As you may know, for the past month or so I’ve been reworking the beginning of the current draft of my current novel to get it ready to submit to the McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award, which has a deadline of December 1st. I managed to get the first 30,000 words (a little over 100 pages) ready in time, although it’s not as “ready” as I would have liked. I did the best I could given the time constraints, and a nice thing about this particular contest is that they allow you to send two polished short stories along with the work in progress to give them a feel for what your final drafts are like. I’m sure I won’t win, but the deadline was effective motivation to get back to work on the novel, and now that I’ve reworked the beginning I feel revved up and ready to finish this draft.
I had planned on continuing straight ahead with the draft after sending in the McSweeney’s submission, but on the same day the submission went out in the mail, I received the proof for my book, which I needed to comb through and return with my corrections by Monday. So while you and yours were spending a relaxing (I hope) holiday weekend surrounded by family and friends and lots of good food, I was eating ramen and fried chicken from a box while carefully reading every word of my proof, trying to make sure no errors made their sneaky way into the published book.
I complain, but actually, it was kind of an interesting experience (and to be completely honest, I did have a nice dinner with friends the day after Thanksgiving). When I was sent the proof, I was instructed to just proofread; at this stage, there’s no time to make any content revisions. This is the first time, then, that I’ve ever been able to read something I wrote without looking for things that aren’t working, things that I should cut, add, or otherwise change. Even published pieces I read with an eye for revision, because I’ve always figured I would compile into a book-length collection many of the stories I had published in journals.
In essence, I was able to read my own work as a reader, or at least, I came the closest it’s probably possible to come. And the truth is—I really liked the book. That may sound cocky, but just hear me out. This book represents a lot of hard work. This entire collection was over five years in the making, and even though my name is on the front cover, a lot of feedback (from workshop peers and instructors, from friends, from my husband, from my brilliant editor, Sharon Dilworth, who pushed me to do better and who educated me as a writer just as much as my MFA instructors did) went into making these stories what they are now. As I was rereading the stories, I kept remembering things that had been cut from previous drafts, and while in some of the cases it took a lot of convincing to finally sway me to cut them, I was so excited to read the final versions one more time and see how much better they are this way.
I was also excited to see how truly beautiful this book is going to be. The cover art, taken from a work of art titled “Mirror” by an amazingly talented young artist named Ashley Gibson, is exceptional and PERFECT for the stories in this collection. The overall design of the book is gorgeous, too, and I just about cried tears of joy when I saw the font they used for the title page and the story titles—it’s ideal for this collection, and I would never have thought I would even care about something like font. Autumn House Press prides itself on putting out books that are physical pieces of art as well as artistic from a content perspective, and I just feel so lucky to have my first published book put out through them.