Congratulations On Your New Book | Charles Atkins | Blog Post | Red Room
Congratulations on Your New Book
Years back I was in therapy. “What?” you ask, “You, the epitome of mental health? Say it’s not so.” Well, let’s just say it was part of my training as a psychiatrist. All of which brings me to something brilliant my therapist said. It was this,
“For what?” you ask.
For getting my first book written. Not published, just written. And here’s the point. Why is it so difficult for many of us to acknowledge the good things in life in the moment? We are admonished to ‘not rest on our laurels’. I think it goes even deeper, that somehow stopping to enjoy our achievements is wrong or big headed.
Let me break it down. For years, possibly my entire conscious life I’ve been a writer, and have wanted to write books. As a medical student this blossomed and I began to win some essay contests and have smaller pieces published in literary journals and some of the bigger medical ones. As a resident this picked up speed and finally I started in on my first book-length manuscript. As with many writers this first novel-length extravaganza was a roman á clef aka thinly veiled autobiography. It was about a conflicted gay surgeon who finds love and liberation. Along its 600 pages it veered into action adventure, there might have been a murder, boy met boy, lost him and then found him again, I seem to recall a hurricane in Mexico where my main characters formed an impromptu medical response team, and it was all tied up with a happy ending that involved an unexpected inheritance and beach-front property. I see you wincing, and please bear with me.
When I’d completed this masterpiece, there was no fanfare. No patting myself on the back. It was just done and I was off and running trying to think about what to do next. Send it to publishers? Find an agent. So when I told my then therapist I’d finished my book and he said, “Congratulations”. I stopped dead.
Right, I thought, I’ve just achieved something I’ve always wanted, something big, and yet I didn’t take a millisecond to stop and recognize the moment. What was that about? And I realized a couple important things. First, my ambition as a writer is far more about the process than the product. How do I become the best writer possible? How do I continue to get published and reach a bigger audience? It’s a constant striving toward what comes next. Like deciding to do a blog, if even in the beginning no one reads it. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Yet, there’s something equally important on the other side of this forward movement. The moment itself.
Over the years, as I’ve become successful in my two careers–author and psychiatrist–this theme repeats. This week my ninth book under my own name arrived in the mail–VULTURES AT TWILIGHT (Severn). There was no fanfare. A UPS truck dropped off my author copies in a brown cardboard box in front of the garage. I went out, saw the box, wondered if it was something I bought on eBay or Amazon, and then I spotted the address from my publisher. It was the new book.
I took it inside, ripped off the tape and got my first look at something I started writing over ten years ago. This particular book has been through many incarnations on its long road to publication. I examined the glossy cover, which has a beautiful image of a misty cemetery and my name in bold letters over the title. I read the inside jacket, the back blurbs–not a wrong note anywhere. It’s a lovely book. I opened the cover and saw the dedications to my grandmother, great Aunt, and my mother in law–three women filled with love and light. I felt dueling impulses–pride at the achievement and the opposing Puritanical voice–“And pride goes before a fall.” “Shut up!” I told that second voice. I held the new book, and reveled in the moment. “Congratulations, Charles. It’s a beautiful new book. Congratulations.”