The Waco Variations, One Year Later: What I've Learned
A year ago I watched my novel, The Waco Variations, leave the safety of anonymity and set sail on the sea of public opinion. The launch was a long time coming—since finishing the novel it had gone through several years of edits, a couple of years of seeking an agent, and another couple of years of waiting as the agent attempted to find it a publishing house. Yet even with so much time between writing it and releasing it, letting go of this book was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
Being a performing musician helped a bit. I play concerts. I’ve released CDs. I’ve learned to work through the crippling self-doubt that comes from having my work judged by other people. That was why my seesawing emotions surprised me. Many meditation sessions (and a whole lot of journal entries) later, I realized what terrified me the most: I wasn’t afraid of failing myself. I was afraid of failing Cassie, the book’s protagonist. After all, I hadn’t even wanted to write the story and it was only because I felt Cassie’s insistence that I birthed her story, went through all the steps of editing it, and eventually took a risk and released it.
A year later, I’m glad I did. Because of this book, I’ve met, communicated with, and become friends with people all over the world. I’ve found an online home in the music blogging community—a community I’d been reading for years but hadn’t had the nerve to approach until I needed to market my book. Not only did they provide opportunities to guest post about The Waco Variations, they wrote reviews and have generously promoted it to their readers.
This past year taught me that the readers who “get” the book belong to one (or more) of these groups: musicians, former fundamentalists, and people who have suffered trauma. The deeply personal conversations I’ve had with readers have been humbling and inspiring. The phrase I’ve heard most often? “I thought [experienced, lived] this very thing and I thought I was the only one.”
I’ve also learned who doesn’t like my book--generally people who can’t relate to Cassie or her story. Through those reviews I’ve learned that I can take a punch, get up, and keep going.
I’ve learned some unsavory things about myself this year: I thought I could be sangfroid when sales slumped. I panicked. Immediately. And it took me days to work out of that pit. Another unpleasant truth? I discovered an internal reservoir of anger toward friends who promised to buy the book and then didn’t—friends who’s CDs or books I dutifully purchased and concerts I attended and promoted. It took me a month to work through those feelings of betrayal and to realize that my expectations, not their behavior, were wrong.
Despite ups and downs (and the fact that's it's a "literary novel"--a category that would be better described as "Literary Graveyard"...), the book has been selling fairly well. Readers ask me if I’ll write another novel. I tell them, only if I’m compelled to. Despite having written a couple of teen romances in my early 20s, I consider myself more of a nonfiction writer than a novelist. But this novel was a story I needed to tell. Perhaps it is as Ted Hughes once said, that writing is about facing up to what we were too scared to face—about saying what we would prefer not to say, but desperately needed to share.
At this one-year mark, I am so grateful to the readers who read Cassie’s story, loved it, and took the time to reach out to me. I’m grateful to those who have chosen to review and champion in. Most of all, I’m grateful that through my imperfect yet earnest way, The Waco Variations is out there reminding people that healing can occur and the through the notes of great music we can touch grace.