Thursday, August 04, 2005

a not-so-final final

Today I printed out the rewrite, to be shipped tomorrow. It's 40 pages lighter, and, I hope, a bit tighter. I'm pretty sure I'll have one more pass through before it's accepted and we can move into production.

I'm not sure how I feel. I'm neither elated nor anxious. A little happy, for obvious reasons, and sad, for not so obvious ones. This is a wild process. I guess the toughest thing has been the drastic mood swings. I've had some extreme highs (when the book sold, when I sent off the manuscript, when I got it back with a six-page glowing letter). Against these, the mundane drudgery of actually writing a book has felt, at times, like severe depression. Indeed, for a while after the book sold, before I really got started writing, I literally shut down. I was so bummed out I could barely move. I think (hope) things are starting to even out, and I am beginning to take it all in stride.

I've been meaning to blog about the experience of getting the manuscript back. It was quite overwhelming, but time has passed since then, and the feelings are a bit distant.

I wasn't home when the package arrived for it, so I had to go to the FedEx office to sign for it. I started tearing open the package before I even got back to my car. I started reading the letter. Three paragraphs in, I read, "In many ways, this is a challenging book. By challenging, of course, I don't mean arduous or tiresome; in fact, I was consistently impressed by your ability to make complicated issues of legislation and reform accessible to your reader. What's challenging is the honesty with which you bring to light a number of thorny racial problems. Some of these problems, such as poverty or systemic failures in public education, will be somewhat familiar to your reader (although you elaborate on them with a voice and candor that are uniquely yours). But what really distinguish CROSS-X are the more subtle issues of race and racism that you tackle -- many of them difficult precisely because they point to the complacency that accompanies privilege."

I read this and I just started sobbing. It was a culmination (not the last, I hope) of a journey that had begun about seven years earlier, when I first started toying with the idea of writing a book (actually, "toying around" doesn't quite describe it: I set a life goal of writing a book, the one thing I intended to do before I die). I was living in Colorado then and I had no real idea what I might write about, just that I wanted to create something of "length and substance" (that's actually how I described it). The goal had no financial components, no fancy publisher wish list. Just: I want to write a book, and I want it to be the best book I can write.

When I finally found a subject, three years later, and I got permission from the subjects to write about them, I had no publisher, and no guarantee that I would ever have one. All I had was a flexible job and about $7,000 left over from the sale of my house in Colorado, which I spent on the project without hesitation.

So I cried when I read that paragraph because it said, in essence, You did it! But also because it was addressed to me, and only I have lived with me my whole life, and, frankly, it's hard to believe that I could do such a thing. I'm the one lugging around the comprehensive files on all the stupid stupid shit I've done in my life (and, honestly, continue to do). Even while I was immersed in the project, even after it sold, I didn't really totally completely believe I could do it (Allie, who listened to my long, insecure sob sessions, can testify to this). And I know this is all coming off kind of arrogant and cocky, but really what I'm trying to explain here is a moment of extreme humility and gratitude, because that's what I felt in that moment, and that's why I cried (and I mean cried; like, I all-out bawled all the way down Front Street).

I felt grateful for all the folks at Central who let me into their world, to tell this amazing story they were already living (and, believe me, the telling was the easy part). And I felt deep gratitude for my experience at the Pitch, because so much of the editor's glowing letter cited aspects of my writing and reporting which were things I specifically learned on the job there. And for a host of other folks, above all Allie, who held my hand on many a freaked out night (and who edited the entire 630-page manuscript before I submitted it).

I cried because I felt very lucky, and that I didn't really deserve it. And once the initial elation wore off, I began to doubt, at times, that the editor honestly meant what he said, which is absolutely insane, I know. But such are the highs and lows, I suppose. Perhaps that's what keeps us going.

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