Celebrating a first birthday is a life event — for the celebrant and those who rally around with cake, candles, gifts, and oohs and ahhs. So when I realized that my first novel’s first birthday is in a few days, it occurred to me that a party was in order — at least a party in my own head.
No, the physical act of birthing isn’t the same, obviously, but I carried that baby inside my head for so many more than nine months — decades, really — and the labor process took over a year. It was joyful much of the time, painful some of the time, and fraught with doubt a lot of the time. Deep breathing helped occasionally, encouragement from B. helped frequently, and chocolate helped daily.
The experience has changed me forever. First and foremost, there’s a book with my name — my name! — out there for the world to read. Even after a career of writing headlines and ads and naming products that people see all the time, this is different — this time, it’s something borne of my heart and soul, something that lets me reveal a big part of myself to my readers — my readers! — and lets them inside. Cool.
Second, it’s shown me yet again the lengths to which my dearest friends will go for me and the depths of their love and support. From the friend who read my book in draft form (hundreds of pages in a binder) to the friend who continues to come up with ideas for whom to pitch for book talks; from the friends who literally read the book the minute it came out — ebooks are amazing — and showered me with confidence and compliments, to those who shared it with their friends from the beginning and continue to do so now. And the friends from all the different stages of my life who have made it a point to read the book — it’s been such an amazing experience to reconnect over my art, and to have them see where life has taken me from when they knew me so many years ago.
And then there are the strangers — or former strangers, that is. The people whom I’ve met because of the book. Women in the virtual book talks I’ve given. Women I’ve met through marketing the book. Women who have told me that my book has inspired them to rediscover their passion for their own art. Those who have confided that the book has given them the courage to reach out again to friends from whom they had been emotionally distanced. And those who have shared that the book has brightened their lives and given them joy. For someone who makes her living with words, I am rendered speechless.
And of course, my biggest cheerleader, B. Bigger than all of the hours he spent listening (I’d read him new chapters aloud when he’d come home from teaching a late-night class); reading (countless rounds of going through the manuscript and making sure the plot details all made sense); and urging me not to give up (even when I decided one day that I just couldn’t do it anymore) — the most extraordinary thing he gave me was the power to believe in myself and to follow the story wherever my heart led me. The book’s dedication captures it best (please indulge me here):
“To every little girl who ever dreamed of being a mermaid but was afraid of the water … who ever yearned to be a ballerina but was frightened of being onstage … who ever wished she could sing on Broadway but was too shy to make herself heard … let your art be your presence, your strength, your voice. And to my darling B., who gave me the mirror to see my true self — this is the story I see in my reflection.”
Here’s to first birthdays. To those who have them and those who make them possible.
Party hats for everyone.
My novel, The Mermaid Mahjong Circle — A Fairy Tale for Women, is available here.
©2021 Claudia Grossman