Hello, everyone, it is now our New Year!
Reflecting back on the past year, I can honestly say, and I haven’t been able to say this about a year in I-don’t-even-know-how-long, 2011 was an awesome time for me.
This was the year that things finally came together enough that I could make things happen. You would think that being only sporadically employed would leave one with lots of spare time for authorly endeavors, but with all those months of job-searching, repeatedly moving house, and wondering how much longer I’d be able to pay my rent, I found it was awfully difficult to stay focused on a given project.
Most of 2010 was a real waste in terms of getting my shit together, but good things were already happening at the start of 2011. I had finally found a temp job that seemed to have some staying power, and I had a place to live which I knew was temporary, but I could make some excellent use of it while I was mine. It was the first year since 2007 that I spent with a steady paycheck and a room of my own for the full 12 months, which meant that I could stop worrying about my employment and residential situations and concentrate on writing.
2011 was the year that I was offered, and accepted, a real job with a salary and benefits for the first time since I finished my Peace Corps assignment in 2008. Even before the job offer came in, though, this is where shit gets real: 2011 is the year that I decided to self-publish my debut novel. We can talk about my thoughts on the publishing industry later, but the point is, early 2011 was when I decided to make it happen.
Around this time, I joined She Writes, which is a great place to be for women writers, as well as for men who don’t mind a predominantly female environment. If you’re a writer looking to connect with other writers, and you haven’t yet checked out She Writes, I suggest you give it a look. How this is relevant to 2011 is that She Writes connected me with Christina Baker Kline, who bravely agreed to edit my debut novel, Charlinder’s Walk, and I’m so glad she did. Of course I’m more than a little biased on this, but I think it’s actually a quality book, and it owes much of its quality to Christina’s advice, so I’m very glad I got a chance to work with her.
As it happened, the day that Christina sent me her feedback was also the day that I received a job offer letter from my employer, so that was a day that involved a lot of me freaking out. Since I had a lot of work to do on the book, 2011 was the year that I unplugged my TV and stuck it in a closet while I put in months of non-stop late nights of revising. It was the first year that I could spend months putting in late nights on revising rather than job-searching, and it was exhausting, but I was so proud to be sleep-deprived and caffeine-dependent.
It was the year that I sent the mostly-edited manuscript to my dear, talented friend Venessa Kelley, who gave Charlinder a face and helped me put a cover on the book. It was the year that I began attending She Writes local meetups organized by the fabulous, and very helpful Ananda Leeke, who came up with a great way to describe Charlinder’s Walk. We were discussing how to describe my book in terms of genre, and I had all this stuff to say about literary fiction with fantasy elements, so Ananda said, it’s a fantasy blend. Now, I love that, because I’m a knitter, and it reminds me of how we talk about fiber content in yarn.
Now just bear with me for a moment; take this scarf I’m working on, for example. The shiny colorful part of the yarn is silk, but the yarn is mostly wool and alpaca, so it’s a silk blend. When you put the scarf on, it’ll feel mostly like fiber taken from the backs of four-legged vertebrates, but there is some silk in there and it makes an important contribution. Now, Charlinder’s Walk is a coming-of-age told from a skeptical perspective, and it mostly reads like literary fiction, but there’s a fantasy blend that takes the skepticism in some unusual directions.
Most importantly of all, 2011 was the year that I published a book. After months of beating my novel into shape, I said it’s time to go, and in mid-October, I sent Charlinder out into the world. So on that note, I’m going to turn this into Storytime and show you all a little passage. This one is different from the other excerpts I’ve shared in that it happens much later in the book. The snippets I’ve shown earlier are all from the first quintile of the book, which is when Charlinder is safely at home in his village. This is from Part 4, in which he is already very far into his walk. I’m choosing this one because, when I gave Venessa her print copy, she quickly opened it up to revisit the scene of Charlinder’s first meeting with Gentiola, so I later checked back at that part, and indeed, there is a scene that I’d like to share with you.
When the novel begins, Charlinder is 20 years old, and at this stage, he’s 23. Gentiola appears to be in her late 30s. He’s been walking for a very long time, is exhausted in every possible way, and Gentiola is sitting him down for a much-needed meal.
“I don’t know what that’s like,” said Gentiola. “To grow up without ever hearing another language. When I was a teenager, we could hear people speaking Italian, English, German, Dutch, Greek, French, Turkish, Polish, and if we went to the capital there were places where we could hear Chinese. On printed labels there were even more. It was the most natural thing in the world, to me and my peers, that there were some people around who might not understand us, and that we’d be able to go more places and meet more people if we learned their ways of speaking.”
“You grew up in a really different world than I did,” said Charlinder.
“Yes, I know. Actually, my childhood was…really quite shockingly isolated–I lived under a dictatorship until I was sixteen, and they put a lot of energy into keeping the rest of the world out–but I still learned English at school, and others learned French. I just haven’t had a chance to use my English in so many decades, now it’s nearly gone. If I’d never heard anyone speak anything outside of my mother tongue, and no one else around me ever heard it either, I just don’t know how much differently I would have seen the world.”
“Well, I didn’t grow up under a dictatorship. We just lived so far away from any other linguistic territory, we never knew what else was out there.”
“Yes, most people now live in those circumstances. It’s funny that you’re an Anglophone who’s come this far, because before the spring of 2010, your language would have gotten you farther than…well, farther than pretty much any other, really. English used to be the common language of India, for example, but it’s been decades since they had any use for it, so they’ve lost it.”
“I noticed,” said Charlinder with a slight shudder.
“Also, in Western Europe–and by Western, I mean the wealthier countries–it was a popular second language, and you could have safely traveled all over the continent, but now, we can hardly go anywhere, so most people speak their mother tongue and nothing else.”
“Whereas I somehow managed to go farther than anyone else, but of course I never stay anywhere long enough to pick up a language.”
“I hate to break this to you, but you’d have to stay somewhere for years to learn enough to hold a conversation. If you want to learn a new language strictly by immersion, it’s best to do it as a child, and you’re not a child anymore, so…”
“I think that’s the first time in my life anyone’s ever said that to me.”
“What? That you’d have to stay somewhere for years?”
“That I’m not a child anymore.”
So, that’s all the storytime for this week, and as happy as I am with 2011, I think 2012 will be even better. Oddly enough, Charlinder’s Walk shows 2012 as the year when our world was well and truly gone and Charlinder’s world was just beginning. I assure you, I did not have the Mayan prophecy in mind, it just worked out to those dates. I have more novels in progress and planning, and on Sundays to come I will show you more of what I have in the works. Happy New Year, and here’s to making things happen.