The title of Hilary Clinton’s bestselling book, IT TAKES A VILLAGE: AND OTHER LESSONS CHILDREN TEACH US, was based on an African phrase. We all know the essential truth of that saying if we’ve had children.
Since my father was a Navy officer and we moved often, I expected to be as independent and stoic as my own stay-at-home mother when I had kids. Boy, was I wrong. As a working mother who got divorced when my oldest children were still toddlers, I had to rely on more hands than I can count: friends and neighbors, day care providers and teachers. I loved my village because it made me believe my children might actually make it to adulthood intact.
It turns out that “It takes a village” is also an apt phrase to describe what it takes to publish a book. Of course you spend hours with your butt in the chair as a writer, alone except for those procrastination emails or tweets. But, when it’s time to birth your book, there is no way to do it alone. We writers appreciate every helping hand extended our way, from our writer friends who help us wrestle plots into shape to that publicist who sends out PR materials to magazines and newspapers.
This week, as I launch my new novel, THE WISHING HILL, I feel surrounded by cheering villagers. My husband, bless him, held down the fort whenever I needed to get away to write—and I do mean get away, as in hiding out in cabins and cottages from California to Maine. He even helped me pick out my outfit for the book launch party; when I asked if my earrings were too weird, he just grinned and said, “Not for you, honey.”
My mother, who is the reason I love books, is still my best reader, honest and unerring in her assessment of what my characters are doing, and what they perhaps should do instead. She is also the source of many of my key stories, including the centerpiece for this novel and the story about the missing brother in my next book, BEACH PLUM ISLAND.
My children have been equally supportive, never questioning the fact that their mother would often still be sitting at the same place at the dining room table and wearing the same sweatpants, laptop in front of her, when they left for school and again when they returned at the end of the day, surprised but happy to remember that I was a mother. They are my muses, too, inviting me into their worlds so that I have more than just my desk-bound existence to draw from whenever I’m stuck for a new setting or clever dialogue.
The other writers who helped me get here were equally important. Susan Straight, my dear friend from graduate school and an amazing reader of the various manuscripts I’ve sent her over the years, has won nearly every literary award you can name, including an Edgar and a nomination for the National Book Award. We left the starting gate at the same time with our first novels, but she managed to publish many books of fiction before I sold this one to Penguin. Yet, Susan has never called me anything but a writer, and trusts me with her manuscripts in return. She is, as I write this, driving from California to Massachusetts to be at my book signing. I have many other writer friends who have always been there with advice on everything from character development to surviving the rejections of the novels I wrote before this one that never saw the light of day. Thank you, my tribe.
The wonderful booksellers who have sold me all the books I’ve read and been inspired by through the years deserve a huge round of applause. They sell books with the same passion I write them. When Sue Little, the owner of Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, the longest-running independent bookstore in New England, called to say how much she loved THE WISHING HILL and wanted to host my launch party, I felt as if I’d won the Pulitzer.
Then there are the people who provide you with sanctuary. For instance, my friend Melanie let me borrow her vacation house in Maine not just once, but twice, for writing retreats that made all the difference in creating a cohesive story.
When you’re ready to publish your book, there is a whole team at work on your behalf, whether you’re with a big publisher like Penguin or going the Indie route: editors and copy editors, designers and publicists. My editor, Tracy Bernstein, is the smartest editor I’ve worked with in over two decades of being a writer. She has pushed me beyond what I ever thought I could do as a writer, showing me big picture items like where the plot was clogged with flashbacks and catching thorny details like people’s names changing mid-manuscript. She also showed me the best damn place to eat fried chicken and pecan pies in Manhattan.
Last but certainly not least, there are the readers. Some are the official reviewers who champion your book (you hope) through official places like Kirkus and Booklist. Others are people who simply love to read and are generous enough to post reviews about your book so that others may find it. I am especially grateful to the book club members, book bloggers and tribes out there who post on Goodreads, like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, a tireless, chatty group of readers who will tell everyone exactly what they think of your book.
So thank you, thank you, my village. I wouldn’t be here without you. Happy Book Launch Week to all of us!