Monday, October 13, 2014

My First Time: Bonnie ZoBell

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 Bonnie ZoBell, author of a new linked collection of stories from Press 53: What Happened Here.  The book focuses on the site where PSA Flight 182 crashed into North Park, San Diego, in 1978 and features the imaginary characters who live there now.  Bonnie's fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls was published in March 2013.  She received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.  She received an MFA from Columbia University and currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College.  She is working on a novel.  Click here to visit her website.

My First Time Being Called the "B" Word

The review of my first full collection was written by the stunningly talented, gorgeous, and erudite C.A. LaRue at The Small Press Book Review.  Because it was so wonderful, I wanted to marry her or at the very least be her best friend.  I wanted to hang out and really really get to know her.  She's been very patient and accommodating with me, even though I keep telling her she's a goddess.  I suppose this might get on a lesser person's nerves.

Don't get me wrong.  Nearly every review I've ever gotten has made me more confident as a writer.  I love every one of them and the people who wrote them.  But this first full-length one for my first full-length collection, What Happened Here, vindicated some long-standing "ouchies" from my publishing career.

You have to understand that I'm 59 years old and have tried to get other books into print in my life.  Though I've published a lot of stories and that's worth something, and I've had some very healthy talks with myself about how subjective the publishing world is, and remind myself that many people don't get their first books published, I was completely devastated when I didn't.  I quit writing, at least for a while, and went into a funk.  Clearly I was fooling myself about writing fiction and just wasn't good enough, so why waste any more of my or the agents' and editors' time?

The good angel on my left shoulder kept reminding me that this didn't mean I couldn't return in the future to the book I'd nurtured and loved all those years and make it better.  But the bad angel reminded me, what about the fact that it took me ten years to write it and I knew in several months it wasn't going to find a home?  What about the fact that the book won a national award--you'd think that would mean I could sell it.  Obviously it wasn't a very good book award or I wouldn't have won it.  Good angel: Maybe you didn't send it to enough places.  And remember you got some excellent and helpful criticism of the book along the way if you decide to go back to it.  But what about all those agents who said, "We think it's a great book but we just didn't Love it."  What about the contests I entered and didn't even place in?

C. A., my goddess of a first full-length review, says, "The book opens, rather brilliantly, with a 42-page novella that serves to introduce the rag-tag group (who will later flow out into their own linked stories) and to set the tone for the overall collection, which moves from a view of doomed paradise to redemptive oasis."  I wanted to kiss C.A. for the use of that "B" word.  Later she adds that the book contains "some of the best writing I’ve come across in a long while."  Omigod.  I wonder if reviewers know how much a review like this means to someone who has been plugging away at it for decades.

C.A. LaRue is probably grateful I don't know what city she lives in, but if I did, I'd go there and take her out to dinner.  And buy her a lot of drinks.  Or maybe I'd babysit her kids if she has any so she and her husband, if she has one, can go out to dinner.  I'm a completely sane person.  Really.

A lot of years have gone by since that time I quit writing.  Memory has blurred.  Maybe the most important thing I need to remember as I continue on this volatile writing path is not those years of feeling awful but the ecstasy I experienced when I read C.A. LaRue's review.

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