People ask me,“How long until your book comes out?” When I tell them it won’t be in bookstores until Feb. 1, they sometimes raise their eyebrows, click their tongues, and otherwise look surprised/exasperated/disbelieving. I always feel a bit defensive. I want to say, “No, it’s true. I really do have a novel coming out. I’m not making it up. It will be published. Honestly.”
Instead I joke, “It’s kind of like being pregnant.” Nine months, eight months, seven months, waiting, waiting. Yet I’m surprised at how much there is to do while I count down the days.
So why does it take so long? There are a lot of factors. Here are just a few:
- Edits — Contrary to popular myth, editors still edit. I worked with my editor to move some things around in the storyline and generally improve the manuscript. As the weeks went by, each of us would think of something that could make it even better, and I would integrate it into the novel. Next the manuscript went to a copy editor, who read with an eye toward the tiniest detail – grammar, punctuation, spelling, factual consistency. It came back to me with red marks. I went over each edit to decide whether to accept the change or find some other solution. It took me about three weeks to go over my copy edit. On my final read-through, I read the entire manuscript out loud. Last week I returned the manuscript to the publisher with my own marks and comments. And we’re not done yet. I think there are still some proofing steps ahead.
- Cover art — I was fortunate to have an editor with a vision. She had a specific artist in mind, the Italian illustrator Alessandro Gottardo, also known as Shout. She knew he could capture the mood and story of THE SNOW CHILD. Little, Brown & Co. commissioned him to do my cover. The publisher’s art department worked with my editor and the artist to come up with the final version you see on my website.
- Design — The font. The small graphic details throughout the book (hint – snowflakes). The publisher’s design team chooses each of these elements and pulls them all together.
- Catalogs — Publishers send catalogs to bookstores and libraries so they can decide what to order for their stock. These catalogs advertise books months before they are available, to give bookstores time to budget and plan for their orders and events. Earlier this summer at Fireside Books, we received the Little, Brown & Co. catalog that includes my novel. I plan to bring it home when we’re done with it at work, so I can casually leave it on the counter when visitors come over.
- Marketing — People can’t read a book they don’t know exists. We are working as a team – my editor, my publisher, my agent and myself – to find as many different ways as possible to get the word out. Unlike some Alaskans who I have vowed to never name on my blog, I’m not a celebrity. I’ll be attending book fairs and other events to introduce myself to potential readers, and my publisher will advertise THE SNOW CHILD in national venues. The publisher’s sales representatives, some of whom I got to meet while in New York City recently, are spreading the news. We’re also distributing advance reader copies to reviewers, bloggers, bookstores and other people who can help us reach more readers.
- Other books — I know. It’s shocking, but my novel isn’t the only one being released by a major publisher this year. Little, Brown & Co. alone has dozens of books each year. In the coming months, they will publish several wonderful novels, books that I’m honored to see THE SNOW CHILD next to in the catalog. Each of these books is going through the same process as mine, and that takes time, effort, and planning on the part of the publisher.
- The season — It’s pretty evident by the cover and title – THE SNOW CHILD isn’t really a July book. It was meant to be published in the winter. Just as some babies are meant to be born in February, which coincidentally happens to be my birthday month.
This is a snapshot of what I’ve learned since my book was acquired by Little, Brown & Co. It’s a surprising, complicated, and yes, sometimes agonizingly slow process, but I know the due date is bound to arrive eventually.
Yesterday we got a call we had been waiting for. It was time to go jump in a lake.
The sun was shining. We had spent the day working hard: painting the house, installing our new plumbing system, stacking wood. When our friends who live on the shore of the neighborhood lake phoned to tell us that the water had warmed to a balmy 60 degrees, we grabbed our swim suits and headed to their dock.
Just six weeks ago, there was still ice on the lake. Swimming outdoors in Alaska requires a special kind of spirit — bold, adventuresome, some would say slightly nutty. Or at least susceptible to peer pressure.
So … come on. We’re standing with our toes just off the edge of the dock. You’re hesitating, aren’t you? Do it. Jump in. It’ll feel great, I promise —
When you first plunge into the dark, cold water, there’s a brief moment when you think your heart might stop. Then you surface, gasp, screech, then sputter and laugh. You immediately scramble to the dock and climb out.
This is crazy! But when the cool mountain air hits your wet skin, you find yourself shivering. So now what? You want to retreat to the campfire or hot tub? Already? No, come on. Jump in one more time. It gets better, trust me.
The second time, the water doesn’t feel so cold. It’s actually kind of … lukewarm. You are floating on your back, the sun on your face. All you can see is blue sky and the tops of mountains and leafy trees. All you hear is the water lapping against your ears. Occasionally a lake weed tickles your foot. The air smells green, like lily pads and clean water and freshly mowed grass. You kick your feet and splash with your arms.
You have never felt so alive.
As I’ve mentioned in past letters, my debut novel has been picked up by publishers in other countries. When I receive images of the foreign editions, I’ve been sharing them with you. So here’s the newest one — the Spanish-language cover as published by Grijalbo of the Random House Group.
I’m amazed at how wonderfully unique these covers are! I hear that the UK and French editions are in the works, and I am so curious.
And for anyone who is interested in reading an advanced reader copy of THE SNOW CHILD — in American English — I’m still taking names for the drawing I announced earlier this week.
Thank you all for the enthusiasm in the comments so far, and the explanation points! I saw that my old friend, former sports reporter and present-day fisherman extraordinaire Casey Ressler, even went against his grain and threw in a couple explanation points on my behalf. And I saw some other familiar names 🙂 (Hi everybody!)
If the ARCs were awarded on enthusiasm alone, though, I think we would all agree one would have to go to Nana, who used more explanation points than anyone else and, more importantly, offered up her first unborn child. (I really appreciate the thought, but I just don’t think I can go through the whole up-all-night, changing-diapers baby thing again.)
I really am honored to have this kind of response. I was touched to know that several of you came to my blog based on recommendations from Claire Legrand, whose novel THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS will be published by Simon & Schuster fall 2012, and Luis Urrea, author of THE HUMMINGBIRD’S DAUGHTER and, coming in December, QUEEN OF AMERICA. (Check out his fabulous new website, www.luisurrea.com)
With more than 25 names already, I plan to give away several copies of the ARC. The more people who write in “I want an ARC!” before July 1, the more copies I’ll hand out. So if you haven’t already, add your comment to the June 22 post, and I’ll throw your name into the hat.
Dear early reader,
The other day when I got to the bookstore, this box was waiting for me …
Now sometimes we get shipments at Fireside Books with an individual employee’s name on the box, whoever happened to do the ordering, but it’s kind of rare. Not knowing what to expect, I opened the box. This is what I found inside …
ARCs, also know as advance reader copies, of my novel THE SNOW CHILD! These are early printings done in paperback, although the book will officially be released in hardcover Feb. 1. ARCs are sent to bookstore staff, bloggers, reviewers, librarians, reporters, and the author …
I gave a few to my bookstore coworkers, but now I find myself with this box of books. Needless to say, I’ve already read it a few times. So I thought I would offer a few of them up to some of my favorite people — my blog readers. Here’s the plan: anyone who would like an ARC of THE SNOW CHILD can write “I want an ARC!” (the explanation point is nice, because then I know you really mean it) in the comments section of this blog post between now and July 1. On July 1, I will do a drawing on random.org and mail or personally hand the ARCs to the winners.
I can’t rule out friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives, or people from the publishing industry because, well, then I’m afraid I might not have anyone enter the drawing. So this is open to anyone, but only one entry per person. Depending on how many people are interested, I might draw for a few.
In 1955 the Rasmuson Foundation gave its first grant to an Alaskan — $155 for a film projector. Since then, the foundation has awarded more than $200 million to nonprofit organizations, libraries, schools, and individual artists.
This year Rasmuson grants went to a screenwriter to write a documentary about Jewish pioneers in territorial Alaska, a traditional Alaskan artist who makes mukluks and parkas, a painter, a glass artist, and a Shakespeare thespian, to name a few.
When I attended the awards ceremony in Anchorage, I was so moved by the diversity and passion of the artists. I felt honored to be among them, and grateful to the Rasmuson Foundation for having both the means, courtesy of a family trust, and the vision to support art in all its many forms across Alaska.
My gratitude was more self-centered, as well – I was given $5,000 to assist in research for my next novel.
I’m afraid I can’t share much about my new novel yet. I once heard a writer refer to the process as baking a cake. Early on, it’s still just mostly batter, and if I open the oven too soon to show it off, it just might fall. So I’ll keep the oven closed for now, while it’s baking.
But I will tell you that the Rasmuson grant is funding my rafting trip down the Copper River later this summer. The trip is rapidly approaching, and this weekend Sam and I began making preliminary plans. We picked up the raft from Alaska Ultra Sport, the guiding service we’re renting it from, and got some tips from the guides about where to camp and how to read the river.
We still have a lot of strategic details to figure out– getting dropped off in Chitina, getting picked up in Cordova and catching the ferry home, how much food to bring, and where we’ll be able to find drinking water along the way. It’s a nearly 100-mile float trip without cell phone or internet access, electricity or roads. We have to think of everything now – once we are afloat on the river, there is no turning back.
Which is what I find so thrilling about a trip like this. When you set out on an adventure, you never know what you’ll see or how you’ll be changed by it. As I write those words, I realize it is perhaps at the core of my new novel – adventure and hardship and how it changes us. Of course, without saying too much, I certainly hope we don’t encounter the same kind of hardships my characters do along this stretch of the Copper River …
Dear warm reader,
When the clouds lifted off the mountains this morning, this is what we saw out our window —
Yes, that’s fresh snow. And not far from our house. Often during the summer it will snow on the very tops of the mountains. In autumn, we call it “termination dust” because it is the sign of the end. But in June? And this close? Luckily, our vegetable garden and summer blooms weren’t damaged by frost.
On another note, I want to give a quick thanks to my readers. I have friends from here in Alaska, including Sue and the Baers, who have kept me inspired with their comments on my blog from the beginning. But I also have more far-flung readers — my grandparents in New York, my grandmother’s dear friend Alma in Florida, even readers in Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, and France. That’s what keeps me writing — knowing my “letters from Alaska” are connecting me with loved ones and new friends around the world.
May your mornings be free of snow and your flowers forever blooming,
Dear lovely reader,
Poetry is language in its purest art form. I’ve heard other people use the same analogy – if a short story is a snapshot, a novel a movie, then a poem is a painting. Each brush stroke an act of artistry. And yet, even among my writer and reader friends, I know only a few who seek out poetry.
I’m not sure why there is so much resistance. I think people are intimidated by it, or bored. They think of the sing-songy rhymes they had to memorize as a child, or they come across modern poems that are so obscure and inaccessible that they are like meaningless abstract paintings. Randomly choosing a poem as a representation of “poetry” is like pulling a book off the “C” shelf in a bookstore and thinking if you don’t like it, you don’t like fiction. You could end up with a Clive Cussler, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Willa Cather, or Orson Scott Card. What are the odds you are going to love whichever one you pick?
But I wish writers in particular would read more poetry, because I think it has the potential to seep into the brain and influence the way we put our words together. Most of today’s fiction lacks poetry of language. I read dozens of novels ever year, but I’m lucky if one of those has this kind of attention to the rhythm, sound, and surprising potential of each word. The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham rings with the poetic voice I long for, as does Tinkers by Paul Harding. But these lyrical novels are few and far between.
When I’m struggling with my own fiction writing, I often read poetry. It fills me with such admiration and inspiration.
Here are a couple of examples.
They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me “still” –
Still! Could themselves have peeped –
And seen my brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the pound …
— Emily Dickinson
And from one of my favorite modern poets:
Tibet is rock and mineral
hard sparseness polished
by stark wind
buffeted by bright sunlight
carried as talisman
and pain …
— Julie LeMay (also known as my mom)
And from Olena Kalytiak Davis, another of my favorite modern poets:
Your thoughts have hung themselves from nails
The sky has stopped
offering you reasons to live and your heart is the rock
you threw through each window
of what’s deserted you, so you turn
to the burnt out building inside you: scaffolding
overhead, the fallen beams,
the unsound framework …
When I read these lines out loud, I hear the music of the words and feel their rhythm like a bass beat against my heart. It’s the magic of language, and I never tire of it.
Dear hungry reader,
The salmon have returned to the rivers, so we Alaskans have, too. My husband and a group of friends spent two days on the Copper River, one of the most famous salmon streams. Regardless of where you live, it’s possible that you’ve seen Copper River sockeye on a menu or in a grocery store.
Dipnetting is one of the most popular methods for subsistence fishing. You lower a long-handled, wide net into the river and scoop the salmon out of the water. This type of fishing is allowed for Alaskan residents only, and in only a few rivers. It’s regulated to help people get their fish for the year while still protecting the salmon population.
When Sam went last week, each Alaskan family was allowed 40 fish. He brought home 35 sockeye, also know as red salmon, and one king salmon. This is a wonderful blessing, but it also means a lot of work. Everyone in the family pitched in over the course of two days, and now we have the salmon filleted and either preserved in jars or frozen in vacuum-sealed bags. Here are a few photos.
This catch alone will provide us with about 70 meals for the year. For dinners, we thaw the frozen fillets and grill it or bake it in the oven. The jarred salmon is cooked during the pressure cooking process. We store it in the root cellar, and use it to make something similar to tuna salad for sandwiches, salmon burgers, salmon-cream cheese spread, and pasta recipes, as well as just eating it out of the jar. It is some of the most healthy, flavorful meat in the world, and we’re thankful to have it! We’re also thankful to be done with the work. At least until we go king salmon fishing later this week.
Dear global reader,
It seems totally surreal to me still, but my novel THE SNOW CHILD has been picked up by publishers in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Norway, Holland and the United Kingdom, where the publisher will also distribute to South Africa and Australia. In each of these countries, the novel will be translated when necessary and published with a unique cover. Last week I also got news that Recorded Books has bought the audio rights to it and will do a recorded version.
On some level, I don’t really believe it. I keep thinking one of these days my editor or agent will call and say, “Just kidding. Did you really think people in other countries were going to go to all that trouble to publish your book?”
But earlier this week I got the first confirmation that these foreign editions might indeed be real.
Pantagruel in Norway will publish THE SNOW CHILD in September. Here’s the cover:
Isn’t that amazing? (I think I can brag about how amazing and beautiful it is, since I can take absolutely no credit for its design.)
And as a refresher, here’s the cover for my U.S. edition from Little, Brown & Co. The artwork is by Italian artist Alessandro Gottardo, also known as Shout. I still get goosebumps every time I see it!
I can’t wait to see what the other foreign editions look like, and I’ll share them with you as soon as I can.
Dear reliable reader,
One of my favorite bloggers, The Rejectionist, recently had a post called Things That Are Not Actually Normal But Seem Sort of Normal After 2.89 Years in New York City. It’s hilarious, and it inspired me to do my own homage to her genius.
So here is my list of things that are not actually normal but seem sort of normal after 30 years in Alaska —
spinning your vehicle 360 degrees on black ice in the middle of the highway, ending up back in your own lane facing the right direction, so continuing on to work as if nothing happened
breakup boots, not “Wellingtons” or “galoshes”
your 3-year-old daughter asking for moose during lunch at preschool, and then crying when told she will have to eat cow meat
sunrise at 11 a.m. followed by sunset at 3 p.m. or, if you prefer, sunset at 11 p.m., sunrise at 3 a.m.
Outside potatoes. True, all potatoes are grown outdoors. “Outside” potatoes are grown someplace like Idaho – Outside of Alaska
hiding your last-minute, grocery-store-bought Outside potatoes when your potato farmer friend comes for dinner
grinning sheepishly when your potato farmer friend finds Outside potatoes behind the box of beer in the pantry
trying to find a place for the 50 pounds of Yukon Golds your potato farmer friend unloads in your kitchen when he comes back the next day
flip-flops, with no socks, in the post office in the dead of winter. 15 degrees below zero, but who’s asking
40 rhubarb plants in your yard
your husband thinking 40 rhubarb plants might not be enough
$4.35 per gallon of gas in the oil capital of the United States
$18 for gallon of milk in Bush Alaska
knowing Bush Alaska is anywhere not on the road system, which is vast majority of state
537 mosquitoes inside one pup tent, and another million or so begging to get in
spending an hour in the middle of the night trying to kill the one mosquito that keeps bumping into your forehead
muktuk and akutaq as hors d’oeuvres at opening night of the community play
knowing akutuq is an Alaska Native traditional dish with seal fat, Crisco, and wild berries whipped together
thinking akutuq is kind of yummy
boiled caribou tongue served hot out of the pot in hunting camp
knowing that caribou tongue is awful and should never be eaten
elementary schools that allow outdoor recess down to 20 below zero
top secret berry picking spots
being sworn to secrecy when being led, blindfolded, to top secret berry picking spots
sparking a neighborhood feud when you accidently reveal top secret berry picking spot and 30 berry pickers show up with their buckets
hosting a party and having more snowmachines than automobiles parked in your driveway
partygoers knowing that it’s not just BYOB (bring your own beer) but also BYOS (bring your own sled) because the Iveys have the best sledding hill ever
coveting your neighbor’s smoked salmon recipe
trading your neighbor three packages of caribou pepperoni for one bag of smoked salmon and a jar of wild cranberry ketchup
seven months of darkness, snow, ice, and wind, and not wanting to live anywhere else in the world