Wednesday, July 25, 2007

the sad truth

I have heard this week that my book, Praying for Dear Life, is a worst-seller, meaning that it is not selling at all. NavPress has a policy that if anyone buys one of their books and does not like it, they can fill-out and return a coupon in the back for a full refund. Keep the book itself but get back their money. Apparently, 437 coupons were returned last quarter and it is "not likely, unless something dramatic happens with this book," that I will ever receive a bit of royalty beyond my advance.

I guess I am not surprised. Heartbroken, but not surprised. The book is a real hybrid--a "sepia toned memoir," according to the publisher's own marketing materials, but dressed in bluebird colors. PDL is a book on the hours of prayer published by a very conservative evangelical house. I am certain the sales people did not know how to pitch it. In addition, there was a major shuffle in marketing and other turnover in the house. The book is, admittedly, too sacramental for evangelicals (not a "how to" that would lead one to sleep outside in bad pajamas and jump on a bed as if it were a trampoline--that is a description of the cover), and at the same time too evangelical in both appearance/publisher for the mainline. The book fits nowhere.

I had good endorsements--from Buechner, Lauren Winner, Tom Long. But NavPress, when they finally did run an ad for it in Christian Century, did not include the blurbs and so no one took much notice. I have had a couple of nice emails from people who have read it. A few friends have commented that it was meaningful for them. I got a five star review on Amazon from one reader and a reviewer calledit "one of the four or five best books...of the last four or five years" on Perhaps if I can get an invitation or two to speak here or there things will pick up--maybe something dramatic will happen. I have a new book coming out in a couple of months, more traditional but not nearly so heart-felt. Maybe if it gets noticed a little it will throw a little light on the first one.

It is hard, though--putting yourself so out there in a way and to be so thoroughly ignored. "Love me, please"--that is what every memoirist is asking: know me and love me. Alas. My good friend and editor, Liz, says that I need to take comfort from the fact that it is a good book and that some have been blessed by it--that most books do not, in fact, sell very well. I guess.

With my self-esteem shattered the other night, my amazing son said, "How are you doing, Dad?" Okay, I told him. I am doing okay. He said, "It's all right if you aren't." I started crying, lamenting that it feels, feels, as if I am one of those guys who can work and work, try and try, and never catch much of a break. He says, "Yeah, but lots of folks can't even say they have had a book published, much less four." I do remember, God knows, the ache of wanting to publish a real book, the joy of seeing it happen...but as Stephen Donaldson says, the only way to hurt someone who has lost everything is to give a part of it back to him, broken. I have part of what I had thought I'd lost, but it is broken somehow.

Few care. But a few do. No one is buying the book, many are returning the ones they have bought, but some have been blessed. A few sentences of the first chapter formed the conclusion to a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sermon by an Episcopalian priest in Washington, DC. That is huge, at least to me. To be mentioned in the same context as Preacher King is an incredible notion unto itself. The priest, a black woman, said mine was her "new favorite book."

Pieces. Pieces of satisfaction. Bits of significance. I will have to content myself with that. And wait patiently for the purposes of God to enfold.

I said long ago that if this book were to be published, God would have to help make that happen. The confluences of absurdity above seem to have God's fingerprints all over it. I also said that if the book were ever to have an audience, God would have to do something about that too. The harried and confused sales people at NavPress might ask the same. Will I write more? Publish more? I would like to think so, that, as Frederick Buechner has pronounced on my upcoming work, I "know how to read and know how to write," but I will have to wait. Just wait to see if God has further work for me to do, given that I obviously don't know how to sell.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bobbing the Waves Alone

I have been to Charlotte this morning, to the hospital to see a member of my church who is having surgery. I told her a few stories about John Wesley, of his frustrated love affairs and his encounter with the Moravians. She and her husband, himself a former Moravian but both of them Methodists for twenty years or more, had never heard of such and thought them really funny. I hope it relieved the stress a bit.

Who will tell me stories on Friday? Anyone?

The other night Jo and I went to a 50th anniversary party for a new couple in our church. Their kids had put together a video...the story of their lives in pictures. I made the observation the next morning in my sermon that the Bible affords us the picture of our lives, in stories. The stories are the fascia, the connective tissue, that hold us together and give our bodies cohesion. If we lose our stories, we cease to be the body...

I wept at the beach last week, looking at all the young families--moms and dads with their
kids--praying for them, remembering when my little ones were little. I cried in the ocean, too, knowing I would never bob a wave with Bethany again, or not likely, or maybe I will but who knows? Jacob came into the water with me once, and Jo did the last time I went out on Friday. I told her I wished she would. She does not like the water in her face and so she has always been very resistant. To her credit she stayed with me about 15 minutes. Mostly I was out there by myself. Bethany would have gone with me, I think, but she was not able to come down at all.

I am sure I spend way too much time pondering what I have lost or never had, what I do not expect to experience again if I ever did. When I look at our bulldog Chester, or rub his ears, I fear almost above all other things the prospect of his death. It will come. How will we cope? We will, but he has been the primary glue in our family for a long time. Sad, but in many ways true.

I have surgery again this seventh on my poor knee. A revision of my replacement done last June. They will go in a third time through the largest of my scars...and isn't that an image? The doctor keeps opening the old wound in hopes of fixing my joint. "The tissue has failed," he said. "It's a real mess in there." The fascia is torn, my knee cannot work as a knee because the tissue has failed. Knees, joints, bodies, Body...

This surgery, as my last, has put me deeply in touch with my mortality. I am doing everything this week as a kind of "if I never can do it again..." Silly, probably, but I dread Friday with a perfect dread.

Anyway, as I was weeping at the beach I prayed, thankful for the time now past, sad that it is past--that my time too is shorter than yesterday. I do not begrudge anyone their youth or the time they spend with their beloved children; that time goes away so quickly and does not return. Indeed, it does not. But, as Luna Lovegood (in the movie version of Order of the Phoenix) says her mother said, "The things we lose have a way of coming back to us, just not in the ways we might expect." I hope that, would like to think that, about a lot of things.