Wednesday, October 06, 2010

letting the acorns fall (cross-posted from November Hill Press blog)

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.


ponymaid said...

Billie, deer never lie and oaks are the iron men of the forest. You're on the right path.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'm sure your novel is more than ready to be published. Listen to the deer and the acorns and go for it. Once it is published there will be many people to read your work. Some will like it and some won't that's just the way of things. Don't agonize over the small stuff, the more you keep rewriting the more time you take away from getting started on something new. I'm hoping to see November Hill Press releasing claire-obscure sooner than later.

billie said...

Sheaffer, thank you. Both you AND The Woman are a tremendous inspiration to me.

billie said...

Arlene, of course you're right. On all counts. I appreciate the encouragement so much!

Valentino said...


Letting things go and moving on. Recurring themes lately :)

The world anxiously awaits claire-obscure... bring it on Billie!

billie said...

I know - it's 'on the analytic couch with billie' around here lately!

Thanks so much for the lovely words. I am lucky to have my little community online. :)

Máire said...

This post is so well expressed. It must be like letting a child out into the world, to make their own way, even if you, as a parent, think they are not ready yet. Animal symbols are so powerful those deer are asking you to heed them.

billie said...

Maire, it is something like that. I agree that animal symbols are incredibly powerful. And I thank you for the kind words!

jme said...

i love your experience with the deer. they are such powerful figures in indo-european mythology and lore, often leading humans across the boundaries between worlds... it's why my pic --> is an ancient deer symbol :-) and the oak was also sacred and considered not only a symbol of strength and perseverance but of wisdom and enlightenment (think druids, etc.) in many of those cultures the word for oak come from the same root as, and is synonymous with, the word for door...

i can't completely relate, not having accomplished a novel to be published! but i can sympathize. my biggest reluctance in getting anything out there is the inability to change it after the fact, to make it better, to take it back - a word here, a sentence there, or the whole thing. it seems so final.

but i love maire's analogy of the parent and child. or maybe since we have an animal theme, a mother bird - first flights are always daunting, but you have to trust that, even though you can't intervene once it leaves the nest, it was born to take flight one day on its own. it's just waiting for that last little nudge... :-)

billie said...

Thanks, j, for your thoughts. You are all going to think I am even loonier now, but I have to confess this:

Because of this new e-book technology, one of the best things about publishing is the ability to instantly "correct" any mistakes that turn up in the e-book - even after it's published.

It's entirely possible to go back and rewrite a section of the book, change the cover, add something, delete something, etc.

And you can also take the entire book offline, if you choose. That wouldn't of course take it away from anyone who had already bought it, but unlike print media, it is very easy to make changes in a way it has never been before.

This morning I read through the second novel very quickly, and interestingly enough, that one I feel I can publish instantly - I would have actually done it this morning if I had cover art lined up!

Maybe it's the first-born thing, I don't know. The third one is going to be easy too.

Who knows? You might go to Amazon and quite suddenly find all three of them there. :)

jme said...

i don't think that's loony at all! the only reason i have the nerve to blog is that i know i can go back and edit myself - not that i actually DO (even when i probably should!) but it's just somehow comforting to know i COULD if i needed or wanted to. print scares me too much at the moment.

the e-books set-up sounds like an ideal solution. can't wait for them to appear on amazon! but don't let me pressure you ;-) - i can wait until you're ready.

billie said...

No pressure - although I probably NEED it... :)

Greta said...

1. Beautiful writing
2 I don't think you're loony. If I did, you wouldn't be my therapist.

billie said...

Thanks, Greta - and loony is not always a bad thing! :) Just a layer in our processing journey.

Matthew said...

Wonderful entry here Billie.

Maybe November Hill press is just waiting for. . . November?

Victoria Cummings said...

I think you'll know when the time is right. And maybe the second novel will come first. What's great is that you are in control of all this publishing and that the new popularity of the e-book is going to make it possible to circumvent the old and often unfair methods of publishing companies. It gives writers a new freedom, and I applaud you for taking advantage of this new technology and this moment in time to soar. We're ready to ready when you decide to push the button.

billie said...

Could be, Matthew, although I was hoping to get the first two out by then, and the third that month. But my deadlines for myself are often extremely ambitious!

billie said...

Victoria, thank you, and I have had no regrets about moving forward with the e-book aspect of this. I have a soft spot for traditional publishing in my heart, but at some point, I can't wait for "the right book" to connect with "the right editor." And actually now it has to be the right book connecting with the entire sales and marketing department.

I think these times are very exciting for writers, and am hoping that after I guinea pig my novels and the nonfiction book, I can take on some other voices who have experienced difficulty getting through the big publishing house labyrinth.