Katie Hafner: On Writing, Publishing, and Tea

Harpers calls Katie Hafner’s sixth book, Mother Daughter Me, “an unusually graceful story,” and Kirkus calls it “heartbreakingly honest.” KJ Dell’Antonia, writing for The New York Times, says it’s “the most raw, honest and engaging memoir I’ve read in a long time.” And if six books to her name isn’t enough, Katie, a frequent contributor to The New York Times, has also worked at Newsweek and BusinessWeek, and has written for a long and varied list of publications including Esquire, Wired, The New Republic, and O Magazine. In her post here today, she takes an unusually graceful and honest look at the way a book makes its way from hardcover to paperback. Enjoy! – Meg

Mother Daughter Me Paperback Cover

Mother Daughter Me Paperback Cover

Who knows why publishers often drag their feet when it comes to bringing a book out in paper. Some people even argue that all three formats – hardcover, paperback and ebook – should be published simultaneously, to give readers their choice. I have no particular opinion on that, but I do believe that for many books, the paperback is what truly matters.

Here is my message to you: Even if sales of the hardcover of your novel, memoir, short story collection or volume of poetry fail to soar, do not give up. You can always try again with the paperback. For paperbacks are, without a doubt, a book’s second chance at life.

The hardcover of my memoir, Mother Daughter Me, came out last July, and while sales were just fine (well, not on the level of, say Anna Quindlen, but fine enough), it’s not really a book meant to be read as a hardcover. Perhaps because of the subject, I’ve always envisioned it in paperback, in part because it’s a perfect book for book clubs, many of which will buy only paperbacks.

I expected Random House to wait the customary year before publishing the paperback, but I decided to push for it to come out sooner, preferably – and for obvious reasons — in time for Mother’s Day.  So I was more than pleased to hear that the paperback pub date was April 8.

Mother Daughter Me Hardback Cover

Mother Daughter Me Hardback Cover

One obvious question for Mother Daughter Me was what to do with the cover image. I was in love with the hardcover image, which showed a ragged rip through the three words of the title and straight down the center of the book. By itself, that tear might have seemed just confusing. But the truly ingenious move on the designer’s part was this: she taped the page back together, with a film that looked and felt like real Scotch tape (and could be mass produced by the printer). It obviated the need for a subtitle, because that awkwardly patched-together page told a reader everything she or he needed to know about what the book was about. I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much I lobbied for that to be paperback image.

But the folks at Random House refused to use that for the paperback. And they were right. That cover is most compelling when people are holding the physical book in their hands. But the sad truth is that many book browsers see jackets as PDFs these days. Not only did the tear not jump out, but the textured tape was lost altogether, and the book faded to the background in an Amazon and Goodreads sea of brightly colored covers.

I resigned myself to a different image, but I worried. And sure enough, the two candidates my editor sent me were just plain wrong. One showed a broken plate, which looked just plain angry. Another showed three hangers, which could either connote “Mommie Dearest” (not at all the message of my book) or abortions (ditto on that one). So I fought back. Both designs, I told my editor, were terrible — off-putting and off the point.

Random House is a vast ocean of a place, and I’m a small grain of sand to them. After the hardcover was published, I became the publishing version of The Disappeared. But for some reason, my editor paid attention to my objections, and the designer came up with a third image. The moment I saw it, I knew it was perfect. It shows three teetering teacups on a stack of saucers. The teacup on top is teetering just a little bit, which, in my mind, signifies the fragile emotions conveyed throughout the book. Yet the picture is also whimsical, and playful.

Cross Promoting with Mighty Leaf Tea

Cross Promoting with Mighty Leaf Tea

Then there’s the idea of tea itself. Given that authors are expected these days not just to write their books but to market them, too, I decided to scour eBay and Etsy for teacups resembling the top one — bone china, with a delicate Royal Windsor floral pattern that I could swear I’ve spotted during tea drinking scenes in “Call the Midwife.” In an amazing triumph of cold calling, I managed to strike a collaboration with Mighty Leaf Tea, which is promoting the book by sponsoring giveaways of the book together with boxes of tea. And to every independent bookstore I visited while on tour for the hardcover, I sent a beautiful teacup with a paper flower made from pages of the book nestled inside, along with a box of Mighty Leaf/Mother Daughter Tea. The tea was a lucky stroke, lending itself beautifully to my little marketing effort. (This is just a hunch, but I’m pretty sure Cheryl Strayed didn’t send a smelly hiking boot to bookstores – then again, she didn’t need to.)

The paperback came out a week ago. Random House is still largely indifferent to the book, which is to say it that “Mother Daughter Me” is unlikely to become the next “Wild,” with or without the hiking boot. But a lot of people are getting a nice cup of tea out of the deal. And oh yes, a good read, too – just in time for Mother’s Day. – Katie

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Sandra Gulland: Getting Around to It

Sandra Gulland’s fifth novel, The Shadow Queen, “will remind readers why they fall in love with the past,” says Death in the Floating City author Tasha Alexander. She goes on to say, “Gulland uses her meticulous research with consummate skill, rendering vivid the luxury and squalor of Louis XIV’s France and breathing life into fully formed characters that tug at the heart. Masterful.” Sandra is also the author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy, as well as Mistress of the Sun.- Meg

Shadow Queen CoverShortly after I turned forty—a shocking thirty years ago—I had what I guess one could call a mid-life crisis. I am a cheerful person by nature, but I was in the dumps. Of course I turned to a book (as I always do in a crisis), a cheesy self-help book whose title I can’t recall.

I remember only one thing about this book, but that one thing sparked a turning point in my life. The author suggested that I imagine the words on my tombstone.

I puzzled about that. I was a free-lance book editor, a vocation I loved, healthy and happily married with two wonderful children (Carrie and Chet). I had an unruly vegetable garden, was co-editor of a community newsletter, The Community News & Confuse, and volunteer principal of a vibrant parent-run alternative school. We had chickens, two pigs, a calico cat (Beans), and a dumb but loveable Golden Retriever (Digger).

Driving down a country road, the words that would be on my tombstone came to me. They were: “She never got around to it.”

I would never get around to writing.

I had always told myself that I would write some day, but I was forty, and if I didn’t begin, that day might never come. I didn’t want to be the person who “never got around to it.”

I began by putting writing at the top of my To Do List. First thing every morning, before the family awoke, I wrote. (I cleverly pre-set the coffee pot to start brewing at 5:30 a.m., and the scent lured me out of bed.)

Sandra Gulland author photoIt was only the start, but I persevered, writing two unpublishable novels over the following years. By degrees, and with the encouragement and support of my husband Richard, I became more committed—driven, one could say—reluctantly cutting back on my community and editorial work (one can’t do everything, alas!) in order to have more hours to write.

I was happy—I was writing!—but it seemed a futile endeavor. All I had to show for my work was a thick file of rejection letters. When I began writing about Napoleon’s wife Josephine, I was convinced it would never be published. Richard said, “It doesn’t matter! Keep writing.”

And so I did—and I hope never to stop. – Sandra

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Julia Glass: The Not Quite Yes

Julia Glass has a new novel, And The Dark Sacred Night, just out yesterday–and I always welcome an excuse to rerun her 1st Books post about her early days of writing. Julia has won the Nelson Algren Award (three times!), the Tobias Wolff Award, the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella, and the National Book Award. Entertainment Weekly says of this new novel, “Glass has a knack for weaving together multiple lyrical narratives before delivering the ultimate emotional punch. The only regret you’ll have at the end of this particular story is that it’s over.” – Meg

And the Dark Sacred Night (4/1/14) by Julia GlassI started writing short stories in my late twenties, after ten years of striving to succeed as a painter. Having failed to snag the waitressing gig that was de rigueur for a struggling female artist in New York City, I’d figured out how to pay my rent with the word skills I’d always taken for granted: I was a proofreader and copy editor, a writer of faux travelogues (rhapsodizing over each and every Caribbean island without setting foot on a single one), and a pet columnist (don’t ask). In the seams of my patchwork life, I read novels and stories obsessively, devotedly, and—living alone, traveling far and frequently by subway—for hours on end. I subscribed to the New Yorker and the Atlantic because—yes, Reader, this was a long, long time ago—every issue included two brand-new short stories, often representing a writer’s “debut.”

Language sustained me no less than oxygen; making pictures began to feel oddly parenthetical. I spent my Saturdays mooning through the airless, timeless stacks of the Strand Bookstore, rather than the bright, sparkling galleries of uptown museums. What, I had to ask myself, was wrong with this picture? Even my paintings—scenes in which literally colorful people went about inscrutable tasks among strangely animated objects—suggested that what I wanted to do, more than anything else, was to tell stories. Never mind that I hadn’t written fiction since high school.

I still can’t figure out why this formerly stellar student did not apply for MFA programs or embrace the growing cosmos of the writer’s workshop. Chalk it up to a mix of necessary frugality, Yankee determination, and not a small pinch of grandiosity. Honestly now, had George Eliot or Jane Austen required an MFA? It’s easy to say, in retrospect, that clearly I didn’t need the degree, either, but one benefit I missed out on was a community of fiction writers—and the likelihood that I would have been published sooner. I worked on my stories in isolation for seven years, and it’s a wonder I didn’t quit.

Early on during this period, I was a full-time copy editor at Cosmopolitan magazine (which also, incidentally, published two short stories in every issue, by the likes of Laurie Colwin, Laurie Moore, and Elinor Lipman). Most nights, I worked on my stories by longhand in my Brooklyn apartment; during weekday lunch breaks and on weekends, I’d use my office typewriter to transcribe the final drafts. And then I would send them out to every reputable literary quarterly I knew of (Grand Street, Triquarterly, Sewanee Review et al.) . . . each story going out to no more than one journal at a time (a rule that some schoolmarmish writer’s guide warned me I must follow), along with my no-gimmicks cover letter and diligently postage-paid SASE.

Six afternoons per week, my hopeful heart throbbed as I opened my rickety mailbox. Each time, for weeks or months on end, it sank: not at rejections—how I began to long for rejections!—but at the general silence. Some stories never came back. Once in a blue moon, having been held hostage for two months or more by the faceless editor whose approval I craved, a story would return to me in my carefully addressed manila envelope, a teensy form rejection tucked under my paper clip. Without exception, the stories looked as pristine as on the day I’d sent them out. I’d page through, hoping to see a coffee ring or doughnut crumb haloed by grease, any proof that a human being had read these words. (One bizarre cruelty of the now-defunct SASE protocol was that my rejections came to me with my handwriting on the outside, as if I were telling myself to face the mediocrity of my own imagination.)

Increasingly desperate, I realized I had nothing to lose by sending my stories to the big guns as well. I found the name of the fiction editor on the masthead of my current Atlantic; as for the New Yorker, where the omission of a masthead seems to declare, “Don’t bother us geniuses here, lowly Earthling,” I went to a party where I met a successful writer who shared the name of her editor there (though she told me not to use her name by way of reference).

I sent my next finished story first to the New Yorker. Not two weeks later, there was my SASE in the box, mocking me yet again, far sooner than usual. But this time, clipped to my manuscript was a full page of typing, on letterhead stationery, signed by the editor to whom I had addressed the story. He said many kind things about my story—things that showed he had read it, really read it—and then he told me why he couldn’t take it. He told me, and I will never, ever forget this, that I had “talent to burn” (a phrase I puzzled over at first, never having seen it). And he told me to send him more.

I wept. I think I’d been sending out my stories for two or three years at this point, and finally, finally, FINALLY, somebody had read one and responded. He spoke about my characters as if they were flesh and blood, their emotions as if they mattered. My protagonist actually frustrated him; he thought her too “hapless.” (Was I too hapless? I remember thinking.) I called one of my best friends and read the letter over the phone.

I went back to work on the story, responding to the editor’s comments, and sent it to the Atlantic. Again in record time, I received a reply: this time from an editor junior to the one on the masthead. It was another rejection, but it was several sentences long, most of which were encouraging and kind. Throughout her letter, the editor wrote in second-person plural, as in “We thought your descriptive powers quite novelistic” and “We’d love to see more of your work.” The royal we? I’d take it. Pages of my manuscript were bent, soiled; this in itself was cause for celebration.

This one-two punch of hopeful highbrow rejection gave me energy, yes indeed, to burn. People who cared passionately about fiction, who wanted new writers to publish, who had the power to make that happen, were on my side. Or that’s how it felt.

For the next four or five years, this dance of rejection, revision, resending, rethinking, rebounding continued. In all, I sent fifteen or twenty stories to my correspondents at each of those esteemed magazines. Once, the editor at the New Yorker asked me to revise a story and send it back to him. With obvious regret, he rejected it again. But I did not give up. (Remarkably, over all that time, as I continued to send my stories to the quarterlies as well, I received only one reply from any of them that gave me any hope: a scrawled sentence—Sorry, please try us again—on the miserly form rejection. The initials that followed were illegible.)

Finally, I won a modest prize and saw my first short story published in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. I was 37 years old. After that, no doubt because of it, I started getting real replies from the quarterlies. Two of them took stories of mine. Meanwhile, I came to realize that it was time to attempt a novel. In her rejection of an absurdly long story entitled “Collies,” my now-longtime correspondent at the Atlantic had praised it but remarked that it looked like the beginning of novel. And that’s what it became. It became Three Junes.

It still astonishes me that, without a community of fiction-minded peers or any writerly context other than my work as a “pet journalist,” I persevered through seven years of nothing but rejection. Like, what part of NO didn’t I get? But there’s stark, impersonal rejection, and then there’s the I-am-determined-to-one-day-accept-you rejection. What I think of as the Not Quite Yes. I know now that the letters I received from those two editors at those two magazines (who, in their own way, persevered on my behalf) were probably what kept me going. To this day, I have never been published in the New Yorker or the Atlantic; as recently as two months ago, I’ve received further rejections from successors of my two correspondents of a quarter-century back.

We are past the era of SASEs, of weekend forays to borrow the office IBM Selectric, of (alas) fiction in the pages of nearly every mainstream magazine worth its pulp. But this much remains true: As long as there are fiction readers, there will be editors and publishers of fiction who passionately want to hand the first yes to someone who’s weathered a tsunami of no.

How perfect it felt when I discovered that the editor who loved and bought Three Junes—let it be noted that every other editor who saw it said no (however politely)—had been a protégé of my correspondent at the New Yorker. Nothing thrills her more than putting a writer in print for the very first time. In the world of literature, there just may be a God. – Julia

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Eva Stachniak: Writing is a Gamble

Eva Stachniak is, I’m pretty sure, my first guest author born and raised in Poland. The Winter Palace, her first novel of Catherine the Great, became an international bestseller and was on both The Washington Post’s notable fiction list and The Globe and Mail’s best books of the year. Her second Catherine novel, Empress of the Night, which is already on Der Spiegel bestsellers’ list, just released in the U.S. yesterday. Enjoy her story about coming to writing after a career as an academic! – Meg

Empress of the Night coverFor many years I’ve been an academic and a teacher of literature, both in Poland and Canada. The truth was—however—that I wanted to be a writer. Always, from that day in my childhood when I discovered that books were written by real people, and not all of them were long dead.

Middle age can be the time for courage; the hum of passing time is a potent call. In 1933, I had just I turned forty, and I was an unpublished author of a few short stories, which were making their rounds through a number of Canadian literary magazines. As my stories awaited their fate I saw a flier advertising Humber Summer School for Writers. I applied. The letter of acceptance is still one of my sweetest memories, and the sentence … admitted to the workshop led by Margaret Atwood.

When the student is ready, a teacher will appear, says a Buddhist proverb. At the first session of the week Atwood asked us to comment on the first short story we have all been assigned to read. I thought the story perfect, far superior to anything I’ve written so far. Everyone must have thought the same, for the comments were all enthusiastic. They were also, as I recognize now, not very useful for a writer trying to improve her craft. They praised the beautiful language, analyzed the story’s meaning, its metaphors, symbolism. Atwood listened to us all with just a tiny smile on her lips. When her turn came, we heard her famous acerbic monotone: “The story is happening in 1960s, right? The characters are in the back of a car, necking…right? So: Where is the bump?” Seeing that we didn’t quite get what she meant, she explained: “These big cars, in the back seats, had a bump. The woman would’ve felt it against her bare back.”

Eureka, I remember thinking, so this is what it means to read as a writer, to learn the craft! It was not the only lesson I learned that week, but it was the most important one, for it turned me into a writer. Since then I’ve published four novels: Necessary Lies a story of a Polish immigrant to Canada who returns to the country of her birth to confront her past; Garden of Venus, an 18th century tale of an extraordinary Greek woman who transformed herself from peasant to countess and the two novels; The Winter Palace and its most recent sequel Empress of the Night, both inspired by the life of Catherine the Great.

Why did it take me so long to become a writer? I’ve always been an avid reader. In the Communist Poland where I was born and raised, I knew that as long as books existed I would never be alone, that a good and wise book would enrich and sustain me like the best of friends. But such a conviction comes with a price. I got so much from reading that I began to see the act of writing as a sacred obligation, a vocation worthy of the chosen few. Confronted with such legacy, I did the second best thing—I studied and then taught literature in the English Department in Poland, until—in 1981—I was offered a scholarship to McGill University in Montreal. Three months after I arrived in Canada, Solidarity was crushed, Poland was under martial law, and I knew I would never go back. “Where are you from?” was the question that made me realize how much—in spite of my academic obligations—I wanted to tell my own stories, stories of the lands behind the Iron Curtain where I grew up.

Having been an academic, I know how to do research, find meaningful details in the wealth of historical materials. I know, to quote Annie Proulx, “which mushrooms smell like maraschino cherries and which like dead rats.” In the years since that Humber workshop, I’ve also learned how to present history without sounding like a lecturer, how to render the past alive through smells and touch and sounds. I’ve learned how to build the drama of a scene, create suspense, plausible dialogue that sounds natural and yet is also carefully planned to carry on the plot or characterization.

Eva Stachniak author photoI know my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I trust the messiness of the writing process. I’ve learned to write better and better novels.

Writing is a gamble. It requires commitment, long hours of solitary work. Success is elusive and there are no guarantees. This is why it’s important to hold on to what nourishes us on this long journey, helps us get through inevitable rejections, dry spells, long periods of uncertainty.

For me there are two precious sources of such sustenance. The first is a community of other writers—my fellow travellers. Some of them are long dead or have no idea of my existence, but their books sustain me, nevertheless, inspire me, and confirm my conviction that good writing matters. Others—thank God—are very much alive and have become my writer-friends. I learn from these writers, I cherish them; I trust their advice and their example. They are my sounding boards, my models.

The second source of nourishment are my readers. I picture them as I write. I love when they find the time to write to me, share their love for the characters I imagined and created in my books.

I took a look at my writing journal from the time of the Humber workshop and found a list titled, My writing goals:

1.         Read poetry every day. Learn its rhythms by heart.

2.         Eliminate distractions.

3.         Read for the craft. Spot turns, developments, pitfalls other writers fall into.

4.         Be mindful of your own writing pleasures. These will become your new goals.

5.         Watch for frailties of your own writing.

6.         Keep re-writing until the story is perfect.

7.         Keep in touch with other writers. Become part of a writing community. Sustain and be sustained…

I still hold them dear, every single one of them. – Eva

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M.J. Rose: An Amazing Self Publishing Success Story

My very dear friend M.J. Rose has a new novel, The Collector of Dying Breaths, releasing April 8. Water for Elephant author Sara Gruen calls it “Mysterious, magical, and mythical. What a joy to read!” and it’s an Indie Next April pick.The paperback of Seduction–named last year’s Book of the Year by Suspense Magazine–is also just out. M.J.’s non-fiction has appeared in magazines including Oprah and she has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, WSJ, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show and NPR. The television series Past Life was based on M.J.’s novels in the Reincarnationist series, and she is a founding board member of International Thriller Writers, where she serves with Lee Child as the organization’s co-president. And guess how she got her start? No one–just no one–is not going to love this story, which involves an incredible amount of chutzpa, guts, charm, persistence, and energy. I truly don’t know how M.J. does all she does, but I admire her immensely, and adore her, too. – Meg

Collector of Dying Breaths CoverIt was 1998. And 1998 was the dark ages.

I had an agent and two finished and unsold novels. Publishers had been really excited about them but ultimately too uncomfortable with my genre-bending writing to bite. They wanted me to write either a suspense novel or an erotic novel, or a mystery… or something less sophisticated… or more sophisticated.

Not a little of this and a little of that. They said there was no way to market a book that was so hard to categorize.

But I was in advertising and didn’t understand the words never or no or can’t when it came to marketing.

I’d gone on line in 1994 and been fascinated with the marketing opportunities I imagined possible. So what if I did an online marketing test for my novel- get some sales and then my agent could take my plan and approach to one of those publishers and show they how to market my work.

Seduction CoverI figured could print up a few copies and offer an electronic download on line.

The only place to sell the electronic book was from my own website. And the only place to direct sales of the print book was to Amazon – they’d just started the Advantage program for anyone with a book, an ISBN, and a dream.

I didn’t think I was doing anything terrible. It was a marketing experiment. But my agent said I was self-publishing and that it would end of my career before it began. She was very unhappy with me and we split over my decision.

My friends thought I was nuts and said people would think I was self-publishing because I was a failure and that no one would ever take me seriously.

That seemed absurd. I had so many friends who were painters, photographers, sculptors and artists and Indy filmmakers – individuals all who operated creatively and on their own. I didn’t see what I was doing as being very different.

So I printed up the books and set up the website with the electronic books and started the different marketing efforts. They were going pretty well and I was getting excited. That winter, I took a copy of the novel to my local bookstore and told her what was happening online and asked the owner if she’d look at it and take a few copies.

She wouldn’t even turn around and face me – “I don’t look at self-published books,” she’d said with utter derision.

MJ Rose Author PhotoI stood in the snow outside that bookstore and burst into tears. And out of those tears came determination. I became tireless in marketing the book and it really started selling. Within the first six months I sold almost 3000 copies.

Six months, after I’d started my online marketing test Lip Service went on to become the first self-published book and the first ebook discovered online (at Amazon) to go on to be traditionally published.

The publishing world could not be more different today. In a lot of ways it’s very gratifying. The world many of us – Douglas Clegg, Seth Godin, Doug Ruskoff and others – envisioned, is here. – M.J.

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Jenny Bowen: My Memoir – What I Forgot

Amy Tan calls the just-released memoir of today’s guest, Jenny Bowen, “Both heartrending and victoriously uplifting,” and goes on to say “Wish You Happy Forever, begins with empty nesters Jenny and Richard Bowen’s simple pledge to provide love to one Chinese orphan…” A former screenwriter and independent filmmaker, Jenny also founded Half the Sky Foundation in order to give something back to her adopted Chinese daughters’ home country and to the many orphaned and abandoned children then languishing behind institutional walls. Jenny shares below a lovely bit about how the memoir came about. Enjoy it, and Jenny’s moving memoir. – Meg

Wish You Happy Forever CoverUnlike just about everything else in my life, the opportunity to write Wish You Happy Forever was handed to me on a silver platter. HarperOne and the Skoll Foundation were about to collaborate on a series of books about or by people like me. The offer came not only with the promise that I could write my story exactly as I pleased, but also with the promise that it would be promoted with trumpets blaring. So far, it all seems to be happening just as advertised.

If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with getting your first book out there, right about now you’d probably like to pop me one. I probably would too. But there’s more to the story, of course.

In 1996 I was eking my living as an independent filmmaker and screenwriter for hire. A story in the New York Times about “dying rooms” in China, places where abandoned baby girls were left to starve, changed everything. My husband and I brought home a malnourished vacant-eyed toddler. We cuddled and kissed her, sang and played with her nonstop that first year. Our little girl was transformed. And so was I.

I walked away from Hollywood and took everything I’d learned about making movies – about making something from nothing – and I went to China. I started Half the Sky, an organization committed to bringing a loving, caring adult into the life of every orphaned and abandoned child. Half the Sky now partners with the Chinese government, and together we are reimagining China’s entire child welfare system.

I had my story. I’d been writing it in my head for 15 years. I locked myself away from Half the Sky for a month and structured a memoir, then wrote in bits and pieces, whenever I could steal time – usually around 3 or 4 in the morning. Nine months later, I turned in my first draft. I was feeling pretty terrific.

My editor called and said, “Where are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“In the story. It’s all about your work. All about the kids.”

“Right! It is.”

Jenny Bowen author photo“But nobody’s going to care if you’re not in there. It’s you they need to care about first. Where’s your arc?”

Screenwriters know all about arcs. But they don’t necessarily know how to write about themselves or that they even have an arc. In fact, for the past 15 years I’d been writing nonstop about Half the Sky and about our hardworking team in China and, most of all, about those extraordinary children we serve. All this time and I’m still in awe of them.

So I pouted for a couple of weeks and then I went to the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. It’s a gathering place for “social entrepreneurs” like myself. Over a few too many glasses of wine, I told a fellow game-changer, Molly Melching of Tostan, and the subject of the first book in the series (However Long the Night, by Aimee Malloy) about the editor’s notes.

“Exactly what happened to me,” she said. “I just wanted to talk about the work. Honor those tremendous women we work with.”

“That’s the story!” I said.

“But then when they explained why it was also about me, I heard them. Maybe it was time to own my past. So I talked. Now women come up to me and say, ‘What’s in your book … that happened to me.’ Now I understand why I had to connect with people in order to reach them.”

I left Oxford. I stewed for two weeks. And then I wrote. From a completely different place. I wrote things I didn’t know I knew.

I am now incapable of standing back from my first book. I can’t size it up from a comfortable distance. I’ve lost all opinions about whether it will be welcomed or ignored. But, without a doubt, I’m in there this time. – Jenny

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