I was about 10. My sister and I were up in Michigan, at a visit with a relative.
The phone rang, and it was our mother. Or maybe it was our father, calling for her. Either way, it was our parents, calling long distance, in the middle of the day. That couldn’t be good.
As the oldest, I was handed the phone first. The news was, a publisher had agreed to publish Mom’s novel, Women With and Without. The excitement was manic, even a little scary as I remember it.
She’d been writing novels since before I was born, and receiving returned manuscripts with rejection letters from publishers the whole time I had lived, for Jesus, Adolph, and Pete. Victory Garden. Last Words. “Fuck them if they can’t take a joke,” she would say defiantly to us kids. But during the cocktail hours those nights, I remember tender tones, with my dad sometimes gently suggesting maybe if she could write a happy ending …
But now she had a book published. With the opening of an envelope, Carol Murray had gone from unpublished novelist to published novelist.
Maybe it was my low-key dad’s simultaneous excitement that sizzled it into my brain that, for a writing family like ours, This was the best possible news. Sort of like a racing family learning that Dad was going to drive in the Indianapolis 500. The best possible news.
Publishing has changed since then, and for most writers, publication is not as simple as a letter of acceptance in the mail, sent by a single editor who spotted the brilliance of an unknown author.
And it has not been that simple for me. Over three decades, I have published several million words in magazines, newspapers, newsletters and online platforms. I co-wrote a book that Random House published, giving me a fat advance before taking my name off the cover. And I self-published a wee memoir that didn’t have a chance to break through without the reach of a publisher. I know that now.
By the time I started talking to Disruption Books about publishing this book, An Effort to Understand, the romance of being a published author had long left me as a primary source of motivation. Writing is just a part of my work in building a professional and personal community I have been gathering for most of my life. But that community, in the large way that I conceive it, is why I am living—not the dream of being an important writer, and certainly not the novelty.
But imperceptibly—after I lashed and edited many dozens of essays into a coherent whole, polished that whole with the truly wise help of my publisher into compelling book that could actually have something to say for our times, walked the hundred prescribed steps to publication—all in the midst of grieving and worrying as we’ve all been doing for our physically, economically and mentally sick country on behalf of my generation, my daughter’s generation and my dead parents—the book came to matter so much more.
I began to see the book as an expression of the communicators, professional and amateur—colleagues, friends, family—who have taught me how to connect, and why connecting is all there is. Who have taught me what Kurt Vonnegut taught us all: “The creator of the universe has been unknown to us so far. We serve as well as we can to the highest abstraction of which we have some understanding, which is our community.”
This book is pretty much everything I have to say about that. And so it is most of what I have to say, period. And so it has come to mean a great deal to me, indeed.
Note: An Effort to Understand is available for pre-order at Amazon or wherever you buy your books. And if you were among the hundreds who faithfully pre-ordered your copies in 2019, know that there are many books to sign, pack up, address and mail. You’ll have your book(s) well before the March 2 publication date, we promise. —David Murray, on behalf of the Department of Shipping & Receiving