What Second Times Teach Us
Also: Yukon: book critic, classics lover, and canine assistant to Andria Williams
“The dark waters are made brighter knowing that this moment may be far from happy, but it is also not the end.” - Nadia Hashimi
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In this issue:
The second time is sometimes not exactly what we hoped for
Watching a homeland fall for a second time
Writer’s Dog #6: Yukon and his writer, Andria Williams
The lessons of the second novel can be tough
I used to cling to the assumption that the second time something happens or the second time you try something, it will all be easier, better, or at least hurt less. Second marriages. Second jobs. Second children.
I sailed into both my second marriage and my second novel on the winds of optimism. Nothing would be as hard as the first time around. I knew something about how to both things better. So far, the marriage part has worked out but I admit now that there was much I didn’t know and had to learn. Okay, I am still learning.
As for the second novel, I thought I’d bang that out a couple of years, not the decade it took me to write the first one. And at the end, there is no guarantee that it will be published. Apparently each novel teaches its own lessons and sometimes they are not easy to accept.
I talked about this with writer Andria Williams whose first novel The Longest Night (Random House 2016) came out at the same time my novel did. It received rave reviews, was long-listed by Center for Fiction for its First Novel Prize, and selected by Barnes & Noble for its Discover Great New Writers list. The novel is based on the true story of a near-nuclear meltdown in the 50s and weaves with it the story of a couple in the military facing a potential meltdown of their own. The wife of a naval officer herself, Andria infused the novel with perspectives gleaned from her own experiences and those of the community she entered when her husband enlisted just after she completed her M.F.A.
She started her second novel before The Longest Night was published and finished it four years later. So far, it has not found a home with any publisher. Now she is accepting that it might not.
She opened up about this for our third interview in Spark’s Writer’s Journey series, confessing that she was “sort of embarrassed about it.” Then, however, as she described all the second book had taught her about a time and period she has come to care about and about herself as a writer, her tone shifted. She tried some things with this novel that were important to her and they may not have meshed with a publisher’s idea of what will work.
“I am feeling okay with being honest about that. I don't expect everything I write to get published. I don't expect everything to be easy … It means that I need to try again. That's a hard thing to think about, you know, to try, again, from scratch. I need to start with page one. I have to start drafting these characters, and then I need to write for five more years., That's how I think my writing career is going to be.” - Andria Williams
She is still waiting to hear from a few publishers but she isn’t hanging around waiting, and, for now, she has not embarked on that third novel. After the launch of The Longest Night, she joined the editorial staff of the literary journal The Wrath Bearing Tree founded by combat veterans and managed by a diverse board of veterans, military spouses, and writers “compelled by themes of social justice and human resilience.” [Submissions are open: click HERE to find out more.]
The work has become an important part of her writer’s journey whose meaning to her grows with every writer she helps publish, often for the first time and, almost as often, for the second.
Read our entire interview with Andria here.
But first: keep scrolling to read more about Andria from the point of view of her canine assistant, Yukon, below. [I have loved Yukon since she reviewed my novel and found it almost as tasty as the discarded tissues in the family’s bathroom.]
Here’s a short video of Andria reading the poem “Applicant” by Sylvia Plath on the Wrath-Bearing Tree YouTube Channel. I’d never heard the poem before. I loved it.
Watching the loss of a homeland for the second time
“It is too cruel to ask if it hurts more the first or second time a homeland is lost.”- Nadia Hashimi
Novelist Nadia Hashimi wrote this brief essay as she and her family witnessed Afghanistan fall for the second time in her parents’ lives. Her parents emigrated from Afghanistan in the 70s. All six of Hashimi’s novels explore themes rooted in the lives of women and families of Afghanistan in their home country or adopted countries. The essay is piercing and beautiful. In it, Hashimi offers hope and suggests ways to help the helpers.
Here is her most recent novel, Sparks Like Stars.
Short & Long Reads: Second Novels
Turns out that most authors run up against issues with their second novels. Here’s what other writers from Zadie Smith to say about “second-book syndrome.”
The Curse of the Second Novel: Four Ways Not To Fuck Up Book Number Two: Zadie Smith, DBC Pierre, Donna Tartt, Charles Frazier.
Five Authors on Second Book Syndrome: Tèa Obreht, Stephan Chbosky, Karen Thompson Walker, Rachel Hartman, Sandya Menon,
The Sophomore Novel Club On the Dreaded Second Book: a conversation between Janie Chang and Shilpi Gowda.
Check out this list of second novels. Have you ready any of them?
Book Riot: 100 Must-Read Second Novels
The Writer’s Dog: Meet Yukon, Canine Assistant to Andria Williams
Known for…Most famously, or perhaps infamously, I once chewed the corner of Betsy Marro's excellent novel Casualties. I know. I still feel bad about it. But listen, I was 16 weeks old at the time. I thought it had been left on the couch just for me. (I also used to think that delicious used Kleenexes were left in the bathroom waste bin just for me, but have since outgrown that, too.)
Luckily, Betsy is a dog person and was totally cool about it. In fact my mom thought she may have secretly gotten a kick out of it. (Editor’s note: She did. See below.)
Expert at…Chasing squirrels, snuggling, patrolling yard, banging into screen doors in a mad dash for squirrels and then jumping back, affronted. I also translate the Classics. I particularly love Diogenes, who considered dogs the most virtuous of creatures. My translations are scratched into a patch of bark along the side-yard; my people keep covering them up; I feel very misunderstood about this.
What I live for…PIG EARS! (the dried kind, I'm not a MONSTER)
How it’s been going so far…. Pretty awesome, I think. I mean, I'm a dog.
Nothing ever really gets me down, except when I have to be boarded at the kennel. I haaaaate that. First of all, how can my family live without me for even one second? (My mom says it's hard on them too.) And, you just cannot talk to some of those other dogs. I try to drop little hints to see if they'll pick up on them, so we can have a REAL conversation. Sometimes I quote Diogenes. "I fawn over anyone who gives me anything, I yelp at those who refuse," I say, breezily, but so far most of the other dogs just stare at me a second like Yeah, don't we all.
I do have some good friends, though, especially Frankie across the street. She is a golden retriever. She once spent an entire yard sale picking up stuffed animals that were for sale off a blanket with her mouth and delivering them to people. I mean like over and over. I could hardly bear to watch. This is too earnest, Frankie, I was saying. She would go up to complete strangers, smiling, wagging, bring them stuffies. Everyone seemed delighted. But I was like, Frankie, you don't even know them! She said, What part of Golden Retriever don't you understand?
But we have good chats. Occasionally we bicker about whose people are the best people, and I KNOW I am right, that my people are the best and most loving and funnest people ever on earth, but I understand that this is probably something we'll never resolve.
Meet (Pet Name’s) Writer: Andria Williams
Known for… Hm. So that's kind of a mystery. Editing something called a literary journal? I was like, But can you chew it? No, she said. It's online. I said, I bet I could chew Online.
I mean, I know BOOKS, every dog knows BOOKS, but sometimes when mom is "working on her literary journal" I think maybe she is pulling one over on all of us.
She said it's called Wrath-Bearing Tree. This gave me a chill. I would not like to meet that tree. But mom said no, the name is taken from a line in TS Eliot's "Gerontion." Then she started babbling enthusiastically about how Wrath-Bearing Tree publishes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from new and established writers, along something called "intersections of social and military violence and human resilience" and I was like oh my god yawn. But she gets pretty excited about it. She said, We publish the first Monday of every month and I'm thinking, do you want an award for that? I sprinted across the yard 126 times today.
How I help Andria to do her job…Mom claims that my "obsession with squirrels" can be "disruptive" when I yap to be let out 85 times a day. Well, you know what, I think her "obsession with working" on books and the Scary Tree thing is "disruptive" to my attempts to catch squirrels 85 times a day. So we're even there.
But I am also pretty great company, especially in the evening when the squirrels go to sleep. While mom reads on the couch I am right there, curled up, always ready to, you know, offer body heat or defend her life or help her pronounce a difficult word in her book or whatever.
What writer does when not engaged with (pet name)…All those things I told you about and more. She explains it better than me. Take a look at her Spark Interview right HERE.
That’s it for this week. Please treat yourself to the interview with Andria. If you haven’t read The Longest Night, you’ll find it along with all the books mentioned by our community in Spark Community Recommendations page where every sale supports local bookstores. Any money we make for Spark will be donated to literacy programs once we have enough.
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Coming next week
No links, no books. I’m going to tell you a story for Labor Day weekend. It involves a bear and getting naked. It’s true. And I blush even to this day.
Ciao for now,
P.S. And now, your moment of Zen…Summer Haiku
Thank you to all who responded to last week’s call for haikus! Keep them coming. I’m going to make sure they are all shared and savored in the weeks to come. Here is one from Cindy Gilchrist:
The figs are bursting -
juicy flowers of Eden!
Summer is waning. - Cindy Gilchrist
Calling for Your Contribution to “Moment of Zen”
What is YOUR moment of Zen? Send me your photos, a video, a drawing, a song, a poem, or anything with a visual that moved you, thrilled you, calmed you. Or just cracked you up. This feature is wide open for your own personal interpretation.
Come on, go through your photos, your memories or just keep your eyes and ears to the ground and then share. Send your photos/links, etc. to me by replying to this email or simply by sending to: email@example.com. The main guidelines are probably already obvious: don’t hurt anyone -- don’t send anything that violates the privacy of someone you love or even someone you hate, don’t send anything divisive, or aimed at disparaging others. Our Zen moments are to help us connect, to bond, to learn, to wonder, to share -- to escape the world for a little bit and return refreshed.
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