Sunday was my birthday, but it was also the one year anniversary of the publication of An American Song. Reflecting on that milestone reminded me once again of how much time and money I sunk into the project.
In many ways, this blog represents the continuation of my work on the project. And recently it has been difficult to update it regularly, as I’ve been busy writing another book. This one is fiction, and like all my work it is a complex piece of prose that requires I spend not just a lot of time in front of a computer, but also long hours engaged in research. It will take me a few more months to complete, provided I maintain the pace I have set for myself. And it has nothing on An American Song.
For 2 1/2 years I was either on the road gathering material or at home writing text almost every day. In 2011 I worked on the book in some capacity for 364 days, exempting only Christmas. When I had other work to do, I came home and wrote. When I didn’t, I wrote all day and continued after my wife went to bed. It was a welcome grind, a labor of love. I felt I was doing something important. Revisions continued after that. Around other projects I routinely made time to continue work on An American Song. And as my mother was dying of cancer, I decided to refocus on it exclusively once and for all.
In truth, it was always a somewhat suicidal endeavor. The scope of the book grew almost immediately. The more people I met, the more material I had, and the more material I had the further away from publishable I wandered. I knew the book was going to grow to a length that would be difficult to sell to traditional publishers, but I could not in good conscience leave out the stories of people I felt I owed something to. I turned down offers from agents who wanted me to slash the book’s length by as much as 75%. I revised it, tightened it, resubmitted, reworked. I thought the force of the stories I told and the quality of my prose would drive it to print eventually. I was obsessed. I was delusional.
Sure, people like me, they aren’t put off by the length of Ulysses. They read Almanac of the Dead in six days. Europe Central, Working, PrairyErth? Why not. If it’s worthwhile, what’s the difference? And An American Song is, what, half the length of Infinite Jest? Shouldn’t be an issue.
Are there many people out there like me? Okay, so maybe now I see a flaw in my reasoning . . .
Still, a year after the release of my book, I am as proud of it as ever. Yes, every writer has to put their work to death at some point, and there are things I’d change– words, phrases, the occasional interpretation. But I am remarkably at peace with it. A year later, I still wouldn’t change it– at least not fundamentally. For me it’s whole (or as whole as any book about America can be)– a fully comprised work, something that provides through its stories and through the story that binds them a sense of the organic. I’m comfortable in its representation of my country, my countrymen, and myself as a writer. I still believe it will inspire and enlighten, and so feel confident in saying that if you haven’t yet read it, it’s worth your time to do so. Outside of your public library, after all, it remains one of the best bargains around.
For those of you who have read it– or even a portion of it– I repeat my genuine thanks. Distribution of the book has been slower than I might have hoped, even according to expectations revised after I decided to forego the traditional publishing process, and I rely on your support and your voice to spread the word about it. I already know the project will forever be in the red financially, so this isn’t about marketing. It’s about readership. And as I’ve learned, it’s important to be grateful for every single reader you earn. Being as I am now amongst a community of bloggers, this seems a particularly apt point. Maintaining our sites rarely makes much financial sense. Writing for others and reading the words of others, though, makes all the sense in the world.
So indulge me one last toast. Here’s to An American Song. For all you’ve hurt me, I do love you so. May many more do the same in the years to come . . .