One of favorite scenes in Fight Club is when Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are in a car and Edward Norton is complaining about being left out. Brad Pitt asks the two other passengers what they want to do before they die. One says build a house and the other says paint a self-portrait. I guess the point of the question was, if Brad Pitt kills you in the car accident, what would your regret be? And why haven’t you done it yet?
When I watched this scene, I realized my regret would be that I haven’t written a novel. That’s something I wanted to do before I died. I did a lot of creative writing in college, and though I may have started several long story ideas, I was never able to finish one. I thought NANOWRIMO would give me the kick in the pants I needed to finally finish one. It didn’t.
Then last year something clicked and I finally finished my thing that I had been working on for years and years. It’s done, and I’m proud. I love it and hate it at the same time.
And I am faced with now what.
I had no idea what to do with it. I felt like the coyote when he finally caught the road runner.
A friend of mine once told me that I need to have a five-year plan, that I always need to have a five-year plan. It needs to stretch into the future for five years forever, so tomorrow I need to change it to account for one more day. I had no plan for book. I didn’t have an end in mind, thinking that the novel would be the end itself. I didn’t think I would ever finish it.
I don’t know how to publish a book. I know how to change a flat, sew a dress, start a fire and set up a warm place to sleep if I don’t have a tent or a sleeping bag, defend you if you are accused of murder, get you a divorce, help you enter the country legally, and tell the Supreme Court that your civil rights were violated. But I have no idea how to publish a book. For a while, I went to the websites of small presses, looking at their submission guidelines. I went to dozens of publisher’s websites. Only one of them was accepting submissions.1
So where do books come from?
And then I decided, fuck it. It’s 2013. The world is changing. Books come from readers who couldn’t quite find the story they were looking for so they had to write it themselves. Books come from Smashwords and Book Rooster and all the other places where independent authors go to get their books read.
One of my favorite books is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and his book came from the internet too. He self-published online before self-publishing online was. I can imagine that if he had tried to pitch his book to publishers or agents, they wouldn’t have made it through the footnotes or the claustrophobia. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it would have been snatched up right away.
I’m no Mark Danielewski, but I see myself having a similar problem. People read my book and say “werewolves don’t act like that” as though werewolves are a real thing. I smile politely and ask them to keep reading to see why my werewolves are the way they are. But publishers will only read the first 50 pages and expect me to spill all my secrets there.
That’s not for me.
1 Much love to Kate of Candlemark & Gleam, the one publisher who was accepting submissions. I’m grateful that she read my first 50 pages and gave me advice on how to write a better book.