting side by side, squeezed in tight, on laptops or smartphones, on my last night before heading back to LA and then Honolulu.

So onward marched the keystrokes, deleting the newsletters and announcements I'd mindlessly signed up for and never unsubscribed from because I get lonely not hearing from anybody in, like, the last five minutes of any given time period.

And in-between I read and stored for later reply the condolences over my mother's death a couple of weeks before. Also moved to folders a couple of bills. And after about 100 emails I came across the first true surprise: a subject line that read: EXPECT OFFER SOON.

I'd been getting a bunch of emails from friends whose Facebook accounts had been hacked, so I took my time before opening it. We all know the Nigerian scam, though in Honolulu there are newspaper reports every week of old folks who are still falling for it. (The "last fool" in every scheme must live in Hawaii Kai, an entire retirement home filled with semi-conscious plungers whose children have been unable to separate them from their bank accounts.)

Even though the sender name was my agent's, I hesitated. Even though I always open hers instantly. I guess, somewhat ingenuously, that I slowed down my usually flickering fingers because there had been no news on that front for a long spell. But this is about the nature of now and then, Night and Day, the instant between the Shadow and the Act. And because of that subject line and because, well, she's my agent, I knew that it had changed.

It = life. So I stopped and waited before opening the email. Those 30 seconds were the most enduring reward for having spent years on a manuscript. There's no point in hoarding the emotion, or videotaping your bugged-out eyes and O of the gaping mouth. 30 seconds over Tokyo. And then the finger descends on the key and all suspense is eliminated.

The emotions and calculations that follow are many, but not really important. The huge anxiety is surprising. I thought a weight would be lifted. But that's not how it is with books, I should've remembered. There is no closure, no final judgment, in writing a book. Even if it's acclaimed, you know where the cracks are, where the seams are showing. But that's okay. Living with that anxiety keeps you on your toes for the next book.

The takeaway? As it turned out, Casey had one more at-bat in him. And a few days later Publisher's Weekly ran the following item, everything boiled down and spoken out of the side of the mouth in terse, squint-eyed publicity agent Broadwayese:

"Journalist and author of One Great Game, Don Wallace's VILLAGE IDIOTS, of how a ruin they couldn't afford on a tiny French island too far from home renovated the lives of this American family, to Stephanie Bowen at Sourcebooks, by Laurie Fox of the Linda Chester Literary Agency."