The publication date is finally near for my story collection, The Mutual UFO Network. Tomorrow, on June 12, the book will be officially released. As you know this is also the day for Trump’s summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, but what you probably don’t know is it’s also the day when my wife, Cathy, gets a new knee. She’s been in pain for a long time, and it’s time for the pain to stop. As she’s been fond of telling people, on June 12, she’ll get a new knee, and I’ll have a new book. “One of us,” she’s said, “will have a much better day than the other.”
True enough. Also true is the fact that I’ll be giving very little thought to promoting the new book for the next several weeks because Cathy and I will be finding out just how good of a nurse I am. I’m counting on all of you, then—just like Cathy will be counting on me to assist with her care—to help spread the word about this book. If you read it and like it, I hope you’ll say so via social media or by word of mouth. As for Trump and Kim Jong Un. . .well. . .I’m afraid I have no advice for them—none that would make any difference, that is.
We writers spend so much time dreaming about that first book. I know I did. So many times I was convinced it would never happen. Then one day in 1995, Sarah Gorham called from Sarabande Books to tell me that Amy Bloom had chosen my story collection, The Least You Need to Know, for the inaugural Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. When the calendar rolled to 1996, I suddenly had a book and with it the start of my education about publishing: everything from the importance of cover designs, to print size, to blurbs, to sales records, and everything in between that can determine a book’s success and a writer’s career.
I’m now twenty-two years past the publication date of that first book, and I find it fitting that on tomorrow, after publishing five novels, three memoirs, and a craft book, my second story collection will hit the shelves.
My thoughts that day, though, will be of Cathy. Many of you know that she and I dated when she was sixteen and I was eighteen. Then we went our separate ways and had separate lives before finding our way back to each other over thirty years later. In one of the stories in The Mutual UFO Network, “The Last Civilized House,” an elderly couple, after confronting something from their past that almost tore them apart, drive home on a snowy evening. They narrowly avoid hitting a car at an intersection, but that moment of danger passes:
They drove on, the houses becoming fewer and farther apart as they went, the darkness coming on now—a quiet, cold night, the snow settling in over the houses and the fields. Ahead of him, Ancil could see the porch light that Lucy had thought to leave on, a faint glow in the distance. He drove toward that light, toward the house of last chances, where some bright thing between them—neither Ancil nor Lucy dared anymore to call it love—had almost gone out, but not now, not yet, not quite.
Tomorrow, I’ll hold faith. I’ll believe in return and reclamation, in repair and rehabilitation, in romance and rejuvenation. I’ll give thanks for the love of a good woman and the blessing that allows me to say so in stories like “The Last Civilized House” and others, as well as in this post, the last one before Cathy and I hook pinky fingers early tomorrow morning—a habit of ours—just to remind us we’re traveling together into whatever mysterious territory lies ahead.