“Gripping, beguiling and beautifully written, Bittersweet is a page turner that chills as it intoxicates. Miranda Beverly-Whittemore has created a family so dangerously enthralling that the more we learn of their greed and bloodlust, the more we aspire to belong.” -Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man and Blue Plate Special
As you know, I’ve been reading lots of books since mid-August in the interest of deciding who to ask for book blurbs, and what I’d like to say to them about their own books. In some cases, I’ve only been able to read the most recent book (or an earlier book that directly interacts with Bittersweet for some reason), but I do think it’s important to read at least one of someone’s books before asking them to do the same for you. I want each writer to know exactly why I am asking them to write the blurb for me (which usually translates into what I admire about their book/s), not just because I want to flatter them, but because it’s also a way to signal what might be compelling to them about my book, to provide language or ideas they might want to use. I find we writers are so busy that anyone making our jobs easier is seen as an ally; and since I’m asking them to do me such a big favor, it’s really the least I can do.
Still, the whole endeavor can be incredibly discouraging, especially when you’ve spent a day reading someone’s book, then another half day crafting the perfect letter on your computer, then copied it out with a fountain pen on expensive stationery, only to hear back the next day that they simply don’t blurb anyone. I chuckled knowingly at this blog entry by Shane Jones, recounting his painful experience trying to get blurbs for his novel (he ended up with 5/26, which is actually pretty good odds in this business).
Then there are days like today, when you not only hear back from an author you admire so tremendously that you kind of see hearts in the air when you think about her, and not only does she say yes of course she’ll blurb you (and within the week at that), but then she says the most awesome things about your book that you think you couldn’t actually love her anymore than you already do. I’m talking, in this case, about the wonderful Kate Christensen.
Okay, but back up. How did I “get to” Kate? This is a question I found myself perplexed by with my first two books. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I hadn’t gotten my MFA, and hence didn’t have colleagues or professors who I had naturally networked with. Also, I was timid, and much less brave- it seemed so challenging to write to someone I admired and ask them for a favor, nigh impossible that I’d ever be able to get someone I adored so deeply to read, let alone write nice things about, something I’d written.
And yet- this is something Dan writes about so much- I’ve learned that “getting” to someone can actually be less challenging than I first imagined. Creating a relationship can be as simple as telling someone you admire them. Social media can be a huge boon to this, because writers are much more accessible than they ever were, via their websites, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And my relationship with Kate is a perfect example of creating a lasting connection, one that, up until now, has existed only in the ether of the web, but that still feels real and true.
I first fell in love with Kate’s writing when I read The Great Man, which deservedly won the PEN/Faulkner prize in 2008. When I found out that my friend Victor LaValle was on the awards committee, I asked him if he would feel comfortable putting us in touch. He did, and I sent her an email telling her how much I admired her. That was years ago. In the interim, I friend requested her on Facebook (she accepted), I subscribed to her mouth-watering blog, and started following her on Twitter (and she followed back). I wasn’t trying to squirrel my way into her world, and (I can only guess that) because I had initially written such an honest appreciation of her work, she knew I wasn’t interested in getting anything from her. I simply was doing what I would with anyone whom I admire- sidling up, chin in hand, interested to hear more.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous to ask her to blurb Bittersweet. I had no idea she’d even know who I was. But I knew I had to ask her- I knew I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t. So I sent an e-mail both to the address I’d used in 2008 and to her Facebook account, crossing my fingers but not holding my breath. Instead, I heard back from her in two days. And not only did she know who I was, but she remembered me well enough to say that in spite of the huge amount of work she has on her plate (teaching and writing), she’d be thrilled to give me a blurb, and to do it as soon as possible.
Kate is incredibly generous, and I’m incredibly grateful. I owe her a tremendous favor, not just for writing me the blurb, but for reminding me that it’s important to step out of one’s comfort zone every once in a while. Now I feel as if we know each other, that we might even be friends, or at least friends to each other’s work. Her writing inspires and engages me, and I am so moved to hear her say such lovely things about my writing too.