First Year Retrospective By Kris Faatz

To Love A Stranger, One Year Later

By Kris Faatz, author of the poignant literary novel To Love A Stranger

About a year ago, I was counting down the days until the launch of my first book, To Love A Stranger.

Challenging times! On the one hand, by the time we were within days of launch, it had been almost a decade since I had put the very first words to paper for the book that would become Stranger. I hadn’t known a thing about writing novels when I decided to write mine; in fact, I’d known barely anything about writing, period. I was a musician and thought I always would be, but the backstage world of classical music had introduced me to larger-than-life characters, plus music that put colour into my world. It took me almost ten years to capture some of that in a way that would last. Ten years of struggling, scrapping drafts, starting over, getting rejection after rejection. After a journey like that, counting down the days until the birth of my book made me ready to cry with joy and relief.

On the other hand, it was going out into the world at last. Suddenly, it wouldn’t just be my eyes on it, and the eyes of sympathetic friends who had followed its long uphill journey. Suddenly, anyone could buy it. Part of me, of course, wanted everyone to buy it. What writer doesn’t imagine selling staggering numbers of books? But another part of me whispered, louder with each day closer to launch, “Let’s keep this quiet. This book is ours.”

As writers, we put ourselves on the page. Whether we start out to do it or not, we draw on our own experiences and feelings, and on the thoughts we don’t say out loud. All of it becomes fodder for our words. Next thing we know, we look at a draft we’ve written and see our own eyes staring back at us. In a moment like that, it’s easy to think, What have I done?

I’m not sure if I was more afraid of sudden, huge changes after the publication of Stranger, or of the possibility that nothing would happen at all. In fact, many things did happen, but a lot of them were quiet and personal, the kind of changes that only made themselves felt over time.

Stranger was my first great work of love. Love got me working on it, and love kept me working when the going was at its worst. To make it happen, I had to learn to write. At first I was a writer only now and then, when I had some time. Gradually, over the years, a shift happened in my own view of myself. I wasn’t a musician who liked to write: I was a writer, first and always.

My first novel started me down this path, but it was hard to open up and embrace the path itself, fully, until I had a finished book. As writers, we hear how important it is to hold onto our own sense of worth, independent of how our work is received. This is true, and it’s critical. If you depend on recognition from the outside, it’s easy to get caught on a rollercoaster of hope and despair. Sometimes you feel like you have everything you could possibly want, and then you’ll hear about someone – a colleague, a friend – who got a better review than you, got published in that journal you’ve been submitting to for years, got an award when you didn’t get past the first round of judging. You have to be able to separate yourself, and your work, from the outside world’s “noise.” At the same time, for me, getting Stranger into print was an essential milestone because it meant that I could see a project through.

It’s taken most of this first year since publication to understand that fully. Holding the book for the first time, I couldn’t completely understand that it was real. All those years of working and waiting, the triumphs and tears along the way, and we had finally made it. The book was done. I didn’t need to sit down with it and try again, talk myself into another go-around, recover from another rejection. Stranger and I had made it all the way to the finish line.

Since then, I’ve come to feel as if having a first book “in the flesh” – in the paper? – unlocked something inside me that I was afraid to let loose before. Not that publishing a book means you’re a “real” writer, or that not publishing one means you aren’t. Anything but. You are a real writer when you sit down in front of the blank page and dig into your mind for the words. I had trouble, though, calling myself a writer and honouring the work I did. Having the book in hand, the “here’s what I made,” I saw with my own eyes what that work had achieved.

My career started to re-shape itself toward writing particularly during the last couple of years before Stranger saw daylight. Now, with that part of me freed up that used to shy away from being a writer, I feel the changes happening faster. I’m more confident in sharing my work, and especially in working with other writers on their work. Talking craft fascinates me. I used to have a professional life entirely separate from writing, but now, more and more, I’m finding ways to align making a living with doing the things I love.

At the same time, having Stranger in the world has meant that my writer-brain can work on new projects. I will never regret one minute I spent working on that project, no matter how many of those minutes felt like complete failure. With the book really finished, it feels like a release. It’s all right to think about different characters and different fictional worlds. It’s all right to fall in love with another story the way I fell in love with Stranger ten years ago. For the first time, I feel sure there are more books where that one came from…and maybe the next one won’t take ten years!

There’s never another project like the first one. For me as a writer, Stranger was the beginning of everything, the single step that started an unexpected lifelong adventure. I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

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