Monday, September 29, 2014

My First Time: Mary Vensel White

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Mary Vensel White, author of The Qualities of Wood.  Mary lives and writes in Orange County, California, with her husband and four children.  Her short fiction has appeared in The Wisconsin Review and Foothills Literary Magazine.  Her first novel, The Qualities of Wood, was called “a haunting and provocative debut” by Christina Baker Kline (author of Orphan Train).  Mary blogs about writing and life at and is a contributing editor at  You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

My Last First Time

A warm summer night, an Air Force cadet, and a showing of Gremlins at the local drive-in movie theater.  Or was it The Goonies?  I always get that mixed up.  Wait.  That’s not what you’re talking about, is it?  You want something about a more solitary endeavor.  All right, my first time was atypical.  It required concentration, lots of patience, and the determination to get through moments where I had no idea what to do.

—What?  I am!  This is about my first published book.  It’s also about my second first time, and the next, and this last first time.  Let me explain.

In 2010, I posted a portion of my novel, The Qualities of Wood, on HarperCollins’ site for unpublished writers,  I had written the book quite a while before that, prior to the arrival of the four children who kept me happily and otherwise engaged for several years.  I had gone through my stacks of manuscripts and had decided TQOW was the most likely to succeed.  And eventually, it did.  I devoted a good amount of time to the site, while dropping fishing lines into other ponds.  Interacting with the community of writers on Authonomy was a godsend, as were receiving and offering critiques, both of which improved my writing.  And when TQOW rose in the ranks to the site’s Editor’s Desk in early 2011, it was plucked with the promise of a review from a genuine HarperCollins editor.  The review came and was quite complimentary, even implied that the book was under serious consideration.  In the meantime, I had received an offer from a small publisher, which I turned down when HarperCollins offered to publish TQOW as the first release under its new Authonomy imprint.

The ebook came out in January of 2012.  The only tactile objects, I suppose, were the stand-up posters my husband surprised me with for my launch party.  But it felt like a publication in every other sense.  Up to that point, everything about my writing career had been online anyway.  It was exciting to see the book on Amazon, to read reviews and connect with readers.  I wrote guest blogs and articles, gave interviews, and reveled in my “first time” as a published author.

Then I ventured out.  I sat on panels at writers conferences and gave workshops.  I was invited to book clubs, another first.  Each experience expanded the gratification I already felt; each foray into this brave, new world was exciting.  And when my publisher announced in December that the book would be released in print in the summer of 2013, I was thrilled.

In April of 2013, a box of proofs arrived.  The moment was surreal and yet it also blurred in with my day-to-day life in ways I never expected.  I always thought it would happen with champagne and orchestra music; I think the box actually sat on our porch unnoticed half the day, as I rushed around, dropping kids here and there.  But the books were lovely—the vibrant blue of the first cover was beautiful, the feel of pages flipped under my fingertips divine.  First cover, you ask?  You see, shortly after receiving the books, the book’s publication date was postponed.  Because the novel was published by a UK-based imprint, they wanted to get it into the Harper360 system for broader distribution and a better chance.  Good news, but it meant more waiting.  In this case, another full year.

Fast forward to June 17, 2014.  I have received yet another box of even lovelier books, have answered more interview questions, talked to more book clubs and writers, and geared up for another release.  I am standing in our local Barnes & Noble, looking at my novel on the shelf.  Later that evening, I’ll have another launch in this very store, this time with a tactile object in my hands and a large group seated before me.  This was one of the best firsts in a prolonged series of firsts.  But it wasn’t the end.

I’m looking forward to more bookstores, conferences and book clubs.  I’m anxiously waiting for The Qualities of Wood to be included in our local Orange County libraries—this is the “first” I’m currently anticipating most.  And I think the best I can hope for out of this writing life is that there will always be another first, just around the next corner or over the next hill.  It’s like writing itself, which feels like the first time, each and every time you start Page One.

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