Throwing the Penny (Very Good News)

Throwing the Penny (Very Good News)

When I was 19 years old, I started writing a novel about a tattoo artist named Gina Mulley.

Over many years and 15+ drafts, almost everything about the book has changed.

But its soul is intact, and Gina Mulley the tattoo artist is still here, and I’m here too, with this good news:

My novel, Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair, will be published by Pamela Dorman Books (Penguin Random House) in summer 2022.

If there’s a word for what this feels like, I don’t know it. So here’s a picture of my face alongside the Publishers Marketplace announcement.

 

In light of this news, I’ve been thinking about this twenty-year-old woman here. ➡️

I wonder if she would’ve kept going, if she knew how long it would take. If I told her: “You will squeeze in novel-writing while working full time in activism, freelancing as a graphic designer and more. You’ll enter an MFA program to make more space for writing… and at your first residency you’ll discover you’re pregnant.

“You’ll write with babies at your breast and little boys climbing on you. You’ll write as a working mother with a demanding job at a not-for-profit. You’ll write on borrowed time, in all-nighters and sunrise work sessions. You’ll deliver talks that reach thousands of people but more than anything you will still dream of this one thing: to finish and publish your book.

“Your baby will become a toddler. When Grandma babysits so you can have writing time, she’ll give him pennies to throw in fountains and a wish to holler as he hurls them in:

“Finish yo’ book, Mama!”

“But when is a book ‘finished’? Draft #5, when you start submitting to agents? Draft #8, when you finally get an agent? What if your agent falls through after Draft #13? What if you have to find a new agent and it’ll be Draft #17 before an editor ever sees it?

“When is the book finished? If the answer is always one more draft, do you still want to do this?”

That question made it into my novel: Do you still want to do this work? Even if X, and Y, and Z? Gina Mulley, 18 years old, sets out to be a tattoo artist with visions of helping to run her brother’s tattoo shop, creating dazzling work, winning trophies. That turns out to be more complicated than she expects, and her friend Rick challenges her: Trophies are shiny on the outside and that’s about it. You might need another reason to do this work.

For my part, sometime in my early twenties I decided: Yes. Yes, even though I can’t know the future, and even if this book is never published, I want the pleasure of showing up at my desk and the satisfaction of creating a work as beautiful and complete as I can make it.

My younger son commented recently: “Why do people throw pennies into fountains? The wishes don’t really come true.”

Who can argue with that? Not only do wishes go un-granted, hard work regularly goes unrewarded. Struggles fail to culminate in victory. Sometimes happy endings seem so rare in life that I forget they are possible. This one still doesn’t feel quite real.

“Yeah, I know,” I told my son.”But sometimes throwing the penny reminds us to keep trying.”

 

 

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