This week, I met with an ex-workshop peer from way back (from last year). She is currently working on her own thesis project, which explores the current fiction-workshop model, how it fosters or damages originality, and what universities can do about it. Having participated in the same workshop ourselves, she was keen to discuss.
Her question that really struck me, striking a tender note, was about fiction vs non-fiction.
“Is your book THE SUMMER ABROAD a novel or autobiographical?”
Well. To answer…
This post is about updates, regarding the first publication of my first book. And the first update worth mentioning is that the title has changed, slightly, from earlier versions.
There are many reasons for this change, not all deserving of a detailed explanation, but here are a few. One, I modeled my work after my favorite stories (travel narratives), after a certain American tradition of writing novels semi-autobiographically, and after my worry that my work wouldn’t be considered “serious” if it weren’t FICTION. Without a doubt, this worry is silly, I know. And not all work labeled as semi-autobiographical is even “semi-,” while some isn’t even “autobiographical,” but purely made up. Are we, or aren’t we, into labels? For me, and not only me, what matters most is how a work was written, and why, and when, and for whom.
My first draft was actually titled A Summer Abroad, and I wrote it in one long drawling yawning yapping zapping zip-a-dee-do-da stream. No breaks, no chapters, no nothing. Just a USB I took with me from work to my home in Austin at the time, and a Word document. After three weeks of writing, I went back, to add breaks — first, “part” breaks — then chapter breaks — then paragraph breaks — then back again to change names — to rearrange the events of the story — to alter, embellish, make realistic, make fantastical so many elements — that by the end, the last thing I did in that first great push to finish the book was rename the thing all together. It became The Summer Abroad, which felt formal, singular, unique.
In the winter of 2014 I sent it to an editor, recommended by a friend of mine <wink>, who took a look at my 400-page doc. After a month, email-exchanges, phone calls, line-edits, the editor returned the work, along with an extensive essay.
The experience was transformative.
Four years later, 70-pages cut out, and multiple rewrites done over and over, the work stands as it stands, today, ready to be printed, except… I sent it one last time to the editor, Eric, by the way, who agreed to take another pass of it. He is helping me to polish the book, which is now and forever titled, The Summer Abroad: a novel (El viaje de egresados: una novela), with the Spanish title alongside, echoing the prose itself.
Yet another update, about the cover. Over some food and friendly camaraderie, a neighbor from my old apartment offered me her design expertise. Together we developed the concept that would later become the cover, a map of the world, colored egg-shell, over a sky-dark background. The cover is still in its prototype stage — photos to come soon, promise — but for now, I have asked my long time friend Carlos Womack, to help me put together the finishing touches to the cover, as well as fashion an author sketch for the inside of the book.
Lastly, worthy of a mention, is this venture in self-publishing the novel. Sigh. If you want to sigh, then google “self-publish vs traditional publishing.” If you want to nod your head, then ask your workshop peers for advice. If you want to go uh-huh, ask your family about this. Like all great topics, and all trite topics, and all topics in general, opinions vary. Facts count little in an industry that runs on timing and feeds on art. So, it’s best to make up your mind and sail forth, I think.
It isn’t that I didn’t pitch to editors, to agents, to publishers. It isn’t that I didn’t submit to contests, that I didn’t submit to journals, that I didn’t rewrite and rewrite and didn’t weigh options.
Self-publishing is a creative decision. I want to work on a next book, but for that, this needs to be off my desk. Outside of personal reasons, graduates every year look for stories about adventure, and might want this book. Today over 50 million Spanish speakers live in the United States, and want stories that speak to their experience. In a world, yes in a world, where conversations about “white” and “men” are segregated from topics like “Hispanic” and “sincere,” while at the same time overshadowing narratives about “travel,” “love” and “language,” I figured I would fix them all into one book, to express something pure and genuine, something universal. A common literature.
Enter the book. The time is now. So self-publishing it is. That is all.