At Parnassus Books, a Community of Wordies
Lately, I’ve begun stalking Parnassus Books.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long. Over the past few weeks, I’ve wept openly at audio pieces via StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, joined a scrum of fans as Alice Randall launched a health revolution, giggled with a glittery roadtripping crew of young-adult-novel fangirls, and plowed through a stack of marvelous YA novels recommended by gen. mgr. Mary Grey James.
Wednesday, I dined with a delightful visiting author named Sarah McCoy, who’d sent out an e-call to local writers to join her for dinner—which is genius, by the way, and a methodology I plan to steal. Over glasses of wine, we two chatted about writing and word-love with the amazingly creative Heidi Ross and Parnassus Events & Mktg. Mgr. Niki Castle. Sarah shared her stories of writing and all its attendant joys and heartaches, and I told a tale of getting poison ivy in the most delicate area imaginable.
In short, it was a magnificent evening.
So of course, I turned up at Sarah’s Parnassus event last night. Early in her talk, she held up a dog-eared Moleskine journal page, covered with lines of text that were nearly all marked through with pens. “See, Kim?” she said to me, pointing to the page. “Look how many agents I queried. See how many are marked out? RE-JEC-tions. So don’t worry! Take heart!”
I crave those winding-path stories. When we hold a beautiful book in our hands, it’s easy to see only the polished words and book-tour success of it, the above-the-surface part, and to ignore the thousands of lonely hours, the failure-anxiety, and the many inevitable NOs that accompany the journey of a book from idea and Word.doc to bookstore shelf. That’s the aspect that hangs quietly at murky depths, invisible. And to me, it’s the most impressive aspect of that journey.
I crave those stories because I’m in the agent-querying phase of my journey right now. And let me tell you: the ride is a bit choppy. It’s thrilling to top a big wave when the “Please send full manuscript” emails land in your inbox, and nauseating when the “Dear author” form rejections arrive. And so catching a glimpse of the artist’s Before Picture reminds me to grow a bloody thick skin and get on with it.
But commiserating isn’t the only reason to seek out Parnassus events and authors. It isn’t even the best reason. This is the best reason—words like these, from the prologue of Sarah McCoy’s new novel, The Baker’s Daughter:
With the sickle moon hanging high above like a fishbone, she crouched low and brought the candle to the ground. The letter’s waxy seal had been cracked by her earlier clutch. Fragments littered the tiles. She carefully swept them into the base of the burning candlestick, unfolded the paper, and read the familiar script. Her hands trembled with each weighty word, the sentences tallied; her breath came faster and faster until she had to cover her lips to keep quiet.
Gasp! The loveliness! The best reason for me to spend the spare evening or two at Parnassus, discovering authors I might not know otherwise, is the reason I wanted to write a novel in the first place: Word-love. (If Foodies are lovers of food, then I guess that makes me a “Wordie.”) I bought Sarah’s new book, and her previous one. And I bought Myra McEntire‘s and Amy Plum‘s, and Kathryn Williams‘ because I met them all on Parnassus nights. I’m excited to dive into their stories and thrilled to sit in the audience and applaud them. It’s fun, it takes me outside of myself, makes me forget my current bipolar state of self-obsession and painful hope. Because as Myra McEntire sagely pointed out on Monday, hoping for something you can’t control, like whether an agent will love your characters as much as you do, opens the door to some uncomfortable emotions.
How can I possibly lose by cheering on published authors, being happy for folks who have achieved something I’m hoping for (sometimes painfully), and seeing how the pros do the thing that I want to do? Even if my fiction publishing dreams don’t work out as planned, what’s the worst that can happen if I pump my fist for fellow Wordies who are living their dreamed-of lives? Worst-case scenario? I tap into a community of literary craftspeople who work harder than most of us will ever know to share their beautiful stories with us. I absorb thousands of gorgeous words. And maybe, one day, I’ll share a few of my own.
I’m suddenly remembering a moment from long ago, when I met Dave Barry at The Tattered Cover. He was my hero, and I was desperate to impress him. So when my turn came in the long line, after watching people ask him to affix complicated dedications to stacks of 10 books or so, I blurted out, “See?! I only have one book and my name’s easy to spell!” A resounding forehead smack ricocheted inside my brain. Dave Barry fixed his bemused gaze on me just before saying, “I hope I can do the same for you someday.”