I want to take a moment to talk a little bit about November Hill Press and why I decided to launch it at this point in my writing life. I've been writing novels since I was around 3 years old. The early novels were a toddler's version of cursive writing in blue ballpoint on yellow legal pads. I would meticulously put my scrawl on every centimeter of every legal pad line, filling page after page. There are pictures of my toddler self sleeping, pen in hand, with my pad filled with writing. That I was wearing footed pajamas adds to the charm. Sadly (for me, only) I don't remember what it was I wrote, and so those early works are lost!
But the point is, from that very early time in my life I was driven to write. My mother still has a few novels in which I scratched out the author's name on the title pages and tried to write my own name there. I have no memory of that, but it seems even before I could write, I wanted to be a writer.
I've spent years reading and writing. I have an undergraduate degree in English and a master's in clinical social work. I've written poems, short stories, feature articles, papers, and novels. I went through the usual channels with the novels, and although I met wonderful people and had generally good experiences with agents and editors, the process was slow. I am impatient. And the years roll on.
One evening last summer I walked down to the very back of our farm, November Hill. I was standing on the slope looking across at the "hundred acre wood" that lies behind us, when a huge herd of deer came from behind me, leaping together in such a way that it seemed they never touched the ground, their brown bodies arching away from me, down the hill, up the other side, and into the forest. White tails were flashing as they went. The herd was so large this took awhile. I stood, feeling like magic was happening. And then the last deer passed. She slowed and stopped. She turned and looked at me, and then leaped out of sight, hidden instantly as she entered the tree line.
Ted Andrews in his beautiful book, Animal Speak, says that deer often symbolize a call to adventure. An invitation to a journey that might take several years to come to fruition. For days after that encounter, I kept seeing the image of that deer who stopped and turned back. I kept feeling the call.
And that's how November Hill Press was born.
The journey is taking longer than I thought. When we hand our novels into the hands of editors, we hopefully trust them to make the books better. The first novel that is slated to come out under the November Hill Press umbrella has been edited and commented on and reworked. It's been ready to go for several years, if only it had a place to go TO.
And yet, now that I am singly in charge of its publication, I am obsessed with reworking it yet again.
This week I read Michael Cunningham's NY Times Op-Ed piece, "Found In Translation:"
Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.
But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.
It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.
As I read the above passage, I breathed a sigh of something close to relief. It's true. The cathedral made of fire is getting ready to be put into something concrete, an e-book, and then a paperback. Will it lose its brilliance in that translation? That's what we all fear, I think, and it's certainly part of what I'm struggling with as I try to get my manuscript, which has long been titled "claire-obscure-final" in my document file, to the point where I am able to send it on to the next phase.
Beyond this first title, there are four more ready to go.
It's a big leap, just like what the deer were doing last summer, when I stood and watched in awe.
Earlier this week I had another encounter with the November Hill deer. It was evening. They were standing in the arena, a place I've never seen them. There were five of them. They were eating acorns under the big oak tree.
Ted Andrews says in his book Nature-Speak that the oak symbolizes strength and endurance winning out, and opening to new spirit forces. He says the acorn is a symbol of fertility and fruition and the manifestation of creativity, and that the presence of acorns in a meaningful way can be a sign that the fruit of our efforts over the past year or two is about to be harvested.
Bear with me as I deal with these cathedrals made of fire issues. It's part of this process, and I'm trying to honor it while keeping to my original goal - which is letting these acorns fall.