Breathing Water was not really my first novel. It was actually my third. In college I wrote a book called Tygers and Berries: A Modern Inferno (don't ask, please don't ask). In graduate school I wrote a novel which ultimately became Paper Rain. (You can see the post about this one here.) But Breathing Water was the first novel to be published, to find a real audience. And I was over the moon.
I remember going to our local Barnes and Noble and seeing a stack of them on the front table and almost passing out. I wish there was a word for that feeling, but there just isn't.
My publisher didn't send me on tour, but I fashioned a tour myself, traveling around Vermont with my Dad, visiting all of the local bookstores where I happily sat signing books for anyone who would have me.
Me at my very first book signing.
I remember feeling both thrilled and exposed by the novel. Knowing that there were five thousand copies (!) out there in the world was both exciting and terrifying. What would people think? Of Effie (who was so very much like me at the time). Of my writing? What if people hated it? What if it was all a fluke, or worse some cruel sort of joke?
Then when the review came out in The New York Times, I was pretty sure I was on the fast track to literary fame and fortune. (My grandfather posted copies of the review all over my hometown in Vermont -- including on the bulletin board at the boat access area at the pond which serves as inspiration for Lake Gormlaith. He also purchased a dozen copies which he distributed to all of the local libraries, slipping a copy of the review inside each one.)
Who would have known that just five years later, Breathing Water, as well as my second and third novels would be out of print? That I'd be working as an admin assistant at an IT company. That I would be so busy with two babies I barely had time to think, never mind to write. And that when I finally did manage to finish my fourth novel, no one in the world would want it. That I was damaged goods. Having three novels out of print made me an untouchable in publishing, though no one would admit that was the reason for rejection.
The grant money was long gone (as well as money from the NEA which allowed me to finish Two Rivers). Breathing Water had been remaindered, that luminous blue cover labeled with Discounted stickers wherever books were sold. All those gifts from 1999 were gone. Though luckily, the husband stuck.
It felt like a death. Of course, the grief was smaller, the sorrow just a sliver of true sorrow. But it truly felt like a dream had died.
The years that followed were difficult, though filled with so many other blisses: my daughters, a cross-country move/adventure, many years of teaching, and more writing. Because while the dream of fame and fortune (of further publication even) might have been dead on the vine, the need to write was not. And the simple act of writing, of working and creating was what drove me. I had to trust that if I continued to write my heart on the page that someday someone would love those pages back.
Of course, most of you know the rest of the story. Two Rivers finally found its home with Kensington (as did the the subsequent four novels). And even better, Kensington bought my backlist and has systematically revived them - one by one, year by year, ending with the re-release of Breathing Water. Today.
Today is the first day in a decade that every single one of my books is in print. And while nothing compares to that moment when I stood looking at my books perched on the front table at Barnes and Noble for the first time, this feeling comes pretty damn close.