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Posts Tagged ‘Debra Galant’

Hooray and congratulations!  It’s pub day for Debra Galant, whose new novel, Cars from a Marriage, “delivers wit, charm and characters who feel like next-door neighbors,” according to Booklist. So why does Debra feel like she’s tap dancing on the beach?

Politicians kiss babies. I take pictures of them chewing on postcards advertising my new novel, Cars from a Marriage.

I know this is neither dignified nor author-like.

Nor are a lot of things I’ve been doing in the six weeks leading up to my April 27 pub date.

I’ve become a regular in the Staples’ label aisle, because advertising postcards are nothing without labels reminding people that the book is “Perfect for Mother’s Day!” and that they might win a free iPod nano if they enter a contest by telling me their best story about love and cars.

I ambushed the New York International Auto Show in early April, handing out several hundred cards while my husband followed me around, camcorder in hand, to record my rejections Michael Moore style.

I’ve spend ungodly amounts of time on Facebook, and have searched every nook and cranny of the internet looking for every book blogger I can find and charm.

I’m doing this to keep my own spirits up because it appears that neither my publisher nor the book industry at large is particularly excited about the publication of my third novel.

My first two novels were proudly displayed at the front of Barnes & Noble stores all over the country. This one won’t be. B&N has only ordered 1,000.

It breaks my heart that a book that comes out barely two weeks before Mother’s Day – a novel that should really appeal to reading women – won’t be seen by the shoppers who might be looking for a present for their reading mothers and wives.

It breaks my heart that my parents, who were so excited by my first novel, have become so jaded by the bruising process of trying to hand-sell my books to their friends that they practically don’t want to ask anymore. And the few friends they do ask will most likely march into a Barnes & Noble, not find it, and feel that they’ve done their bit.

Sure, sure, poor me. Poor published author. I’ve actually got a novel coming out from a major New York publishing house and I’m whining. And I have the poor grace to be whining at exactly the moment when friends and relatives are coming up to me with cheerful congratulations.

But the truth is, even though my friends want me to be, I’m not excited. I’m not remotely optimistic about my book’s chances. Like Hollywood and junior high school, the book industry is increasingly dominated by a few stars, and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not one of them. What I’m feeling, at this moment on the cusp of publication, is small and inconsequential.

The irony is, when a new book comes out is when I feel least like a writer. It’s when I feel like Willy Loman.

Eventually, sometime late at night, when I least expect it, I’ll feel like a writer again. I’ll be lying in bed reading a great book, and I’ll notice a fabulous sentence or a great plot device or a marvelously unreliable narrator, and I will appreciate the sentence or the device or the narration the way a tailor would note the stitching on another tailor’s suit.

I might even write a fabulous sentence, or get an idea for a story or a novel that will thrill me. And then I’ll remember that I really am a member of a great guild and that having my words published and read by complete strangers is an honor and a privilege – maybe even a piece of immortality.

In the meantime, though, to stave off depression, I’m using every wile I have to eke out new fans. One by one by one. Handing out cards to babies, barnstorming auto shows, leaving stacks of cards at the YMCA. It feels a little like tap dancing on the beach — kicking up a lot of sand, but making no noise whatsoever.

Absurd, perhaps. Yet it does take place on a comfortingly human scale. The other day, shopping at Coldwater Creek, I made friends with two ladies in the dressing room, both teachers. We were advising each other about how we looked in various outfits and whether our fat rolls showed. One of them wondered whether I would wear a certain blouse, which was the tiniest bit sheer, to work. That’s when I dug into my purse and handed them each a postcard for Cars from a Marriage.

“I’m an author,” I said. “I have a new book coming out.”

They were delighted – just completely bowled over – to be in the presence of a real writer. And that delighted me.

Debra Galant’s new novel, Cars from a Marriage, comes out today — April 27 — from St. Martin’s Press. You can read more on her website, her blog or her Facebook page.

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Exploring the Process of Coming up with the Next Big Idea

I am between novels. I’ve been between novels for close to seven months now, which is typical for me. I am a slow germinator. I’m not devoid of ideas – that’s not the problem – I’m just devoid of an idea that I think I want to spend several thousand hours wrestling with. Having written three novels, I know exactly what the commitment is.

bumblebeeThis is what happens when I’m between novels.

The first few months, I don’t even try to get the Big Idea. I revel in the things that I’ve given up during the writing of my previous novel. I read prodigiously. I start diets and gym regimens. I fantasize about cleaning the entire house and settle for a closet. I go through entire weekends without feeling guilty. I enjoy being a civilian.

Once I get that out of my system, I start to wonder if I’ll ever write another novel. Fueled by anxiety, ideas begin to percolate. They appear in dreams. They’re triggered by odd encounters with strangers or obits and other chance juxtapositions.

I chase them breathlessly, bringing candy and flowers. Sometimes I’ll even get to know them, start thinking about introducing them to my family. Finally, a few days or a few weeks into my infatuation, I begin to discover their flaws. The voice is wrong or the subject is wrong or perhaps the idea is good but the project is beyond my power to execute. I retreat sheepishly.

I was actually 13 pages into one idea before I decided that I had no business creating a protagonist who was a Puerto Rican man in his 20’s. But first I had to agonize about whether I was being wise or lazy in deciding to give up the project. It was like a breakup. I asked various people for their opinions – my husband tried to convince me to stick with the idea – until my therapist mercifully gave me permission to stop.

We decided – my therapist and I – to go back to the idea-chasing stage with a little less desperation.

I picked up two of my favorite books about writing, Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, and allowed myself to fall in love again with the idea of being a writer. I also decided to embrace the pace of summer. I bicycled to the park with Smiley’s book and a notebook. The brilliance of the sun brought me back to the summer of ’79, when I was a cub reporter in North Carolina. I scribbled some notes. And then, just because I could, I used the video camera on my iPhone to record a bumblebee parachuting from clover to clover.

My mother used to worry about my bookish ways. “All work and no play makes Debbie a dull girl,” she would say. Julia Cameron, in How to Avoid Making Art (Or Anything Else You Enjoy),  says the same thing: “For most people creativity is a serious business. They forget the telling phrase ‘the play of ideas’ and think that they need to knuckle down and work more. Often, the reverse is true. They need to play.”

Novelists are good worker bees. Writing a manuscript of 80,000 or 100,000 words requires it. But maybe before a worker bee can make honey, she must first drift lazily from clover to clover, sucking the sweet nectar and getting drunk on the fullness of summer.

Debra Galant has written three novels. The first two, Rattled and Fear and Yoga in New Jersey, are comic novels about suburban life in New Jersey. Her forthcoming Cars from a Marriage, coming out next year from St. Martin‘s, follows a 20-year marriage through a series of car trips told by both the husband and the wife. In addition to writing novels, Galant is a new media pioneer. Baristanet, which she founded in 2004, was named the best placeblog in America in 2007.

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The words on the page are the only things that count. (See “It’s the Writing, Stupid,” below.)

That’s all well and good. But novelist Debra Galant poses an interesting question: what about those non-writing writing days? Does it count, for example, if you’re sketching notes about a character, doing historical research at the library or online, or creating an outline for the story? Does it count if you’re mulling things over while washing the breakfast dishes (what if the secret the brother is hiding from the family involves the mysterious neighbor; what if it turns out, in fact, that he is intimately involved in the mystery…) or taking a brisk walk?reading-tarot-cards

Deb says, “I always keep a process journal for whatever novel I’m working on. Today I did a tarot reading for my character Hugo. Took notes, thought about him, mused a bit, saw the need for new character to be developed. But no pages added to the manuscript. I’m at very early stages. What do you think? Does note-taking count as writing?”

Well — since you asked! — here’s what I think.  For me, note-taking does not count.  It’s a necessary part of the process, of course – like research and planning and ruminating in the shower. All of it is part of creating a novel.  But it’s not writing.

In order to get those words on the page, I have to remind myself that I can fill notebooks with musings about my characters’ motivations; I can research the history of the orphan trains until the proverbial cows come home; I can plan and strategize and plot. But none of it actually means anything until it becomes part of the story.

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