I’m so pleased to kick off the guest posts on 1st Books with novelist Christina Meldrum and her debut novel, MADAPPLE. It seems I can’t go anywhere lately without coming upon praise for this beautiful and compelling book. It has garnered well-deserved stars from Booklist and from Kirkus – which named it one of the top debuts of the summer and called it “a beautiful, unusual novel” that “will haunt readers long after they have finished the book.”
One of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems begins,
Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies.
This could have been the motto for my first book, MADAPPLE, which was released by Knopf this week. For me, writing and finally completing and publishing the book definitely lied in Circuit. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “circuit” as, “A path or route the complete traversal of which…requires returning to the starting point.” It was my goal for MADAPPLE to tell some version of Truth, and I was fine with telling it slant, per Emily. The Circuit part, however, was not part of the plan!
Nevertheless, I see now Emily knew what she was talking about. Success did lie in Circuit, at least for me. I began MADAPPLE over ten years ago while I was working as a litigator. I would rise at five each morning to write before work. I completed the initial draft of the book this way—although the initial draft bears almost no resemblance to the final product. Writing MADAPPLE had little to do with linear progression. I wrote around and around and around. And then I added layers to the spiral, making it feel at times as if MADAPPLE consisted of three (or more!) unwieldy dimensions. More often than not, I was certain I’d landed right back where I’d started.
And I had. Yet I hadn’t. I may have been back at square one, but I’d changed along the way, so that I saw square one a little differently. In fact, square one wasn’t quite the square I thought it was. Actually, it wasn’t a square at all: it was a circle (or a Circuit!).
When I finally finished MADAPPLE and was ready to think about getting it published, I headed back to the starting point.
Agents? Editors? Publishing houses?
Rejections. Rejections. Rejections.
I felt a bit like the hamster on the wheel. What did any of this have to do with Truth? I wanted to ask Emily.
Ultimately, I had to answer this question myself. And the answer? Well, it turns out that, for me, this journey had everything to do with Truth, actually.
My point is this: writing and publishing my first book was as much about the slanted journey as it was about anything. Any given journey may take a year, or five years or ten. Or it may take a lifetime. But success in Circuit lies. Writing one’s first book is often a very gradual, circuitous journey. But as Emily says in the last lines of her poem:
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—