What Jonah Knew, my first novel—a psychological thriller about mothers and sons whose lives intersect in mysterious ways—will be published three months from now. I couldn’t be happier. I first had the idea for the book back in the 90’s. And though I’ve written other books and lots of essays and articles since conceiving Jonah, it has been one very long gestation period—equal to about twelve elephants—to get the story right.
Over the past five years, and especially during the pandemic when there were no distractions to keep me from my desk, I was able to finally focus on the novel. Each day was the same: wake up early, meditate, make tea, do Spelling Bee (this was pre-Wordle), then retreat to my study for the next several hours.
Other than the sound of my characters talking—and meeting up with my husband in the kitchen for lunch—the days of writing What Jonah Knew were spent in silence. A writer grows accustomed to the solitary life—the perfect operating system for introverts.
Publishing, however, is not for the shy and retiring. After the writing is done and the editors and copy editors have had their say, authors must shout from the digital rooftops about their forthcoming books. Facebook! Instagram! Twitter! GoodReads! LinkedIn! (So far I’ve drawn the line at performing the rock version of my novel on TikTok.) It’s a blessing that there are so many outlets for announcing the birth of Jonah, yet crawling out from the silent sanctuary of my study into the busy, vibrating universe of book promotion is something of a shock to the nervous system.
Being out there requires your introverted writer self to go on sabbatical. And once out there, it’s hard not to want to reach every smart Bookstagrammer, every potential reader, everyone and anyone who might like—even love!—the novel you’ve been quietly laboring on for years. There are so many wonderful social media sites, media outlets, bookstores and literary festivals, not to mention book clubs and book reviewers, getting your book noticed feels like competing in an Olympic event.
Of course it’s perfectly normal to want to get the word out. Yet at the same time, the hunger for attention can end up eating you alive, if you don’t keep it in check. As I’m currently in the swirl of alerting the world to What Jonah Knew, I’m trying my best to treat the process like that old spaghetti on the ceiling adage, in which you throw the cooked noodles over your head to see what sticks—then let the rest go. This tactic takes faith as well as effort—faith that your book will find its readers and its place in the universe. It also helps to keep you from waking up at 4 a.m. worrying about what else you should be doing.
On the other hand, have you ever tossed—or personally witnessed anyone toss—cooked spaghetti strands up on the ceiling?