Beasts of a Little LandHarper’s BazaarReal SimpleMsPortland MonthlyThe Today ShowThe Washington PostUSA TodayLiterary Hub Chicago Review of Books
Publishers Weekly Hurray! !
Maybe I shouldn’t be a writerMaybe is my one chance, and then I should go back to nurturing other authors’ dreams. Put mine in the past. After all, having a novel in the world is something I can check off my list in April. Maybe this isn’t the beginning of my novelist career; maybe this is it, just one book.
She nailed it. It took one rejection to make me feel unloved. To topple the careful structure I had built around my heart to keep it safe at a time of scary, public exposure. I went from feeling loved to feeling lost. And then it was a short hop from this one no—a no that was no bigger or smaller than any other rejection over the decades—to overreacting.
It shook me how quickly I shifted from savoring each moment to feeling that irrational flash flood of wanting to give up. But then I remembered something Forest Avenue author Ari Honarvar told me. Her debut novel, A Girl Called Rumi, was named a best book of 2021 by Kirkus Reviews, Locus Reviews, Undomesticated, and The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Not only did Ari’s insights and perspective help me through my early stages of pandemic grief, but she’s also the first author I’ve worked with while being on the debut journey myself. Ever since I signed with Lanternfish, I’ve been following in Ari’s wake, seven months behind. I’ve talked strategy with her as a publisher and as a novelist. In response to one of my “how the book is doing” emails, Ari wrote:
It rings true that I don’t judge my success as a human/artist in accordance with the number of copies of the book sold, awards won or not won, or the number of people I’m helping or not helping. Receiving all the praise and notes from readers is absolutely beautiful and life-art-affirming. People’s response to my work with refugees and individuals is also incredible. But it occurs to me that I don’t measure myself with the accolades, admiration, and reader response either. My self-worth corresponds to whether I’m doing right by my relationships, with myself, others, nature, and the unknown—am I a worthy lover of life? I’m the only one who can answer this and if I’m not holding back love and effort as I proceed in life, the answer is a resounding yes.
So there it is: How to measure a life? Not by one rejection or by a trade review that doesn’t come through, but by how we spend our time. Singing Lessons took me fifteen years to write, and I finished three books before that, and in between I’ve had essays and poems published, plus I built an award-winning publishing house and I’ve kept it going through a global pandemic.
All those dreamy hours of creation matter. How I spend my time matters. These are within my control.
My breath slows as I honor Ari’s perspective and the hours I’ve put into writing and revising. The latest rejection folds itself small inside my heart. I’m going to walk the dog, then make myself a hot chocolate. Maybe light a candle, even though it’s morning. I want the light, because it will make me think of Juhea and all the other writers who have launched their debuts before me. And then I’m going to spend some time on my new novel. Open the file. See what’s there. Write a new paragraph. Then another. That’s how I want to live. Who I want to be. Candle burning, words bubbling through my fingers, hot chocolate on my lips.
Laura Stanfill is the publisher of Forest Avenue Press. Her debut novel, Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary, is forthcoming from Lanternfish Press (April 2022). Her nonfiction has appeared in Shondaland, The Rumpus, The Vincent Brothers Review, Santa Fe Writers Project, and several print anthologies. She believes in indie bookstores and wishes on them like stars from her home in Portland, Oregon, where she resides with her family and a dog named Waffles. Join her newsletter: laurastanfill.substack.com.