recently when I was flipping through the channels. Will Smith’s character, a fighter pilot strolling to his jet to battle the big bad aliens invading earth, was asking his best friend Jimmy, played by Harry Connick, Jr., if he had his “victory dance” ready. Jimmy confirmed by waving a cigar. It was for the celebration the two pilots ritually performed at the completion of each mission. They’d light up their fat cigars and bask in the glory of success.
A few days earlier I awakened to this Facebook message from a friend, time stamped 6:14 a.m.: Just read about your book deal. That is so awesome, Sophfronia. Big congrats!
She’d seen this listing in a report on the site Publishers Marketplace:
Yes, the news was/is both awesome and big. The Light Lives Here
is a novel I lovingly wrote and revised during my MFA studies at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and now it’s going to be published by an imprint of one of the largest publishing houses in the world, HarperCollins. Yes, it is a dream come true, the culmination of many years of work and many more years of yearning. As I began sharing the information publicly I received this inevitable question, in various forms, multiple times: What are you doing to celebrate? I didn’t have a clear answer, at least not one that would be obvious to others as a celebration.
When I lived in New York City and was writing my first novel I used to celebrate goals such as completing my first draft by visiting the Godiva store on Columbus Avenue and buying four chocolate truffles to enjoy. I especially loved the kind with the hazelnuts. But while I still like chocolate, I don’t consider that a celebration anymore.
I once discussed the concept of rewards and their importance with the executive coach Cornelia Shipley for a chapter in her book Design Your Life,
and I recall telling her that when I finished and sold this second novel I might purchase a membership to the Metropolitan Museum of Art so I could visit it more often as a source of inspiration.
However it’s not like I don’t go to museums without such an incentive. And, to be honest, in all the time of waiting and hoping for this book deal I never thought, as much as I love the Met, “I can’t wait to sell my novel so I can go to the museum!”
Or…fill in the blank: so I can go shopping, go out to dinner at that trendy restaurant, pop the cork on that champagne bottle. I don’t even drink.
The real answer for me: “I can’t wait to tell…” Just thinking about the names filling that blank would make me giddy. I knew I would be so happy sharing the news if and when it ever arrived.
After receiving THE CALL from my agent about the book deal, here’s what I did: I ran into the living room to tell my 11-year-old son. “That’s great, Mama!” he said and threw his arms around me. I ran upstairs to the exercise room where my husband was working out to tell him. More talking, more hugs.
Then I tried to get my writing partner, David, on the phone. We had written together earlier in the day but he was on retreat in Ireland, and it was already nighttime there. He would be hitting the road in the morning and would be out of pocket for days.
I wanted to deliver the news live, so I left messages, voice and text, basically saying, Call me. Now.
No emojis, no nothing. I thought sparseness would communicate the gravity of the situation.
I hopped in the car and scooted over to church so I could kneel in the quiet of the sanctuary and send up countless prayers of thanksgiving to the One who is my Alpha and my Omega.
On my way home I kept the phone nearby so I could pull over and take the call if David tried to reach me. I’ve been writing with him for nearly three years. We meet several times a week via Google Hangout. We chat onscreen for a few minutes but then we write for a few hours, each of us working on our own projects.
It’s kind of like sharing an office only he’s in Colorado (when he’s not traveling) and I’m in Connecticut. We’ve sat with each other through hundreds, even thousands of pages of typing. We know each other’s hopes and dreams as writers. He’s seen me cry my way through paragraphs when the writing was tough.
We’ve shared rejection letters. A win for either of us is a win for both of us.
When I did get David on the phone, he was so excited he made me repeat the news.
“Tell me again.”
“Just tell it to me again.”
So I did. And somehow it was even better the second time. He asked me how I would celebrate.
I told him how by total coincidence my friend and fellow VCFA writing alumnus Pete was visiting New York City with his wife, and my family and I were meeting them for brunch the next day.
That would be wonderful, I said, telling Pete about the book deal in person. And it was. His smile grew wider than the plates on our table. Just like David, I knew Pete would understand, would totally get my joy at its deepest level.
The following week when David was back home we talked for over an hour on Google Hangout. I’d met my editor by then and we talked about how great she is, how much I’m looking forward to working with her, and the next steps in the publishing process. We laughed and joked about how I might spend my advance. I felt my face glowing.
I suppose I’ve come to an age where I don’t deny myself simple pleasures in order to have a dangling carrot hanging out in front of me. Instead I revel in doing what I truly can’t do until I reach a certain accomplishment.
Right now I'm reveling in being able to share the news with my beloveds. I couldn’t do that before I sold the book, obviously. I could only share such awesome news once it was done.
Nothing, no bottle of champagne, no fancy restaurant, and no bar of chocolate could be better than hearing how excited my friends are for me, how much a dear one loves the book’s title, or receiving an email thick with capital letters from a happy mentor: HOORAY!!!! CIGARS ALL AROUND!!!! IT’S A BOOK!!!!!! Keep me posted—and I TOLD you so!
How that one made me laugh! So laughter with my friends and family, both virtual and in person—that feels like light and life to me. That is my writer's celebration.
Sophfronia Scott is author of the novels All I Need to Get By (St. Martin’s Press) and Unforgivable Love (William Morrow) and the essay collection Love's Long Line (The Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books). Sophfronia holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing, fiction and creative nonfiction, from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Currently she is working on her next novel as well as a nonfiction book about her virtual mentorship with the monk Thomas Merton. Her website is www.Sophfronia.com.
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I caught a few scenes of the movie