Let the judging begin


My ARCs have arrived – the Advanced Reader Copies of my novel. These are real live books that look almost exactly like the final book, except that the text has not yet been proofread and the back cover contains some technical information that won’t be in the final version.

I am not being immodest when I say the book is beautiful. I had nothing to do with its appearance – all praise goes to the designer.

Now what?

The book will be released on November 1. In the meantime, we try to get it reviewed.

My publisher is assiduously contacting book reviewers and review outlets with the hope that they will request an ARC. Many have done so and more, we hope, are pending. 

So many  books, so little time

Of course, requesting an ARC does not mean the person will actually review Her Own Vietnam, much less review it positively. Most book reviewers are writers themselves, many with outside jobs as editors or teachers. They live among teetering stacks of books and articles demanding to be read, beset on all sides by deadlines.

Like all writers, book reviewers live in the condition the novelist Alice McDermott described as “having homework every day for the rest of your life.” And like all devout readers, book reviewers have much more desire than time to read.

But still: a reviewer could be reading my novel right this second with the specific intent of judging it, in print and in public.

Different ways to hear it

Listen to this sentence in your head. You could hear it in at least two ways:

“A reviewer could be reading my novel right now!” [Delight]

“A reviewer could be reading my novel right now!” [Terror]

You be the judge.

The Writing Process: A Blog Relay

Read Women 2014 by Joanna Walsh

Read Women 2014 by Joanna Walsh

The writer Rosalie Morales Kearns asked me to participate in a blog relay Q&A about the writing process. She is the author of Virgins and Tricksters, a collection of shimmering short stories that combine erudition and whimsy, a sly feminist wit and a sense of melancholy. Rosalie is also the founder of Shade Mountain Press, a new literary press dedicated to publishing women, which in 2014 will publish two books: Egg Heaven, a collection of haunting and lyrical short stories by Robin Parks; and my own novel, Her Own Vietnam.

Check out Rosalie’s blog to learn about her writing process and see what she’s working on now.

Writing Process Q & A

Question 1. What are you working on?

I’m putting the finishing touches on Her Own Vietnam, which will be published this fall. The novel is about a woman who served as a U.S. Army nurse in Vietnam, and decades later must confront her wartime memories and the fractures in her family life as the country prepares for the war in Iraq.

At this point, the writing is completed and the book is in the design and production process. In the next few weeks Rosalie will send Advanced Reader Copies to review outlets, and then the book will go through a final proofreading before it goes to press. I’m lucky that Shade Mountain Press invites its authors to participate in all of this, from discussing the cover design to considering different styles for the chapter headings to thinking about which publications and websites might review the book.

Question 2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Her Own Vietnam is my third novel. All explore in different ways the terrain of women’s friendships. My characters tend to be politically engaged in the world, and recognize the gravitational pull of public events on their personal lives. I bring a lesbian sensibility to the work, which means a sensitivity to women’s experiences and the struggles of all outsiders to resist the undertow of other people’s definitions of them.

Question 3. Why do you write what you do?

My writing tends to start with a question. What would happen if…? What would it feel like to…? For all three of my novels, the central question of the book has come to me while I was walking. Clearly I need to walk more often.

Question 4. How does your writing process work?

I always envy those writers who say the words just come to them, and admire the writers who outline everything beforehand. For me, writing is an act of exploration: I write to see what will happen next. I start with what I think is the beginning of the book, and keep writing, seeing an inch or two farther along the path with each writing session. I generally don’t know where I’m headed until at least halfway through the first draft. (Sadly, this is also how I drive.)

Writing a novel is a little like being in love; there’s a current of energy constantly running just beneath the surface of your daily life. For that reason, I always carry a little notebook and a pen, to jot down ideas that occur to me throughout the day. Somehow these ideas lose their potency if I type them into my phone or computer. Paper and pen still have a special kind of power for me.

Passing the baton

I’ve invited two writers to carry on the relay and answer these four questions about the writing process on their own blogs. Please look for their posts next week.

Kristin Ohlson has an impressive knack for writing compelling nonfiction about serious subjects and infusing her work with warmth, humor and drama. Her latest book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet, was published this spring and is collecting wonderful reviews. The Los Angeles Times called it “an important book and a pleasure to read.” Kristin also wrote the award-winning Stalking the Divine, and co-wrote the New York Times bestseller The Kabul Beauty School. Read her blog here (click on Blog and News):

Adele Levine recently published Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life Of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She is a prolific humor writer, but this powerful memoir of her years working with American troops who lost their limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan packs a punch along with the laughs. Read about Adele’s writing process here:

I hope you will explore the websites and work of these extraordinary writers. Remember, it’s still (and always) the year to read women!



She’s leaving home

It’s official. I have sent the manuscript of Her Own Vietnam to my editor who, conveniently, is also my publisher, Rosalie Morales Kearns. An editor by profession, Rosalie is also a fantastic writer, author of the short story collection Virgins and Tricksters.

Sending her the book is the first step – and the first test – in the process of letting go. For a long time, I was the only one who obsessed about this novel. Now there will be two of us.

Three sharp red pencils.

My editor gets down to business. (Photo by Horia Varlan.)

(Please help me by singing in your head the Beatles song about “She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years.” You know the one.)

This begins a period of waiting to see what Rosalie thinks. But there’s plenty for a writer to do while the editor ponders her manuscript.

More on that soon.