I wrote Lu from three windows. This isn’t strange for a writer. Without a window, where would she look when she puts her chin in her hand to daydream about her story?
But for me, the windows were a camouflage – mostly to hide from myself that I was writing. Again. I’d always wanted to a write a book, and eight years ago, I quit my job and told everyone and their cousin to watch out for it. And then I failed. In four months, I eked out seven chapters – each written under the pressure of whether they’d land me an agent and a publishing contract. Ultimately, I had to shelve the whole thing when the rest of life fell apart, resulting in Matt and I moving into his parents’ house. No book, no jobs, and no money. I was 28, living with my in-laws and #winningatlife.
We rebuilt over the next five years, but the flame of my book’s crash burned bright. The dream to finish it never left, but I was afraid of failing again, and so I kept to the outskirts.
I’m not opening these old chapters to work on them; I’m just looking for something to read during the boys’ naps …
I’m not revising these chapters; I’m just tinkering …
I’m not setting my alarm to write tomorrow morning; I’m just making some time in case I happen to write …
I’m not writing a new chapter to finish this book; I’m just seeing if I can still write …
Even after one chapter turned into five, and it became apparent that, yes, I was writing, I kept to my three windows: my living room window to write before the boys woke up, the window of the coffee shop to write on Saturday afternoons, and the window of the Union County Library in Liberty, Indiana, to write during Ezra’s preschool. I came and went from them like a nomad, careful to clear the traces of what I’d been up to. I didn’t think anyone would notice me, but I suppose if you keep visiting the same places at the same time, the regulars take note.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” a man asked me after several consecutive afternoon writing trips at the library. “My name is Ray, and I work here. Could I get you a cup of coffee? We like to do that for our regulars.”
I suppose if you keep visiting the same places at the same time, you become a regular. It was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.
Fast-forward a year and a half. I published that book I’d been writing and was now trucking Lu around to whoever would carry her, which wasn’t many. You don’t have a platform, you don’t have an audience. The reasons for “No” made sense, but that didn’t stop them from landing discouraging. It rained all afternoon on the day I went back to the Union County Library in Liberty, Indiana. My hair frizzed a mile high. “I should have some marketing swag,” I thought, “or at the very least changed into pants without a barbecue stain.” But it was just me, my poofy hair and dirty pants, Lu, and a question.
“Would you be interested in circulating my book?”
The librarian, Karen Kahl, looked at me for a half second before she said, “Oh, I think we can do better than that. We’ll hold a reading and a signing. I’ll bring the cake and punch. You bring the books.”
Just like that, except it ended up being more than that. Last week, the Union County Public Library welcomed me to two events: one where I shared how my grandmas inspired me to write Lu and the other where I shared the building blocks of the story. This second event was held in the room where I wrote the third part of Lu, and try as I could to focus, my eyes kept wandering to the table I used to sneak to every afternoon to write.
I didn’t know if I’d ever finish Lu, especially when I was writing the third part. There was an emotional intensity in that section of the story that was hard for me to tap into every day, and I spent as much time staring at Liberty’s town square through the front window of the library as I did writing. How fun would it be to throw that girl some paper airplanes filled with secret notes? You will finish this book, and right around the time Ezra finishes preschool. You won’t come here to write anymore, but that’s okay because you’ll have finally worked up the guts to claim a space.
It’s a fun thought, but not necessary. I think Ray was necessary – his coffee, his recognition that I was a “regular” when I so often felt like a hack. I think Karen was necessary – her yes, her cake (with whipped cream frosting!) to celebrate a book, regardless of numbers, frizzy hair, stained pants, and a writer who didn’t have a fancy pitch, but a simple question: Would you be interested in circulating my book?”