Feeling a little nostalgic today, as I realized that this week is the ten year anniversary of the publication of my first book, That Summer. Ten years! Ten! (Cue Jeremy Piven in Grosse Point Blank, whacking the car horn for emphasis.) It seems like…well, maybe not yesterday, but not all THAT long ago either. Back in early October 1996, I was 26 years old. I’d been out of college for almost two years, working at the Burrito and writing every day. I actually sold That Summer in 1994 (fall or spring? I can’t remember), and so when this book came out I was working on Someone Like You, I believe, or maybe one of the many books I’ve written and never sold. (And there are a LOT of them. Oh so many. Sigh.)
Anyway, what I remember most is just being SO EXCITED. I mean, all my life, this is what I’d dreamed of, and suddenly it was actually happening. I could not stop myself from going by the local independent bookstore, The Intimate Bookshop (long gone now, sad to say) where they had the book in the window. At the time the book was released, I was actually in this sort of weird place with my publisher—my editor had jumped to a new house, and there was some conflict about whether I could/would follow—but I was feeling pretty positive and excited nonetheless. Then, about a month before the book came out. Lee Smith asked me what appearances had been set up for me. I said none, not yet. Lee gave me a look. “What?” she said. At which point I realized that, despite my Big Time Author Fantasies (which should have been dashed already, considering I was still waiting tables, and not living in a mansion off my huge advance) if I wanted publicity, I needed to get cracking on my own. Lee pulled out her list of local bookstore contacts, my parents lent me some money, and I hurried off to the copy store to whip up my very own personal little press packet, which I then took around to any establishment even REMOTELY related to books. Then I did EVERY event anyone offered me, from bookstore signings to middle school bookfairs to opening of envelopes. (Just kidding on that last one. Although…some things I did were awfully close.) I remember I often lost money, missing shifts, to go out and read or do book clubs. But it was all part of it, and I was in. Young and hungry, all that. Literally hungry, in fact. I was living off my employee meals at the restaurant back then.
My first reading in Chapel Hill was at the Intimate at Eastgate, and I invited just about everyone I’d ever met in my entire life. About half of them showed up: my friends, family, customers from the restaurant, neighbors, people I hadn’t seen since high school. Afterwards, my parents hosted a little party at their house with cheese plates and meatballs. Looking back, it makes me so verklempt, thinking about all this. It was, literally, one of the best weeks of my life. Still is. And even now, ten years later, when my publishing life is so different—when my life in general is so different—I always feel a little wistful this time of year, remembering back. Beginnings are good, it’s true. But I like to think that I’m firmly in the middle now, with a lot further to go. Here’s hoping.