Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if Your Life Ruins Your Book?

Definition of irony:

You write a novel based on the story of how you met your wife, the first woman you ever loved.

When the novel is released, you and said wife are in the midst of a divorce after 15 years together. And not one of those civilized divorces that people claim exist, but one of the cheating-screaming-lying-Imma-lock-you-outta-the-house-Imma-sue-you-Imma-kill-myself divorces.

I can write a funny sentence about it now...but at the time it was as excruciating as it gets. And ultimately, as transformative as it gets.

Yes, I'm an example of the worst thing that ever happened to me becoming the best thing that ever happened to me...but damn that shit was painful.

And in the midst of it, my novel Complementary Colorswhich had been two years in the making, was released by a small press.

I sat like an earthquake survivor in the midst of the ruins, this novel in my hands that fictionally portrayed my destroyed relationship as an exquisite encounter between soul mates.

How could I promote this book that now felt like a big lie? Even though it was fiction, it was so close to the bone my skeleton ached. How could I stand in front of people--quivering, manic mess that I was--and read a love scene based on the woman who broke my heart?
The newer edition of this one features
a photo taken by my husband, Dave.

When my first novel, For the May Queen, was released, I did radio programs, interviews, readings--resulting in lots of sales, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and emails from readers. I just didn't have the heart to do anything for Complementary Colors...and while it found its way into a few readers' hands, it mostly limped off into oblivion. A few years later, the small press folded and the book went out of print.

Last year when I was teaching in China, my colleague Paul and I starting meeting every week at Starbucks to share our writing. He did something no one else has done, to my knowledge: ordered my books (my memoir, both novels, my poetry collection, my book about teachers) and read them all. He loved Complementary Colors and encourage me to republish it.
Friends in China. Paul's in the back with his arms up.
At first I balked. But then I re-read it. And it felt good. It was the kind of book I like to read. It's about a transformative time in the life of a woman. It's about art and poetry and sex and love.

I don't feel anymore that the book is a lie. It is emotionally true. And emotional truth is timeless, not dependent on "the way things turned out." The book portrays a moment in the life of a woman who is and is-not me. And I'm proud of us both in our fallible humanness...and our ability to transform.

When I was in the pit of despair during that breakup, my friends and family gave me so much love and support. And such is true in the re-releasing of this novel. Jan McCutcheon of Coyote Creek Books took on the project whole-heartedly. The gorgeous new cover art is courtesy of my best friend from high school, Nancy Larrew (of Blue Five Productions). Without Paul Mullen (author of curse this blue raincoat), this novel would not have been given a second chance.

And I am deeply grateful to my husband, Dave Rhine. He never once said I should put this story behind me. Instead, he knows that without my life stories, I would not be who I am now--the woman journeying through life and the world with him.

(Complementary Colors is available here.)

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