Last month, in March 2007, OV Books had a jam-packed week of events in Chicago, celebrating the release of O STREET, our second title. O STREET is a linked story collection following protagonist Elizabeth Dinard from her early years raised by a schizophrenic, drug-addicted and charismatic mother, to her own turbulent early adulthood, struggling to find and maintain intimacy in her early lesbian relationships and ultimately becoming a single mother herself, raising herself out of poverty and self-destruction, but still bearing the scars of her youth. O STREET has been described as the antithesis of chick-lit by TIME OUT CHICAGO, and this past week got a rave review from the SEATTLE TIMES. Here, first-time author Corrina Wycoff reflects on some of the excitement, surrealism, challenges and thrills of "finally having that first book published" and doing it indie-OV-style . . .
Last week, in Chicago, I read at Women and Children First, the independent, feminist bookstore where, coincidentally, I attended my very first reading many years before, when I was twenty. That long ago night, Adrienne Rich read from her then-new book, An Atlas of the Difficult World. I prepared as though I had front row tickets for a Beatles reunion: I got off work early, dressed up, wrote Adrienne Rich a fan letter in anticipation of being too starstruck to speak to her directly, and headed giddily to the bookstore. I don’t know what I expected to happen. I didn’t expect a hundred other women, young and old, similarly startstruck, many holding envelopes presumably containing fan letters of their own. When Adrienne Rich walked through the thick crowd (seated on the floor), I told my friend Kara, “I know her!” dizzily thinking Adrienne Rich was someone I’d seen around town, maybe even someone who worked at the bookstore; I was too revved up to realize it was Rich herself, and that I recognized her from author photos.
The audience for my own reading was considerably smaller, of course, and no one brought a fan letter or sat starry eyed while I read. No one resorted to floor seating; there were chairs to spare. Still, I gratefully witnessed the contrast between past and present. At age twenty, I never thought I would, at age thirty-six, have a published book from which to read. Two of my favorite professors from college—Cris Mazza and Lisa Freeman—attended, a gesture so thoughtful that, when I looked up during my reading and saw them, I momentarily lost my place. As recently as last year, this had all seemed impossible. I sat up late one night, depressed, playing online video games and contemplating downgrading, to hobby status, the way I thought about my writing. Sure, I’d gotten work placed in journals and anthologies, but my book had never received anything more promising than warmly written rejection letters. I didn’t know that one of these letters had already made all the difference. In 2005, I’d entered OV Press’s first manuscript contest. Executive Editor Gina Frangello’s response included detailed, thoughtful feedback. This was exceptional attention from someone who read over 300 contest submissions. I followed a lot of her advice and resubmitted the manuscript in OV’s next contest. A few days after my self-pity and videogame binge, Gina emailed me with unexpectedly good news. For the next six months, I waited for something terrible to happen to counterbalance this incredible stroke of luck.
A year later, it still feels like incredible luck. Before having a book published, I took part in lots of conversations with other people who wrote, and my focus never veered from whether or not I would ultimately be fortunate enough to publish. Last week in Chicago, I understood: Writers don’t talk only about whether one gets published but by whom. I heard and remembered horror stories about both independent and commercial presses. About the former: Some independent presses had eschewed things like publicity and contracts. About the latter: Some commercial presses had required authors to revise layers and depth out of their work until it barely resembled earlier drafts. In both groups, some authors complained about feeling unsupported once their books got released.
My experience with OV Books couldn’t be more different. Gina Frangello and OV’s Associate Editor, Marina Lewis, worked tirelessly. Their feedback inspired revisions that improved my book, making it more consistent with my hopes for it. Throughout the editing process, Gina and I talked all the time. I don’t think I ever waited longer than two hours for a response from her. In Chicago last week, it seemed as though every time I saw Gina and Marina, they were hauling snack trays and heavy cases of wine to events they’d arranged for my book, having secured who-knows how many extra hours of childcare for their kids. Gina, who has three children, not only publicized the events; she attended all of them—even one in a distant suburb on an evening when her toddler son had a fever. She gave me rides. She let me stay in her house. I can’t imagine feeling more supported. In fact, I got so much attention that, during my week in Chicago, I frequently remembered the closing scene from Thelma and Louise in which Thelma, noticing a seeming multitude in pursuit, comments to Louise, “All this for us?”