Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thirty Years

Kurt Vonnegut's last published book is called Timequake, and is a typically bizarre conflation of memoir and novel. And in it, he looks back a bit on his long career as an author and asks aloud the question that all accomplished people ask: How did I do that?

I'm in a looking-back mood myself these days, because this spring in the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of my first book, The Heart of a Distant Forest. Thirty years! I tell the story of how I became a published author in my autobiography that will be coming out this fall, and so I won't tell it here.
Beautiful new version of the novel on sale from the UGA Press

But I will say that I was at the end of my rope trying to be a novelist. I'd written a couple of novellas and one very long and very bad novel. And though I was sure I had talent, what I hadn't been doing was writing to my strengths.

Heart was like a gift from the beginning. It was given to me. And I had the good fortune to write it down. Looking back at it now, realizing that it was written by a 30-year-old, though it wasn't published until I was 34, I ask myself: How did I do that?

A successful first novel is often just that kind of gift. I've known so many writers who write that great first book and then fizzle for one of a thousand reasons. If I possess any shameful pride, I think it's for the fact that I am still writing and publishing three decades later.

Back in those days, self-publishing was rare because it was expensive and nearly pointless. We were many years before the Internet. And publishing a novel was much more special than it is now. It was a time when a critical success could make a person as famous as a commercial one. Now, the world has turned completely to reality shows and to celebrity rather than fame. But celebrity doesn't last. Real fame, based on a hard-won accomplishment, does.

My autobiography and the book of love poems to follow in the spring of 2015 are, I believe, accomplishments. They are also my nineteenth and twentieth published books.

How did I do that? I'm still not sure. But I'm so grateful to everyone who's been with me on the journey.

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