Do you remember when it was all new?
First words on the page on a story that went somewhere? Final words of a first draft on a novel of some length? First praise from someone who really liked your work?
Or more recently, perhaps, that offer of representation? That contract? That review?
Most of the time, I’ll be honest, I don’t remember. This is an easy time, with so many other concerns and worries crushing down, to forget all about it. (I swear I can bear only so many more prognostications about the future of print publishing.) This is an easy time to fall prey to human nature. “Happiness” after all is just, “a moment before you need more happiness.”
Last night was a happy night. Last night I had the pure privilege of watching someone bask in the new.
Debut novelist Johnson, like fellow Christian novelists James Scott Bell and Randy Singer, has worked many years as a trial lawyer, a profession that seems to serve budding novelists well, perhaps not because they are accustomed to framing and structuring narratives of event but because they have seen much of the underbelly of society. When Erin Larson finds a deposit slip for $10 million in her recently deceased father’s safety deposit box, she hires Jared Neaton to help her find out where the money came from and why she never saw any signs of it. To take the case, Neaton must return to his hometown and face his father, who did time in prison for embezzlement. Johnson writes vividly; describing Neaton’s fathers eyes, he writes, “They showed no fight; only a rush of unexpected pain. It drained all the satisfaction out of the rage, seeing his dad like a fighter who wouldn’t raise his gloves.” With an irresistible set-up, suspense, a subtle love triangle, strong dialogue, characters, and a focused plot, Johnson makes a strong first literary case.
And then, last night, at a Barnes & Noble a few miles from home, Todd was boxed in by sixty or so friends and family who came to celebrate the release of The Deposit Slip. He read and joked and answered questions (“How long did it take you to write your novel?”), read a bit more and the crowd all held their breath at the right moment. He shook hands and had pictures taken. It was a book launch. You’ve been to one, you’ve had one.
It was the best thing in the world. (Even my children, who got dragged along, didn’t mind because there were brownies.)
All we do is forget. (Or all I do is forget.) Last night was a reminder. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of the evening, coming just hours after a difficult meeting at work. I stood shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues and watched and remembered. This is the best thing in the world. I thought about how much work Todd had put into reworking and editing his manuscript and how it had gotten better and better and better and now, here it was, sitting in smaller and smaller piles on a table. Seventy, maybe eighty, copies left in bags, a scrawl of Sharpie on the title page.
The closest thing I could compare it to is the joy I get at experiencing things by my girls’ sides. How much “new” is there for we adults? But kids? It’s about the happiness and not the need that follows. They don’t realize there even is a need. They haven’t gotten trained to expect that disappointment the way we have. To fear all that comes next. Don’t misunderstand me, Todd is no child. He’s a practicing attorney, a Princeton Tiger many legions savvier and experienced than his editor. But last night, from 7:00 to 8:30, he lived in something new and darned if it didn’t look like the best thing in the world.
At the close of the evening, I had the chance to introduce myself to Todd’s lovely wife, Cathy, who I ‘d never met before. She looked proud and as dazzled and excited as Todd. I had the privilege of praising her husband for his work and then we fell into one of those silences that occur between strangers. And she looked around and then back at me and, because they are both new to this, she asked the question:
“So…what happens now?”