Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Getting My First Novel into Print

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My first novel, Eulogy, has just been published.

What has the experience been like?

Well, it only took eleven years, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Things could have been far worse: I could have never tried and could now be sitting in a bar somewhere talking about the novel I’m gonna write one day or that I should’ve written long ago, or Eulogy simply might never have found a home.

Or, possibly worst of all, the novel might have found a publisher before it was ready, or I could have given up.

Actually, I did give up. Around two years ago. At that point a full two years had passed since Eulogy found representation with a good, mindful, caring literary agent, and subsequently acquired a lengthy, agonizing list of rejections from all the big North American publishers. The rejections were, for the most part, kind-hearted and full of good things to say about the book. I came to call these notes, when shared with me, as “feinting with damned praise.” I was half-joking.

In the wake of these rejections, I started knocking on doors of smaller presses, and things didn’t go much better. As a novelist I was unknown, and people were busy. It’s hard to get someone to take a look. I was left considering whether to let the book die, or perhaps self-publish. I have no prejudices against self-publishing except this: Publishing, like writing, is hard work. If you’re making a book, it’s going to be difficult. Better to work with a team if you can than to be all by yourself.

If the publication of Eulogy is a story, then the hero of that story is Tightrope Books. A small, plucky, ten-year-old publishing house under the new ownership of poet and novelist Jim Nason. Managing Editor Heather Wood contacted me last November and said, “Hey, that book you wrote, is it still available for publication?”

At that point, as I’ve mentioned, I’d already given up. Eulogy, effectively, was dead. I had grieved for it. It was gone. I was trying to muster the energy to write a new book, and the biggest weight against that was the knowledge that Eulogy, despite all my efforts and care in writing it, despite how pleased I was with how it turned out, had never found a home or the readers I’d hoped it would have.

And for all the nagging voices I’ve learned to silence as a writer, most notably the voice of the harsh self-critic, the voice I now couldn’t overcome was quietly, daily, whispering in my ear, “Writing another book? Good for you. Remember how hard you worked on that last one? Eh?” For Family Guy fans, think Stewie Griffin.

But now, Eulogy was alive again, and working with a good publisher was well worth the wait.

When I tell people that I started writing the book in 2004 and it is only now, eleven years later, that it is published, they often ask, “How did you keep going, knowing it would take so long?”

The simple answer: Easy. I didn’t know how long it would take. More importantly, I didn’t know then what the story was, and I had to find out. In order to do that I had to write it.

If anything, the length of time has made the transition to publishing easier. For many years, Eulogy was a book for me and people close to me. It was a story for me to ponder, discover, build, knock down, elaborate and then condense. With every story, the time comes when it should no longer be mine, because I have no further use for it. There’s nothing left I want to do to it, so now it belongs to whoever wants to read it.

The writer, in passing their story to readers, gives up much ownership. The story now belongs to the reader, a story to be seen in the mind of the reader, and felt by the reader as the words come up off of the page.

For anyone who’s wondering if it’s difficult for me to have a book out there, in the real world, being read by people, as in “am I worried about it?”

Not at all. It’s what I’ve worked for. I’ll enjoy it, and then I have to get back to work. There’s a story I need to write.

1 comment

I was left considering whether to let the book die, or perhaps self-publish.

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Ken Murray

Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in journals, newspapers and magazines in both Canada and the United States. An avid athletic amateur, he likes kiteboarding, skiing, snowboarding, running and cycling. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel.

You can contact Ken throughout the month of July at writer@openbooktoronto.com

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