What it’s like to launch

It’s a good thing I promised to say something about the launch of my book, because I’ve slipped back into regular mode, meaning it feels somewhat distant already, so why go on about it? And we’re having wintery weather at the moment – yes, that’s snow caught in the grass – when just days ago, pre- and launch days, that is, it was gorgeous autumn. As if in the meantime a season has come and gone.

It’s good for me, though, to remember and also explain things to myself, and in addition, Shirley Hershey Showalter, in a FB post, said, “I hope you’ll describe what it’s like to launch,” so here I am, on about it. (She’s very close to completing a memoir manuscript for which she already has a contract, so her launch lies soon ahead of her.)

For me, then, and Shirley, and anyone else interested, this is about the launch of my collection of short fiction, What You Get at Home, last Tuesday.

Two parts, private and public. My emotional relationship to a manuscript shifts throughout the writing and publishing process. There’s First Draft intimacy, even elation; Revision’s commitment, collegiality as it were; Submission’s weight of hope and expectation (often too much for the poor thing to bear); Editing’s probing and questions and surges of fresh joy as I push in for bits of improvement; and Proofs-reading’s wavering, its huge desire to start over again here and there – now that it’s entirely too late – which my publisher assures me is completely normal.

Once this book was at the printer’s and the Oct. 2 launch date neared, I felt an intense mix of excitement and fear. A sense of vulnerability. When I first had the book in my hands last Friday afternoon, however, some of that intensity settled. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the small rituals of my private launch were a snapping-shut of something, as if I could  see the book as separate, a kind of object or other being, and was reconciled to it. So this is it then. I like it very much, so I don’t mean reconciled as if there was a conflict, but more like seeing it as neither more nor less than what it was, and content now to set it on a bookshelf. Some vulnerability remains, of course it does, which adheres to me because my name is on it and it’s my work, but I can more easily shift it away; the book is on its own and will have to do its own reconciling work with readers. That’s not really within the range of the possible for me anymore.

I was glad that I could read from the book that same evening in Neepawa. I was given enough time to read a complete story and felt, from the listening coming back to me, that the story had worked. All of which tightened my sense of closure with this other thing, my new book, my sense of,  Off you go now, but just between you and me, I’ve got your back.

Well, enough of that, and onward to the public piece of it.

Three decisions. I had to chuckle last week when I met Faith Johnston, who’s launching a new book shortly as well, and she whispered, “Have you decided what you’re going to wear?” She must have spent a couple of hours like I did, reviewing my closet, trying things on. The black and white outfit I’d worn at my last launch, while still in active use, wouldn’t do, of course. It would have to be the teal blue jacket, then, and never mind that I’d worn it reading at the Mennonite(s) IV writing festival in spring; Harrisonburg, Virginia is a long way from Winnipeg.

Besides what to wear, two other decisions remained – what to say, and what to read. Once they were made (and written down and practiced), I could relax and look forward to the evening. I even had time, the day of, to get a quick response off to CBC  Manitoba Scene which had requested an excerpt of what I’d be reading and set-up of same, and to drive out to St. Benedict’s to walk the labyrinth.

What I would say, for about 10 minutes, was a series of acknowledgments: thanks to my  publishers, editor, magazines who had previously published some of the stories, my friends and past writing groups, the cover artist, my supportive family and husband. A mention of my parents, too, Tina and the late Peter J. Doerksen, to whom the collection is dedicated. I also talked a little about the collection itself.

What I would read, for another 10 minutes, was some excerpts from the title story, which say something about reading, and seemed appropriate for the audience that shows up at a launch. The story concerns Liese, a woman who moved to Canada in the 1970s when she is in her twenties and then is surprised by episodes of homesickness some ten years later.

It begins like this:

She remembers how she discovered a book by Anne Tyler, discovered it by accident. How reading that book became a story of its own, like a nesting doll hiding other stories inside it, earlier ones she’d almost forgotten. She remembers how it helped her, how it did the good work a book can do.

Overwhelmed with gratitude. Once there, Tuesday evening, at McNally Robinson’s Booksellers, seeing friends, seeing the atrium fill up, I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude. I was grateful for those who had come and for all that my connections to these various people represent. I got a wee bit flustered during a short Q & A (I simply must figure out a decent answer for what motivates me to write, because it’s a frequent question) but the talking and reading went well, I think. I quite like reading publicly, actually, more than talking, and wish I could do an audio version!

H., who also listens to my work before it goes out.

Lots of people stuck around for the wine and cheese and tea and coffee and lots of them bought books and then it was finished and the McNallys events coordinator, who’d introduced me, rolled up two posters announcing the launch and gave them to me and we left for home. And since I’d been busy signing instead of having wine and cheese, H. and I stopped at McDonalds on our way and we had ice-cream cones. I was still a little high, I’ll admit, and the next day too. But now it’s Friday, and I’m off to get my groceries for tomorrow’s turkey supper (our children from Toronto are coming home, yay!) and it all feels wonderfully back to regular.

P.S. Thank you to Tony Schellenberg, who graciously gave me permission to use his photos in this post; you can check out his work at the site listed on the photos. And to any readers who couldn’t attend, or don’t live in Winnipeg, I’d be delighted if you bought and read the book. Encouraging your local bookseller to stock my books is a great first option, but Turnstone Press, McNally’s online, and Amazon are also excellent places to shop. Thank you!

16 thoughts on “What it’s like to launch

  1. I think my last entry got lost in cyberspace, but I posted a shorter one through the Facebook link, and that worked, so I’ll try again.
    I really enjoyed reading about your launch experience because I hadn’t had a chance to talk with anyone else who has gone through launching a book, and it echoed some of my experiences with my first officially published book this June. When the book arrived, I held it like a little baby, with a mixture of great joy and some sadness, that I would no longer be able to make any changes, it would just have to make it out there with all the remaining imperfections. Another strange thing I am going through is that I find myself reluctant to talk freely about it. My head knows that I communicate better that way, but I’ve grown so attached to all the revisions that have polished the words in my book, so I’m reluctant to speak words that haven’t gone through that process. That connected with your sense of wanting to read from it, even though our books are not of one genre. The other feeling I shared with you is the gratitude to the audience and McNally’s for helping to make the launch such a great event.

    • Thanks Elsie, for taking the time to share your experience of launching. I do find it interesting about the talking freely about it, even though you “communicate better that way.” — It would be fun to get together and talk shop some time!

  2. Dora, I’m so sorry we missed it! Hardy and I were both in the throes of jet lag, but would have dragged our sorry asses over there had we remembered, Our brains were just not working right. The jet lag really got us this time around! The way you describe your launch reminds me of how I felt when I released my children into the world. I’ve seen pictures of the reading and the teal blue jacket is very nice on you! Congratulations and I can’t wait to add the book to my library after I have devoured and digested it!

    • I completely understand, Elfrieda, about jet lag and weariness, and “felt” your interest and support, which you have brought me throughout the process. And there was a good “crowd.” Looking forward to hearing about your travels!

  3. Since you were kind enough to give me credit for the request, I must thank you, Dora, for this wonderful description of both your internal and external processes. I will come back and reread, I’m sure, as I get closer to launch day (not yet set, but Fall, 2013).

    Loved that you took the time to walk the labyrinth before the reading and that you ate a DQ afterward. Nice to have a glimpse of H. as well.

    I hope your publisher gives you a chance to do an audiobook!

    • Hi Dora, Yes, it was great to attend the launch of your recent book the first time round –I thoroughly enjoyed it. And now to read your musings on the process–thoughts/feelings experienced before, during and after–on your blog, made me feel even more pleased I’d been one of the listeners/participants in the delivery of this new “baby” to the public and saw it begin making its own way in the world, creating its own life with readers near and far.
      And that reminds me of my 3-year-old granddaughter, Rielle, who spotted your book on our kitchen buffet yesterday afternoon. She immediately picked it up, attracted by the cover and wanted to know what that little girl was doing and why were her arms blue, etc. So I told her that my friend had written this book of stories in which all kinds of wonderful things could happen, like flying high over the rooftops of the city holding onto special things like balloons and cats and things. And maybe her arms were blue because of the snow falling. Anyways, Rielle, who recently figured out that some stories were “tales–like fairy tales” and others were “real life”, very much liked the “tale” quality of that cover and what it suggested about your book. And who knows, when she’s a little older, she may be a reader of your stories … I’ll make sure I encourage that. Congratulations & best wishes, Leona

      • I so enjoyed hearing of Rielle’s reaction to the cover and your interaction. She’s so fortunate to have a grandmother like you, mediating her way into the wonderful world of stories of all kinds!

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