You probably didn’t imagine this.
It was a week ago, a Wednesday evening. My novel, The Story of Beautiful Girl, had been out for two weeks. I’d just gotten through yet another wildly busy day, where my computer screen resembled a video game in which I was besieged by a space armada – also known as emails, Facebook messages, Tweets – and I’d spent the day taking care of each onslaught before the next one surged toward me.
My husband Hal came home at about 5 PM, and despite the ceaseless rush of work, I decided to take a break. He made himself his usual early evening coffee and we retreated to the living room. There, I indulged in simply relaxing – petting the cat and meandering through topics – until he’d finished his cup. I kept thinking I should return to work, but the simple deliciousness of lolling about and slowing my thoughts from light-warp pace to that of an ordinary conversationalist who contemplates, muses, pauses, trails off, tells stories, and listens to silly jokes won me over. I stayed in the living room for an hour and a half, enjoying the gentleness of every moment.
Finally, at six thirty, we decided to start making dinner. “Let me just check the email quickly,” I said, going upstairs.
“I need to take care of something in my studio anyway,” Hal said, following me.
He headed up to his third floor studio, I went into my study.
Needless to say, twenty messages awaited. To my surprise, three were from key business people – my editor, my agent, and my publicist – and they all had the same subject line: “Best Sellers List for 5/29/11.”
Surely this couldn’t be, I thought. I opened my editor’s email.
“Omg! BG hits the times list at #30!!!!!! Huge congrats all around!!!!!!”
To which my agent replied, “Fantastic!!!”
To which my publicist said, “Amazing! Yay!”Was I reading this correctly? Could I be imagining this? The book had been out only two weeks! I knew it was selling out at bookstores and on amazon.com, and had gotten onto the Indiebound Bestseller list for independent bookstores. But I had no idea we were even nipping at the heels of the Times list.
I didn’t want to call out to Hal until I felt more certain. I set my hand on my desk to steady myself, then realized there was an attachment.
I opened it up. And read down the lines to #30. And there it was. My book!
I started to cry.
And then I wanted to grab the phone and call everyone in the world! But first, I had to tell my husband.
“Hal?” I asked. “Can I show you something?”
“Wait a minute,” he called back. “I need to get out of these work clothes.”
He came down the stairs to the second floor, went into the front room, opened up his cabinet, and proceeded to take about five thousand years to change into his jeans – during which I had to exercise extreme restraint so I wouldn’t burst, jump up and down, or start screaming.
Finally he came into the study. “Look,” I said.
And then it was real. Then, with someone else’s eyes on it, I knew it was real.
Later I learned that my editor had gotten a call from the Times two days earlier, saying they were tracking the book. She decided not to tell me in case nothing came of it – but she was anxiously awaiting the Times‘ email about the list, which apparently comes on Wednesdays right at the end of the day. Unfortunately, she’d already left the office before it arrived. Only at six o’clock, when she was in a cab with a friend, zooming across Manhattan, was she able to check her email. There was a message from the Times – but she couldn’t read the attachment on her phone! Her friend whipped out her iPad, and said, “Forward the message to me.” My editor did, and then, in a ridiculously 21st Century way, she looked at her friend’s iPad while the forwarded email popped up. They opened the attachment. “No…” they said, going through the list. “Yes!!” they said, suddenly seeing it.
But, being as much of the 20th as the 21st century, my editor didn’t have my number programmed into her phone. So she couldn’t call. And my agent was running off to the theater, so she couldn’t call. And my publicist was similarly committed – the publishing industry is in New York, after all. Thus I learned via email, alone. No singing telegram. No fireworks. But once I shared it with Hal, I was able to give myself over to joy and happiness. We put our arms around each other and laughed, giddy with disbelief.
In the week since then, I’ve savored the deliciousness of calling my book a New York Times Best Seller. I’ve loved knowing that a book that gives voice to those who can’t always speak for themselves has made such a mark – and so quickly. And I’ve delighted in the happiness that this news seems to give to everyone I share it with.
But I can’t say that Hal and I went out to celebrate. This wasn’t, though, for lack of the desire to make our own parade. It was because I just couldn’t resist telling everyone I could think of – right away! So Week 3 began with me sending out emails, Facebook posts, and Tweets, and getting a few hundred responses in return.
There was other news, too.
Vanity Fair gave The Story of Beautiful Girl a mention in their Hot Types column.
Bookreporter.com reviewed The Story of Beautiful Girl, saying, “Readers will grow outraged by the atrocities that actually happened not so very long ago. Even more important, however, is the way in which Simon utilizes the inner monologues of Lynnie and Homan to enhance their humanity in a much-needed and too-rare way. Seeing inside their heads, coming to know them as thinking and hurting and loving people, comes far closer to knowing the disabled and empathizing with them than most readers ever would on their own. Crafting a sweeping, decades-long love story between two such characters does as much for raising awareness and enhancing compassion as any exposé ever could.”
She Magazine, which is based in the United Kingdom – where The Story Of Beautiful Girl will be released next week (with a different cover!) – named it their Book Of The Month. They also said in a review, “One of those moving novels that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page….This beautiful novel then follows the lives of the four main characters and is packed with stunning descriptions and an astute understanding of the frustrations of living with a disability and being totally misunderstood. A truly eye-opening tale.”
My local paper, the News Journal, gave a nice summary of recent developments, titled “Wilmington Author’s New Book Wins Plaudits.”
And reports kept coming in from friends.
Betsy in New Hampshire reported that it had sold out at her local store.
Peter said he saw a fabulous display in the Memphis, TN airport.
Liz, who attended Book Expo of America in New York City, snapped this photo of a display at my publisher’s booth.
But the news was not the sum of my week. I also had people to see, events to do – and a whole other wonderful milestone to celebrate.
Some of the people I saw were friends who’d attended one of my first few events but had to leave before they got through the book signing line. I met up with them at their houses or cafes, signed their books, and had the chance to catch up in lovely conversations.
Others were friends who just appreciated a visit, and whose company I enjoy. One was my friend and former neighbor Kathy, who is in the middle of treatment for cancer. I always liked talking with Kathy when we ran into each other on the sidewalk, and even though she now lives in a different part of town, I try to see her whenever I can. We laughed about politics, talked about mutual friends, and shared hopeful feelings about her ultimate recovery.
Another was my brother and his son. My brother, who has recently gone through many trials of his own, showed me the bouquet of flowers he buys as a treat for himself once a week. My nephew, who plays drums and loves punk music, showed me record albums he’s particularly fond of.
And another was Hal. We did indeed have a celebration – for our tenth anniversary. For this occasion, he renamed himself yet again. No longer was he Dr. No, as he’d become the first week the book was out. This time, he was Count Goofinoff, to ensure that we would spend the entire day goofing off. And we did!
But first, I’ll show you photos for the event I did this week, a reception at my friend Michele’s house. If you’ve been following this blog, you might remember Michele because she’s my hair dresser, and, last summer, she gave her newly adopted pet bird to my mother and her husband, who’d lost their beloved birds not long before and were deeply in need of another feathered friend. Michele’s generosity has given them much pleasure since. (You can read that earlier blog here.)
When Michele read The Story of Beautiful Girl, she immediately asked if she could hold a reception in her house. She would invite her book club and friends and ask everyone to show up with a book. All I’d have to do would be to arrive, mingle, do a short talk, and sign books. Her generosity won me over just as much as it won over my mother and her husband last summer.
Michele held the event this past Sunday night. Almost thirty people showed up, covering a wide range of professions and interests. This blog ends with some pictures of that special evening, followed by the photo-story of our goofing-off anniversary.
I send this all out to you as I get ready for yet another event tomorrow: a keynote at a conference, followed by a reception and book signing for the public – both in Philadelphia. But that gets us into the start of Week 4, and in the interest of not making my blog as long as books, I’ll post this before I leave.
So Week 3 is now over. And even though the fireworks never showered down around me, my book was in a magazine with a shirtless Rob Lowe, at a bookstore with my friends Pam and Laura, and on the most important bestseller list in the world. And I got a chance to wear a red feather boa, make my friend Kathy laugh, and retreat into a Wonderland of flowers with Count Goofinoff.
I’ll end by paraphrasing something someone very dear to me once said: Could there be a better week than this?
The very next day was our anniversary. Hal took the day off, and, after a few hours of getting everything in order, I did, too. We then went to Longwood Gardens, where we spent several hours – wandering, talking, laughing, marveling, and forgetting everything but the soul-filling pleasure of being happily alone with the person you love.