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Writing a book is a lonely thing, especially if you are as superstitious as I am. Here's the problem: I've created a hard and fast rule for myself that I can't show my work to anyone until I'm very nearly done with it. I feel somehow that it will break a spell to hear feedback too early, that I'll lose steam on the project, that I'll be disheartened by criticism or misguided by praise, that I'll expose my characters to light before they're fully developed and therefore they will be forever stunted, caught in time prematurely.
Whether or not this is true, I have no idea. I've never tested my theory because I'm too afraid to. Each novel I write feels as fragile and breakable as an expanding balloon. But the result of this is that I have no idea what anyone will think of my books. By the end of the three years it took me to write a first draft of Heft, I felt as if I'd gone a little insane -- talking to yourself, even in writing, will do that to you. It took two more years of working with my agent and editor until it was finally published, and I still had only shown it to a handful of readers. Its publication, therefore, was a scary thing: sort of like walking down the street in a bathing suit.
I am happy to report that the ensuing months have been more than pleasant. After I got over metaphorically covering my ears and eyes, I began to read the feedback that readers sent me and continue to send me regularly. Corresponding with these readers, reading their thoughts on the book and, in some cases, their beautifully written, deeply personal confessions about the ways in which they can relate to the characters, has been one of the most moving experiences of my life.
It is especially gratifying to hear from these readers because Heft itself is a book about overcoming loneliness to forge human connections. One of its protagonists, Arthur Opp, is a 58-year-old, 550-pound former academic who, at the book's start, hasn't left his home in a decade; the other, Kel Keller, is a 17-year-old high school baseball star who has been blessed with the gifts of athleticism and popularity but is struggling at home, and feels unable to tell anyone about it. Obviously, I have a very different biography than either one of these characters (beginning with the fact that I'm a woman), but parts of my life are invested in these characters, and it is incredibly touching to know that some of the book's readers feel this way, too. That I'm not alone in occasionally feeling like Kel and Arthur.
One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from the poet Salvatore Quasimodo. In a 1960 New York Times article, he wrote that "Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal [but] which the reader recognizes as his own." I thought about this quote quite a bit when writing Heft, and even more while reading your letters. I am so glad and gratified that some of you recognize my feelings; in reading your notes to me, I have found that I recognize yours, too. I hope you'll accept my sincere thanks for reaching out, and I hope you'll continue to reach out -- to me, but also into the world around you, however you know how. I promise to do the same.