When Your Book Dies

June 17, 2012 § 32 Comments

Your book is gonna die.  Don’t be sad.  You didn’t do anything wrong. You are not a failure. Your book was good enough, beautiful enough, magical enough. The fact is, most books have the lifespan of the average dragonfly.

Now wait, you say.  How bout that dragonfly named To Kill a Mockingbird that is still being read by tenth grade English classes year after year?  How bout that teenage vampire dragonfly?  How bout that Fifty Shades of Grey Dragonfly that tied up and banged every dragonfly in the swamp and whose damp, gray eggs will hatch endless sequels?

Writer friends, there are dragonflies that live exceptionally long.  There are also fishermen on the remote island of Okinawa, and Methuselah of Biblical fame, and Mike Wallace.*

But go back to what I said before. Whether you are self published or published through more conventional channels, there is a period of time when your book flies around living the high life and sitting on lily pads stuffing mosquito larvae down its craw, and gets good reviews, and praise from friends and strangers, and you think it will go on forever.  Then, inevitably, as the days pass, its iridescent wings grow stiff and its antennae turn silver.

My own blue dragonfly seems a little slow lately.  I have to pulverize his mosquito larvae for him. Put band-aids on his wings.  He’s forgetful, and often cranky. He rambles on a lot about the old days (April). He detests loud music and thinks young dragonflies dress like whores.

Yesterday, he flew to my shoulder and just kind of sat there.

Me:   Hey, get back up there in the sky.

Blue Dragonfly:  I can’t.  Sooner or later, my multifaceted eyes will lose their light, my wings will fold and I will spiral down to the dank water of the swamp, to be eaten and crapped out the back of a yellow sunfish.

Me:  I never realized how depressing you are.

Blue Dragonfly:  Have you read your own writing?

Me:  But you’ve got to keep going.  People believe in you.  My mother thinks you will live forever.

Blue Dragonfly:  Your mother also thinks you are a virgin.

Me:   I am going to take you to see a televangelist named Benny Hinn. He does miraculous healings. I saw an old lady who could not walk literally dance down the aisles after he punched her in the face.

Blue Dragonfly:  Stop it.  Stop it with the miracle cures and the Oprah lotion and the Kardashian salve. I am dying.  And it is natural. And it is beautiful. As beautiful as your life.  All you try to be.  And consider this: A part of me might live in your readers. Some part you don’t know about.  A shadow that fell in a way that resonated, one tiny inconsequential phrase they recognized as a truth, a shell that finds a home in their pocket, a metaphor they keep on their windowsill and water on Fridays. That is the miracle.  The life that goes on.

Me:  (eyes filling with tears) You are the wisest damn dragonfly with one foot in the grave in this whole frigging swamp.

And the dragonfly took a hit off his inhaler, coughed, gathered momentum and flew off my shoulder as a shaft of light glittered through his double wings.  And it was beautiful, friends.  Beautiful.

And there’s always the paperback.

*never mind.

(Blue Dragonfly @GeoAnn)

§ 32 Responses to When Your Book Dies

  • Chris Mitton says:

    Don’t fret. Your book will outlive Oprah.

  • That is one beautiful iridescent (practically sparkly) blue dragonfly you’re talking about. Maybe he just needs a nap. Summer is young, your dragonfly is young. There’s simply a lot of pollen this year and everybody needs their inhalers. Besides, his eyes aren’t even milky.

  • Claire Grasse says:

    I blame this on Oprah.

    Also, your book is brilliant – it really is. It’s beautiful and lyrical and believable. And I rarely say that – not since Lucy Christopher’s “Stolen.”

    I’m not your mom (who is probably a lovely person, but let’s face it, she thinks the plaster cast you made of your hand in Kindergarten was Inspired Art. I know, I have a mom too), I’m just a cranky, overly-critical Average Reader (slash writer) who really, really thinks your work is good – for whatever that’s worth.

    Perhaps Blue Asylum is not dying, but only lying quietly in a cocoon, getting ready to metamorphose from wormhood into butterflydom. Perhaps this is just the painful adolescence of the book’s soul. The best, the maturity of adulthood, with all its unlimited earning potential, is yet to be.

    At which point it could still get eaten by a swallow, but that’s a bridge for another day.

    Believe!

    • Ha ha ha! I love the idea of a book’s painful adolescence. When it shuts itself in a room and listens to loud music and hates its parents. Let’s hope it outgrows this phase soon. Thanks Claire!

  • The Jackal says:

    Dear Der Hepinshtaller, you are incorrect on at least two counts. Possibly a lot more. My 9th grader read To Klll. Not tenth grade. Please. Keep up. Also, Blue will have a remarkable metamophisis (damn you spellcheck, damn you to hell), as Clair wisely advises. And Oprah’s got a lot on her mind and pocketbook these days. You are a great, great writer. Period.

  • Phoenix says:

    Life is beautiful but it’s hard to get over how sad death is. On a brighter note, there are always new dragonflys to give birth to and perhaps dragonfly soul are reborn and live forever.

  • Favorite Cousin says:

    Perhaps the mid-wife of the blue dragonfly needs to introduce it to new lily pads…just sayin’

  • Michele Wilhite says:

    Your dragonfly is beautiful and wise but it is not on it’s last “wings!” It will continue to soar across the country on “gossamer wings” spreading news of Asylum to the uninformed! You must be having a “the party’s over” moment or Christmas Day after all the presents are opened. It’s natural, it’s good, embrace it and smile. Of course I know this post is a joke as Asylum has implemented a stealth program to catapult it to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List! Asylum is as strong as a Clydesdale, it doesn’t depend on anyone else to carry it’s beer!

    • You are so nice, Michele. I am so glad that Zephyr was abandoned to such a wonderful person. Hope I see you in a couple weeks…am going to try to make it down for the big bad wolf’s 60th.

  • Gayla Collins says:

    I cried reading this raw blog entry.. It reminded me of “The House of Gentle Men” in it’s absolute power to move me. Please know that even Oprah’s power is diminishing fast and furious….her OWN channel is failing miserably and that has to be so discouraging and embarrassing and deflating for the Oprah of a year ago. She has talked openly how she fell into deep depressions when the movie “Beloved” flopped and many other projects. They were birthed from her and it was like watching her children being brutally bullied on playgrounds. She would understand your pain quite well if their ever were the communication.

    Brilliant artists such as yourself lay bare their souls and hope others will appreciate the sacrifice. You are the bravest people of all……you write because you must; because the talent inside is so strong, so explosive you have to create. And the risk of not appealing to the masses cab be brutal and exhausting.

    Louise Penny who is just starting to reap the rewards of her labor speaks so eloquently to this. Her genre is mystery, but with superb intelligence and insight that enlightens, instructs, entertains, educates all while you are dealing with a murder. She wrote for 20 years, slaving over her work and then slowly, surely. people began to discover her. Word of mouth followed. Critical acclaim followed.. The masses finally got their noses out of “pulp writer’s asses” with appreciation for the fresh scent of uniqueness,; the engaging odor of intelligent words so fragrant it re-opened their dulled senses. Yours will break through too, Kathy. I believe it. And when they do you will know you wrote with integrity, with a wordsmith arsenal, with unique allegories and pristine similes. The art you present will honor you . People don’t have to hide you on their Kindles or just except par. They can brag about you because you are the real deal; the true talent.

    Feel my hug; feel my appreciation for every word you have written. And, please, don’t give up. Know that many followers are praying for that big break to come. I am one.

    • Ah thank you Gayla. What a nice letter to send. And I’m going to have to check out this Louise Penny person. Wondering how you discovered her and if it was early or late in her career.
      Thanks again Gayla.

      Kathy

  • Remember, Kathy, it is better to live the life of a dragonfly than a fruit fly. And at least your dragonfly lives!

  • Mark Olmsted says:

    I actually think “Blue Asylum” would make a terrific graphic novel, not to mention “Absence of Nectar” and “House of Gentlemen.” Lord know you know some illustrators.

  • Larry Chusid says:

    You make me think. You make me laugh too. And I like both. Hopefully the kibble will never die :)

  • Blue will join the ranks of the undead backlists via the black arts of e-publishing and continue to suck the blood and eat the brains of willing mosquitoes for evermore.

    • I love the idea of my book as a mosquito-eating zombie. Also “undead backlists” is a phrase that should be heralded into the publishing world in a special candlelit ceremony.

  • cuzin Bridget says:

    Every thought of writing for disney this whole scene could be the sequel to princess and the frog….Kathy you inspire me with every word you print. Dont stop dont quit go on. I will always pick one shade of deep blue over 50 shades of weird and sticky gray!

  • Linda Huson says:

    Kathy,

    Your new book was just discussed on my Yahoogroups book group – and there were some really good and deep responses to the questions that were asked…
    So there are people out there reading it and “getting into it” – as they say! My favorite book of yours is “Prince of Lost Places” – I’ve read it at least 3 times and will read it again one day! Linda in VA

    • Hi Linda thank you so much for writing. I’d say Prince of Lost Places is my saddest book, and that’s saying something. Wondering if you think so too. What part of Virginia are you from? Kathy

      • Linda Huson says:

        Kathy,

        I’m originally from Ohio (near Cincy). I now live (well since 1974) in Northern Virginia – about 25 miles from Washington, DC

        Yes, Prince of Lost Places is the saddest… But I love sad books – LOL!

        Linda in VA

  • Sara says:

    Silly! Stories don’t die. Your book was labored on, born and then grew up rapidly with tons of exciting childhood to teenaged years drama – at this point it has graduated university and is out in the world earning a living, meeting new people and will hopefully check in on you during holidays and when it needs some extra cash. Maybe it’s not as famous as some books but how many of our kids/books really are famous? Perhaps when every single person who read Blue Asylum and was touched by it has died and the story is forgotten it can be considered figuratively ‘dead’ …but you could go out today and bury all of your books in a time capsule to be discovered by Prometheus (the movie) like explorers someday in the far future your stories have a chance to all live again. Try doing THAT with a human kid or cat or puppy and it really doesn’t work…pretty cool huh? xoxo

    • Sara you have a refreshing way of seeing the world. I think people on their deathbeds will whisper to their next of kin to read Blue Asylum as their last request, so actually it will never die.

  • Saaintly Mother says:

    I’m a terrible Mother; today is the first time I have checked your blog in at least two weeks. I’ve had more exciting things to do. How did you find time to write this eloquent, yet poignant, entry when I was keeping you so busy! And yes, Baby, I do know that you ARE a virgin – just as you know I AM a saintly mother, but we #&%! sure don’t want anyone else knowing it.

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