To Live and Die in Nashville

by J.T. Ellison

When you launch a book, something strange happens. A little bitty minuscule part of you dies.

What? JT, you’re out of your mind. You should be celebrating, not feeling like your cells are disappearing, one by one!

I can’t help it. Let me try and explain. I can’t promise this will make sense, but hopefully I’m not the only author that’s ever felt this way. Actually, I know I’m not, John Connolly has written about this on his blog, this . . . feeling . . . that even though the book is done, there’s more that could have been done to make it better. I didn’t understand his sentiments at the time.  As I went through the publication process, I truly didn’t understand, because I was so caught up in the first-time-itis of revisions and copy edits, learning the system, that I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees. A book is never truly finished. Even when it’s being sold, you always feel like you could have done . . .  something . . .  to make it better.

The first time I finished the book and submitted it, I made a joke that if I had a child, I’d liken this moment to sending them off to college. You’ve given your heart and soul to shape them, to help them grow into good people. At some point, you need to let them go, see if they can fly on their own. It’s the same with a book. I just didn’t understand that until now.

I’ve mentioned before that this whole process feels somewhat surreal. I still sometimes pinch myself, making sure I’m awake, trying to prove that this dream isn’t really just a dream. At the book launch last week, these doubts came to a head. We were about 15 minutes until the "official" start time. People were showing up, the band was setting up, Borders had just arrived and had three huge cartons of boxes, a big banner, all the things they’d need. They started setting out the books, the wine seller popped the corks on a few bottles, the food was set out, the band couldn’t find the right plug, Hubby came over to see if I knew where they could grab a microphone lead, the host of the party, Paul Nadeau, came to see if I wanted, something, I don’t even remember now, I received a brilliant phone call from a fan who blew me away with her incredible graciousness to call me at my launch party to tell me good luck (B.G., you made me tear up, with pure joy ; ) ), Tasha was standing there talking to my parents, my brother was looking at me with this hysterical look on his face that made me want to laugh, because I know he was mentally calling me by my childhood nickname which will NOT be repeated here on this blog, and I realized I wasn’t breathing. Actually, I was dizzy. Make that borderline about to faint. For God’s sake, here we go. I KNEW that was going to happen.

Thankfully Tasha recognized the signs of imminent distress and got me to the bathroom, away from the hubbub, and reminded me that breathing is highly underrated as a source of not passing out. Once I got my pulse under control, fluffed my hair, and received a heartening pep talk, I left the bathroom, prepared to launch my darling.

The room was crowded, and the Borders folks got me set up to sign immediately. I sat, uncapped my purple fountain pen, and . . . the next two hours were a total blur. I was shocked at how many people showed up. Friends I hadn’t talked to in years, neighbors, people who’d seen the announcements here and on MySpace, fans who’d written me and I’d thrown out an invite, plus most of the people we’d actually invited. And they were all clutching copies of All the Pretty Girls for me to sign. Pure insanity.                                     

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Then I had to give a speech. I needed to say thank you to everyone who’d helped plan this great event. I did just fine until I hit Randy. I’d gotten myself in tears practicing the speech earlier in the day and knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through publicly. I was right. I choked up, but it was still perfect. And what a relief to have that over! The highlight of the night was the raffle. We gave away a compilation CD of Taylor’s favorite music (coming soon to iTunes, hopefully) a Killer Year anthology ARC, and the grand prize, a pair of cowboy boots donated by the Nashville Boot Company, where Taylor buys all her boots. They turned into cowgirl boots when our friend Mandy had the winning ticket.

So why, in the middle of this joy and frivolity (and the band singing Corn Dog) was I so freaked out? This was more than the train leaving the station. This was pure, unadulterated terror. A lot of people have read this book. A lot of people love this book. A few hate it. That’s to be expected. I never thought to have universal support, that’s wholly unrealistic. But these people, theses are my peeps. These are the folks who’ve seen me drunk, who know my secrets, who have been cheering me on for years. They’ve been resources for characters, have been patient while I crawl under my rock and refuse invitations, who bring me food and wine when they sense I’m hitting a rough patch. I just don’t want to disappoint anyone.

So that’s brings me full circle to the corner of my heart that shriveled up and died when I signed that last book, late in the evening. This moment, one planned for months, years, really, was over. I got myself a glass of wine, listened to the band (who were singing some really raunchy tunes at that point — the darlings made me laugh!) accepted praise from the people I care for the most, and felt empty. 

We write because we want to share our stories. We have something to say, couched deep in the constructs of fiction, about the human condition. Little bits of our souls find their way onto every page. That laying bare, opening ourselves to criticism and praise, is dangerous for an artist. Staying grounded in reality, knowing that your work is just that, words on a page that may or may not appeal, and doesn’t define you as a person, is vital. You have to trust the people around you to tell you the truth, to support you when you’re up and when you’re down, to share the load. And you have to know when to say goodbye to your child, when to let them soar away on their own wings, knowing that they may fall, and hope, pray you’ve given them the strength to get back up.

Thanks to everyone who came out to my signings this week to show support and buy the book. I can’t tell you how much it means.

Wine of the Week — A selection from the wonderful wine sellers who sponsored the book launch — Best Brands —2004 Piping Shrike Shiraz

Here’s a link to some of the photos from the launch, plus other tour stops. I’m waiting on the professional snaps, and will post them to this account, so keep checking back if you’re interested in seeing more. And yes, due to the unfortunate fact of being one-handed for 10 weeks, I was forced to cut the hair. I’m finally getting used to it.

UPDATE: Here is the link to all the pictures from the launch. Enjoy!

UPDATE the Second: My First Sale Story has appeared at Dear Author. Come by and say hello!

20 thoughts on “To Live and Die in Nashville

  1. Mike MacLean

    Mira had so much confidence in your work they spent god knows how many dollars to print and distribute it around the entire country. Yet insecurity still looms. Why do we do this to ourselves?

    You did good. You’re in a place thousands of struggling writers would love to be. You’re in a place you only dreamed of a few years ago – maybe a place you never thought you’d reach. And it’s only the beginning. Take a breath and enjoy.

    Reply
  2. billie

    JT, I remember a reading with Lee Smith where she was standing at the podium with a pen editing the published book as she read it – she shared this with the audience and those of us who were writers too got a big laugh out of that.

    Mike is of course perfectly correct – a host of smart people believed in and paid for your book so there is no real reason to feel insecure. And yet, I think most of us do. My agent wrote to me once that it’s the “real” writers who never stop trying to make their work better.

    I say embrace the feelings and then let them go. They’ll be back perhaps at different times and with other books, but that just means you’re in it for the long haul.

    Your party sounds like it was so much fun!

    Reply
  3. pari

    J.T.,Of course you’re going to feel this way; just don’t let it get IN the way of the wonderful ride you’re on.

    Enjoy. This moment, this first book, is precious and unlike any other experience you’ll have with future novels.

    I’m so incredibly happy for you . . .

    Reply
  4. Tom

    Can’t be sure about this, J.T.; but it may be each little coronary corner that dies is replaced by one that grows from the next urgent need to tell a new story. This may explain why so many mystery authors live such long lives.

    Something similar happens to me after concerts; and the end of a show’s run can be plain painful. A pal tells me, “Eventually we’ll love ourselves and make peace with our faults.”

    Here’s to that day (Don Francisco Espresso Roast, 2007)!

    Reply
  5. Louise Ure

    J.T., I love the shorter hair!

    Congratulations on what sounds like a fabulous launch. These public moments are important for authors — although sometimes terrifying or wonder-filled — since so much of the rest of our world exists only in our minds.

    Reply
  6. JT Ellison

    Louise, you’re right. I had another hurdle last night — my first in-store talk. I was a nervous wreck, but it went much more smoothly than I anticipated. It is surreal, though.

    Tom, that’s exactly it. You’ve done all this work and suddenly it’s over, and it’s almost a lonesome feeling. Even with new books underway. I guess this is why you always remember your first.

    Pari, thank you! I can’t wait to see your launch pictures for Socorro!

    Dusty, you doll. xo

    Billie, right on the money, as usual! I realized halfway through the night that I was going to have to do it all again in 10 months and it was humbling.

    And Mike, you’re right, of course. There are so many people who’d like to be in my position, and I want to address all of them when I say DON’T STOP BELIEVING. Scary as it may be, it’s also a blast.

    Reply
  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I guess if we were ever satisfied we wouldn’t write at all.

    My feeling is we have to help each other celebrate, since we all have this quirk.

    I will buy you the biggest drink in town next time I see you, and chocolate, too.

    MUCH LOVE!!!!

    Reply
  8. Declan Burke

    JT – That ’emptiness’ you felt? It’s just your clever ol’ self creating another space that a new story is going to fill up. Congrats, I’m delighted for you.

    Reply
  9. JT Ellison

    Dec, you’re right. It’s the letting go, because God knows my brain doesn’t have room for everything ; )

    Simon, you’re a perfectionist like me. It’s a hard road.

    Reply
  10. Kathryn Lilley

    Oh, JT, it sounds wonderful (except for the near-fainting part!). I still have the warm fuzzies every time I think about the book launch party that was given for me in October. I knew it was going to be a spectacular event when we drove up to our host’s house, and they had valet parkers! I turned to my husband and said, “Oh. My. God.” It’s so awesome when your friends and family go so far out of their way to honor your accomplishment, as yours did for you. I wrote about mine at Killer Hobbies: http://killerhobbies.blogspot.com/2007/10/on-road-for-dying-to-be-thin-week-two.html

    I’m the blonde with the pen and the ear-to-ear grin in the photos!

    Reply
  11. Naomi

    Just got the book at Book’em Mysteries in Pasadena this morning. (I went to Vroman’s later to do some shopping–Vroman’s is one of the largest independents in California–and saw your book on its shelves.) Now all I need is your autograph. Hmmm. Maybe at Book Expo 2008? 🙂

    Reply
  12. toni mcgee causey

    J.T., I’m so happy you had such a wonderful launch party, and wow, you nailed the description of the terror and the feeling when that last “first book signing” book is signed and you put your pen down. The good thing is, you’ll have many many more wonderful book signing parties as everyone reads and becomes a fan. Congratulations!

    Reply
  13. J.B. Thompson

    JT, you are a shining star, sister. The party was fabulous, well organized and well attended, and I’m so glad to have had the privilege of being there with you!

    Here’s to many, many more …xoxo

    Reply

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