March 14th, 2018

A Year of So Much Love

One year ago that book of mine came out. So Much Love was so many years–and tears–in the making that it could not be anything but huge in my life when it actually became a public item. The subject matter is also dark and emotional, and I’d been deeply immersed in it for seven years when the book came out, in addition to the sense of vulnerability coming from events in my actual personal life. So even though I tell writers who are just starting out that one gets tough from having books in the world, inured to reviews and criticism simply by having experienced them–that wasn’t true this time. I was basically an open wound when So Much Love came out.

There’s a few paragraphs in one of the chapters about a character searching for waterproof mascara and I own that mascara in real life (research budget!) and wore it to the launch. I cried a lot about this book, literal and metaphorical tears both. It was shocking to have other people gain access to what was starting to feel like my own personal dreamscape. And even more shocking to talk to them about it–it was like letting the light in. I had been alone with the book for so long, and though eventually my brilliant editor Anita Chong came along shouldered so much of the load, I still felt cloistered with it. The many different reactions to the book–so many of them excited and engaged–let me finally step back from my own work and see it as a real book and not a dream. For the people who read it, So Much Love is a novel with a distinct shape and structure, characters and event, a beginning and an end. I never thought I’d be able to experience the book that way, but the longer I wasn’t writing it, the more viewpoints I heard–some very different from anything I’d imagined–the more it began to make sense to me as a finite object.

Other people related to Catherine and Julianna, Grey and Kyla, Sue and Donny, too–cried for them and got frustrated, and felt hope and sadness for them. They related to other characters or didn’t, felt suspense or eagerness, felt revulsion or impatience, felt so many things in the course of the novel. Readers of SML were reminded of people in the real world who had suffered similar crimes, of crimes they themselves had suffered. They thought of how incredibly difficult it is to suffer and recover. They felt the novel echoed that or didn’t, were troubled by its dissonances and resonances, were concerned, excited, questioning, scared, bored, thrilled.

Not everyone liked the book, and a few people were very clear in explaining that to me–in print, in person, on the internet–but pretty much everyone was civil. I’m actually startled by how well I coped with harsh words about the book,  given my feelings about SML per above. One reason is probably that I had kind people–mainly friends and family, but sometimes strangers–around to say, well, this is just one set of thoughts, there’s lots of other thoughts. And another reason is that I read Dana Hansen’s review in the Winnipeg Review and Marsha Lederman’s review in the Globe and Mail very early in the process, plus Bret Josef Grubisic’s in Quill and Quire and those were not only positive but seemed to read the novel in the way that I had written in. Because I saw in these reviews that people could connect with SML in the way I had dreamed–and because I knew they have a right not to–I was more or less ok with even the darkest comments on this book. It was still people sharing their thoughts on the most important thing I’d ever written, and that was generous, even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.

Oh, the generosity of this year. From the moment I stood at Kerry Clare’s lovely launch for the very brilliant and funny Mitzi Bytes and she took time out of her own big day to give my book a little shout out–can you imagine a friend like that?–I thought things might be ok. So Much Love and I received so much heartfelt *thought* this year–from the really searching, interesting questions at the panel discussions to the TV presenters who tried so hard to get me to calm down.

And then there was the pleasure of all the other authors who I heard read and talk–one of the best things of being at so many readings and festivals was getting to hear about all the other fantastic books that were out this year. Getting to do events with my beloved Mark Sampson because for the first time we had books out in the same season. I will never get tired of hearing him read my favourite scene in his novel The Slip, when Philip tries to get the poppy that fell under the dean’s desk.

And the BiblioBash, the very fancy party in support of the Toronto Public Library, where I was a guest author!

And the time SML was nominated for an Amazon First Novel Award and there was a giant poster of the book cover and it was all so fancy!

And the many simple, kind, brief emails I received that said in so many words, I enjoyed your book and wanted you to know.

That time I was a headliner at WordFeast in Fredericton–a headliner!

It was an amazing year.

But also.

My dad died just shy of three weeks before So Much Love came out, so even though I was happy about so many things that happened this year, I was always sad too. He never read the book–by the time there was an edited version that was presentable, he was too sick to do so. I will be sad about that forever. He was upset about it too–we were sad together. He was proud of me and my book. When I finished the final edits, I sent then off and went straight to the hospital and told him. He was always happy to hear about stuff like that.

I did not talk much about his death this year because I didn’t know what to say. Often it seemed like my mind was perfectly blank. But all my grief seemed wrapped up with the book somehow. Every time I had to travel alone for a book presentation, I would be excited and enthusiastic and then afterwards wind up standing outside weeping. It’s hard book to present when you’re already in a dark place, and I wanted to be true to the novel and give my all to panel discussions, readings, anyone who wanted to talk to me. I knew I was never going to have this opportunity again, to share this work that I love so much and worked so hard on and cliche as it sounds, I knew my dad would want me to do it.

So I did. I don’t think I said no to a single event or opportunity with regard to So Much Love and I truly enjoyed almost all of it. I’m so grateful for the readers and the friends, and everyone who gave me opportunities to share the book or made those opportunities worthwhile.

The traditional duration of book promotion is a year–two publishing seasons, spring and fall. And there’s a weird little part of my brain that feels, well, now the year is over, and everything will go back the way it was. I wrote the hard dark book I needed to write and I took a year to share it with the world the best I could, and I now I can move on to other things. Because my father’s death and the launch of So Much Love were so close in time, part of me feels like once I stop working on the book, talking about it all the time, he won’t be dead anymore. Which obviously I understand is a strange little mental trick and impossible but the thought is there.

It was a strange hard year. Thanks for reading, for writing me notes, for coming out to readings, for all the kindness. New years and new books beckon.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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