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How A New Novel is Like a Kite

I built my own kite when I was fourteen years old, from diagrams in the WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA. Nothing fancy, not a box kite, just the traditional shape but big and strange. Made of two crossed sticks covered with a skin of black plastic taken from a garbage bag, it also had a very long tail. I considered it satisfyingly sinister: sort of an Edgar Allan Poe kite that would loom large over the rural landscape and cause neighbors to look up and gape. And I do mean "large"--it was five or so feet long, not counting the tail.

Getting it to fly wasn't easy, though. We lived on a hill amid farmland where I could run downslope unobserved in the pasture behind the house, kicking up dust that stuck to my sweat. But the tail wasn't long enough. The kite kept pivoting, immediately nose-diving right into the dirt. Okay. More tail. And maybe I should consult that encyclopedia one more time.

But eventually we achieved lift-off, my creation and I, astonishing me when it actually happened. I mean, who was I to build a successful kite? I turned to look. Up, up, up! There it soared beyond my wildest dreams, as Gothic and impressive as a gigantic black raven! Wow. I was completely astounded as the string kept spinning off the reel, and spinning, and spinning...

This is where I am right now in my head, running downhill again with no dignity, trying to get my coming novel THE GIRL WHO DANCED AT THE COME ON INN launched and airborne. Instead of "unobserved", though, my sweaty efforts are visible to everybody and sometimes I feel like a whore for selling myself so relentlessly. But that's the book biz, these days. No more publicists, unless you want to hire one yourself--and who has the money?

I can still see it, my homemade black kite a silhouette against gray clouds. I still feel it, tugging alarmingly on the string I'm holding as it flies ever higher, but now the string is almost all out. I begin to wonder what to do, whether I should try to reel it back in a little, when it makes its own decision and snaps its tether. The sudden lack of tension catches me unprepared, because the damn thing keeps flying even though loose coils now loop about my Keds. The winds up there are enough to keep it high aloft. Its tail and the weight of the string dangling from it keeps it upright--at least until I lose all sight of it behind the pine trees. It seems headed for the Allison farm and the Congaree River, and I've got so many mixed feelings about its loss, its success, and the mystery it might still prove to be for anybody who happens to look up.

No longer aged fourteen, I'm staggering downhill now with this homemade new novel, panting and red-faced. Not a beautiful sight. I don't know what to reasonably hope for. I've been published the old ways, hardback and paperback. And the new way, digital, Kindle. Audio's coming, maybe. But the definitions of success keep changing for authors. If we sell a million copies of something but only get a penny for each, is that success? Lord, I'm too busy huffing and puffing to do the math... is that ten thousand dollars?

Hell, I won't say no to ten thousand dollars, whether that's modern "success" or not. I won't say no to fifty bucks. Or five.

This book seeks its own definition of success. May it snap its string.

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