Almost thirteen years ago, when the galley for my first book came in the mail, I wouldn't let it out of my hands. It took it with me to the gym, to the store. I even took it with me to the Galleria, the enormous mall in Houston, where we were living at the time. It was in my hand at the shoe store, and when the salesman asked me what I was holding, I said it was my first book. I felt simultaneously embarrassed and pleased when he made a bit of a fuss, when he said he'd look for it when it came out in the stores. As galleys went, it wasn't even a splashy galley. My wonderful then-publisher, Jonathan Rabinowitz, had told me, "my galleys are weird," with a kind of sweet pride, if by weird we mean something that didn't look like the other galleys that were out and about in the very late 90s. Completely basic, completely unpretentious, the color and cover-stock close to something that used to be called oat tag--do we still have oat tag? Nothing that approximated the elegant final book that was to come out months later.
On Saturday, the galley for THE BURNING HOUSE turned up in the PO Box. Turned up is probably not so accurate, as I'd been told of it coming, and had by Saturday morning inadvertently employed the faculties we use to prevent longing and excitement from taking up too much space, distracting us from the matter at hand. This time, though, the galley was so beautiful that I don't think I was able to fully take it in till today. It has been up over the fireplace for three days, and I've only now just started to handle it. Part of it is that this version is pretty close to the finished book, and it is astonishing to see it nearly finished, when it is still so many drafts, so many design possibilities-- multiple in the imagination. All of a sudden years and years have been distilled into a single object, a single object that wants to trick you into thinking it came in a single breath, a single urge. That's what art wants to do, I think, but a part of me would like to make available all the outtakes, the three voices that were part of earlier drafts of the book. I might just do that on my Tumblr after it's officially out.
May I be honest? My fear--at 126 pages it looks and feels closer to a book of poems than it does to the kinds of novels we typically see on the front tables of Barnes and Noble. I think poets will get it--maybe it is a big old poem, though it's accessible too. I do think you'll be able to read it in a single sitting, if that's the kind of reader you are--say, on a cross-country flight. I think the life off the page is as important as the life on, and that's the kind of thing I've always been interested in writing, perhaps more so now than ever.
And here's nice news. It made the wonderful Laura van den Berg's list of Ten Anticipated Books of 2011 on yesterday's Dzanc blog. Thank you, Laura.