Working In Adam’s Shadow

There are several aspects of publishing the debut novel that I didn’t see coming. This is another of them. I imagine with time and distance such sensitivities may subside, but for now it seems any work I do, I do in the shadow of that one novel, that first novel.

I suppose it’s about expectations––mine and my readers’––the desire for continuity and patterns. It’s also about an imagined body of work and how the next project will fit with the first. 

This is the compare and contrast that we do with all we produce, whether it be this employer and the previous one, this year and last year, this house and our first. Each significant effort becomes a metric, an aesthetic data point, for those that come before and after. And with this we stare into an imagined future, how the next will look and what we can do to shape it. 

This is, creatively, a two-edged sword. Past work can motivate and push us to new innovation and higher effort; it can also hem us in and define our capabilities. We do best to see each project as different, as its own effort, independent of those that came before and after. The relationship between two projects may not be in form or function but in evolution, a recognition that to get to one we must have gone through the other, and we are creatively richer, more skilled for it.

Out and About with Adam

On Saturday evening I attended a literary event, a reading. The readers were three established and well-known local/regional authors. The event was held in a wonderful art space with all the amenities. About twelve people attended. It was an interactive and engaging couple of hours.

Earlier this year I attended a reading given by a former Indiana state poet laureate. There were four of us in attendance. The time with this poet was intimate, instructive, and inspiring.

These were both valuable literary events. 

We who went were grateful we did. 

I am in the throes of scheduling post-release reading events. I have a half-dozen on the calendar and ten more in the works. The first will be this coming Sunday, October 13th, at 3PM at the Danville Public Library, Danville, IN.

Promotion is underway, posters have been designed, printed, and hung. I am preparing opening remarks, the selection I’ll read, the format of the Q&A. Such events are a culmination of work and imagination. And they are all about connecting with readers, sharing our love of story and books, and inspiring our collective creative efforts. For those who attend this event or another I hold later this year, may they be grateful they did.

A Good Walk

I have a forty-five minute circuit I like to walk in Danville. The walk is a good workout. Little of the route is flat. Part of it is through Ellis Park. Part takes me under the awnings of the north side of the town square. Much of it is on quiet, sloping, residential streets lined with old homes and mature trees. 

But I’ve a favorite stretch. 

The outbound leg of the walk takes me on a narrow gravel drive through the Danville East Cemetery. I look forward to this stretch. It is a relief. It is there that all the litter swirling in my mind settles and its importance comes into focus. 

I become aware of time again. And of place.

I often think of my late parents. I read the names on the stones as I amble past. I look at dates. One stone is small and has only a name, no year. Sometimes I consider tombstone design and wonder if I could get one shaped like a book. Never do I think about emails, meetings, a talk I need to prep, my upcoming reading schedule. It’s not possible to fixate on such things with this much granite in view.

Everyone’s walk or commute or route to the grocery store should take them through or past a cemetery. I propose that there be reduced speed limits, like School Zones. 

Cemetery Zone 25MPH. Slow down. Take notice.

Release Day Review

Yesterday my debut novel was released. The Confessions of Adam is in the wild. It must now fend for itself. I can no longer tinker with it. Edits complete. It has found its voice. It is finished. And I am happy with what it has grown to be.

I spent the day on social media and the evening at Court House Grounds in Danville, Indiana with 100+ local and regional readers and lovers of books. 

A day unlike any before.

With gratitude.

I am thankful for my wife, for our partnership in writing and in life. 

I am thankful for my publisher and the many creative efforts that went into making a manuscript a book, immense work, up to the hours before release.

I am thankful for my launch team and my writer’s group, a few members of which overlap. 

I’m thankful for the hospitality and creative partnership of Court House Grounds and OurSpealcialTEA. 

I am thankful for readers past, present, and future. You who have and are teaching me what this novel is about and the personal meaning to be mined from it.

And I am thankful to The Maker, for the opportunity to riff on this epic drama of mankind’s origins. Our first story.

First Readers

As advance copies of The Confessions of Adam go out and are read, I’ve entered this strange new land. I’ve ceased to interact with the words on the page and am now listening to readers’ perspectives of the novel. Listening to the first members of my audience—my first readers—as they make the book their own.

This is a new skill. 

Like learning to talk about any major event in your life, it isn’t simply the vocabulary and the formation of concepts and constructs for thinking about it, but also learning what to say and what not to say and—in this case—slowly forming the language needed to comment while doing all I can to support the reader as they have their experience. 

I am humbled and amazed that a story I have written is functioning at a level that causes readers to think about relationships, motivations, and choices. I am learning, not what I have written, but all that what I have written can potentially mean. 

It is a strange new land. But like every stage of this adventure, it is proving to be a gift.

Release Date

On Tuesday, September 10th my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, will be released. The optimal day to release a book, per industry wisdom, is Tuesday. A late summer, early fall release is also good, as readers are settling back into their routines and are often looking for their next book. And of course Christmas is coming. There is time for a reader to finish the book ahead of the holiday season and then purchase a copy as a gift.

It’s marketing.

On Tuesday, September 10th my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam, will be released. I have spent more than a decade with this story. I started writing it in the winter of 2005. I finished the final full draft the summer of 2016. I carried this project close and spoke of it with intimate friends and in small groups. Started on one laptop, finished on another—it required hundreds of revisions, dozens of notes on the biblical text, an outline that morphed alongside each draft, selections for workshops, and phone calls with my agent and publisher. It was incremental progress and Divine intervention—still Divine intervention.

Indeed, it’s marketing. But first it was personal.

The Last Read

This week I finished reading, for the fourth time in six months, my debut novel The Confessions of Adam. This was my last reading. With an advance reader copy in hand, it was the last opportunity to edit the text. I finished the novel.

Three thoughts come to mind at this milestone:

  1. It is strange to be so familiar with a text. A sort of blindness sets in, an inability to process any further what text is doing. Instead of learning more about the intent of the story with each pass or draft, I now learn what the story is about from readers, from engaging with readers in conversation about the novel. 
  2. I’ll not do it again. The temptation is to say to oneself, ‘I must do this again. I must write another novel like this one.’ But the fact is I won’t. I won’t do this again. The next novel will be different in more ways than it is similar. The next novel will have its own challenges and personality. Each book is a unique, a custom effort.
  3. You never finish a book, you just stop. Leading up to this reading, there had been dozens of beta readers and editors, including Cyndi and I. Yet we still identified around 35 edits. I am convinced that I could read this novel every month for the next year and find changes I want to make. It is time to stop, to go to press. I’ve done all I can.

So long, Adam of Eden and Oren of Susa. It has been a pleasure working with you.

First Copies

At a conference last week my publisher had a book table and sold the first pre-release copies of my debut novel, The Confessions of Adam. About a dozen copies went home with readers from various locations across the US. 

It is surreal to think that at any given time a stranger somewhere could be reading your novel. I have moved the work from that silent and solitary place of daily writing, through months of maneuvering a manuscript toward publication, to this new and foreign stage of observing from afar unknown readers as they react to a book with my name on it.

I am reminded of the axiom ‘the story must stand on its own.’ I’m not sitting next to each reader giving them a synopsis of the novel or telling them how I came to write the story. They’ve never seen my name before. I’m an unknown. I’ve nothing to do with the reader’s experience. The book is now theirs to complete, to read and to imagine.

The story must stand on its own—while I write the next one.

[Title Here]

I am having a very hard time titling what I hope will be my second novel.

There are two outcomes of each title I write: 1) it stinks, and I know it right away or 2) I am utterly enamored with it as soon as it hits the page, only to find after a day or two it grows soft, gray, and flat.

I tend to start with low concept titles, over-wrought and abstract ones that give the reader no idea, no clue what they are getting themselves into. These titles are artsy, literary, and pleasing to only one reader—me. Slowly, painfully, I find my way to the high concept titles, those that draw the reader in. Those simple titles that tell the reader something central about what they are getting themselves into when they pick up my prose. 

The only way I’ve found of getting to these better titles is via a list, getting all the low concept titles out, onto the page, so that they can be forgotten and I can get to the ones that have potential. The tenable titles come at least ten titles into the list, more in most cases. 

Finally, the chosen title must always be set out to rest. It must still be the title of choice days and weeks later.

And this is how titles are made.

Sunday Word Choice

Early Sunday morning, while working through edits to The Confessions of Adam, I came across a passage where one of the central characters uses the word ‘sewage.’

I stopped reading. The right word for the situation. The wrong word for the story. Too modern.

So began the search.

I didn’t want a reader pulled from the dream by the wrong word. 

With a dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other, I went to work. I spent an hour reading and looking at synonyms, their definitions, their origins. Hundreds of words all revolving around refuse, waste, discharge, and other distasteful aspects of human leavings. 

It turns out that the word ‘sewage’ carries a lot of weight.

After finding my morning mood and stomach soured, I consulted a writerly friend. I texted him the challenge. Per his suggestion I went with the word ‘stagnant.’

And this is how it works. The word you’re looking for may not be an equivalent. It may be a change, a tweak, a subtle shift in tone, color, or perspective.

And this is the pursuit of story.