Hi, all! To Give a Rose is now available on Amazon and it should arrive on Kindle and on some book store shelves soon–if your book store does not have it yet, please ask them to order it. The publisher is Branch Hill (don’t worry if you don’t see my novel on their site–it literally JUST came out, and it may take them a few days to update their website).
In any case, I am EXTREMELY excited by this, not just because I’ve been working towards this for a very long time, but also by the thought that the set of people who have published novels now includes me–forever. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like I’ve joined a club or something. I hadn’t expected that to be meaningful, but it is.
I’ve been walking around the house, talking about myself in the third person; “noted author, Caroline Ailanthus, is making lunch.”
Anyway, I thought this might be a good time to tell the story of the story, so to speak.
Once upon a time, back in November of 1999, I was on a camping trip with my sister when it occurred to me that my daydream of a scientist and an australopithecine meeting somehow and interacting might well make a good story. Of course, if you’ve read the synopsis of the book, you might notice that Rose isn’t about such a meeting. Very little of the original story idea actually made it into the final novel, but that was the beginning, anyway.
The first big shift was that I decided to make the principle characters female–and I decided the human character should be an artist, rather than a scientist, partly so that she would think and write in non-specialist terms more readers would understand, and partly so I wouldn’t have to spend years teaching myself anatomy. Eventually I learned that a museum would not likely allow an artist to handle rare hominid fossils and so I had to add a second human character–which ended up being a great idea as Greg took on a life of his own and had some very interesting conversations with Sophie.
This process, of characters taking on a life of their own, was par for the course for the book, which largely wrote itself. I spent about eight years, off and on, researching ape behavior, cognitive psychology, paleoecology, and other topics, which gave me plenty of time to daydream about my characters. Most of those daydreams ended up in the book, which gradually metamorphosed from a slim, almost minimalist tale about essentially four characters (two human, two foot-ape) into a swarm of interrelated stories that spanned dozens of foot-ape lives and seventy years.
All of this researching and daydreaming happened within the context of my life, of course–not that I’m going to go into a lot of detail about that because my personal life is not the point, but the basics are that I started out with just a high school education and no idea whatever how to do research and I started reading stuff. I learned how to use a college library and then how to use the Internet for more than email. I learned that if you tell experts you’re a novelist doing research, they’ll take you seriously and answer your questions.
I did all that while doing hiking trail maintenance as part of a ten-member crew, so I had the advantage of spending my free time reading about the behavior of small groups of apes and my workdays observing small groups of humans. Yes, there are similarities. I found animal bones on the ground while working and spent some of my breaks learning how to make super-simple tools; broken bones work for digging, as do some rocks, but sticks don’t (to make a digging stick, you have to cut up sound wood, not anything you find lying around). I climbed trees and practiced chimpanzee vocalizations at parties.
Then I went to college.
I documented my research up until that point for thirty credits (a full year) of advanced standing. Then I earned fifteen more credits with paleoecology and compiled the lists of plant and animal species that appear, in edited form, as an appendix of the novel. I studied other, unrelated things as well. That was a good time.
Then I met this wonderful guy. I moved in, and spent a winter writing the first draft of Rose in a chair in his living room. He brought me water when I forgot to drink, as I explain in the book’s acknowledgements. Then I started grad school, and somehow found time to rewrite and expand certain sections of the book. I married the wonderful guy, finished grad school, and returned to that chair–now in our living room–to rewrite the book and rewrite it again.
I had worried about finding a publisher–I was confident people wanted to read about australopithecines, but I wasn’t sure I could convince a publisher of that, and the book doesn’t really belong to a genre so I didn’t really know how to look for one. Finally I just hopped on Facebook and said “does anyone here publish books?” and the good people at Branch Hill said “YO!”
One of them had had the same undergraduate adviser me. A lot of things in my life work like that–random but somehow inspired shots in the dark.
And so then I had to rewrite the novel AGAIN. Then the illustrations. Then the formatting. And now, here we are, sixteen years later, with a published book you can actually buy.
If you’d told me, back in 1999, that this story would take sixteen years to turn into a book, I’m not sure I would have had any idea what that meant–I was only 22 at the time, after all. But I don’t think I would have been discouraged. I’d have just been thrilled to know I’d get there eventually. Because being a writer–specifically, a novelist–was always one of the things I’d most wanted to do. I don’t mean to say “keep going and you WILL make it,” because sometimes you won’t, and anyway I’m enough of a pessimist that I’m kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop right now.
But sometimes, if you keep working at it long enough, a point that was once unimaginably far in the future actually arrives and you have something worth working for sixteen years to get.