Dear God, but it had been a long time. A desert of eon time when climbing back on the horse of creative longing seemed so remote as to be impossible. When the new novel finally came to her, she felt like Sarah in the Bible, finding out she was pregnant at the age of - what was, it, 113? Some unlikely number like that.
She fell into her third novel, plunged down into it like a waterslide, as if the years between books were melting, no longer glaring her in the face. The writing of it was a revelation, a year and a half of panting fainting work, pursuing and pursuing. And then came the three-year hunger.
Three years of nearly giving up hope.
Because nobody wanted it.
Nobody had the slightest interest in it.
Her friends felt that it was all right.
Or maybe they were trying to make her feel better.
"Just be glad you can write again."
"Just be satisfied with the process."
"It's still a book, even though nobody reads it."
"No it's not."
The three years entailed so many inquiries that fell on barren soil that she came close to giving up, and for eleven months wouldn't blog or go on Facebook or do any of the shenanigans writers had to do now to look hip and relevant and survive. Her mind went back to the first novel, the fizzy joy, the sense that a lifetime of longing had been completed (with no way of knowing that the longing would soon come back and stay forever).
She remembered the lovely lady at the big bookstore, the one local writers called (somewhat scornfully) Big Booky. Her name was Jeannine and she was a big bustling lady who looked like an old-time travel agent, before the internet spoiled it all. Someone who could have been a social director on the Love Boat. She was so thrilled to set up a launch for a local author, and it all went so well, there was such a good turnout, and then two years later it happened again! There was no stopping her now, and everyone knew it. Everything was aces up, she could do no wrong.
The famine, a plague of Biblical proportions. A trudge, or a slow slither through thick dust. Years and years of just surviving, of wondering where the wonder went.
In the meantime, while the rest of life just insisted on continuing, things began to happen at Big Booky. Foremost was the fact that the books had almost disappeared. They had slowly slipped and crept and cringed to the back of the store, and there they stayed like a dirty secret. This was ironic, because it was Big Booky that had driven all the neighborhood book stores out of business, like the snakes out of Ireland. Now Big Booky was a gift store, high-end gifts, the kind she couldn't afford, though she did once buy a tiny box of chocolates for a friend that cost $12.99.
When the famine broke and she wrote the book and she sent the queries and she walked the miles, and when hope was nearly extinguished, there came that word that every writer thirsts for:
A yes, by God, a Yes, and her third book, her novel that she had yearned into being, was actually going to become real.
But it had been ten years since her first novel, and suddenly she realized that she and her work were perceived as Paleozoic. Never mind the rapturous reviews, the "fiction at its finest", the triumphant readings and signings in venues she had only dreamed about before. There was a sense that having a third book out, after everything had changed so much, was like having a baby when you were fifty: it was inappropriate to feel any pride in it at all.
She picked up with her prickly little antennae that she was so unhip as to be an embarrassment, someone you'd want to hide in the back of the store along with all the books. For if book stores now buried their own merchandise as if it was just too uncool to show, what chance did an author have, an old author who didn't know how to move and shake and get down on her knees in front of the necessary men?
The launch! Where was she going to arrange the launch? It was an exercise in humiliation to even consider having it at Big Booky, where the other two events had gone so well. Nevertheless, inured to the endless humiliations authors had to endure as the price of daring to write, and in full knowledge of the fact that it was now the only book store that existed, she went in to talk to them.
The events planner didn't come out from wherever she was hiding because she was "busy", so they palmed her off onto someone who wanted to do it even less than she did. The young man she spoke to wouldn't make eye contact. His voice was monotone. He did not say hello. When she mentioned she had had her first two launches with them, he took the copies of the novels from her without looking at them and disappeared.
When he returned, he said, "These didn't show up in the computer." Did he even believe the store had sold them and (she thought) proudly launched a local author? (Twice?) Then he fired a series of questions at her, not about the book (in which he displayed no interest at all), but what her social media contacts were, and whether she had contacted head office about whether or not they were going to carry the book.
She wasn't stupid, she knew this was crucial, but why was it so front-loaded, why such indifference to her passion? But passion was a liability now. And since when did authors have to arrange for mega-corporations to carry their small-box novels? Wasn't this just another opportunity for humiliation and shame?
It was her least proficient area, and she knew her publisher should have been taking care of it, but she was expected to rhyme off all the jargon, though at one point she wondered if he were selling widgets or McDonald's hamburgers rather than pieces of literature. He did not engage with her, didn't smile and attempted no human connection whatsoever, but it was obvious that SHE had failed, that it had been a grave mistake to tell him about the other two novels, that they were a black mark on her record.
He told her they were booked up for the next three months and did not give her any followup information. Before she left, he pressed a card into her hand with his name and title: Customer Experience Manager. Just to shock him, she shook his hand, and his dulled face briefly registered a look of astonishment.
It was happening again. She was trying, too hard, running back and forth as she had always done. He was sleepwalking in a high-end gift shop that no longer even pretended to take an interest in "local writers": they were a joke now, they didn't move enough copies, and who would ever come out to see them? Big Booky had gone the way of Big Pharma and Big Burger and Big Everything Else. She had never felt so irrelevant. After all that toiling and despair, and the tenuous and almost bizarre rebirth, she realized her book was an orphan in the storm, that no one welcomed it, that no one gave a crap about whether anyone ever read it at all.