by Peggy Morehouse Strack
An independent bookstore has so many treasures to offer a community—comfy chairs to peruse the latest releases, a friendly staff to point out page turners, the rich scent of print, and shelves filled with books just waiting to be opened. One of the special features offered by Northshire Bookstore in my hometown, Saratoga Springs, is the authors it brings in to chat with enthusiastic readers like myself. Thanks to the brick and mortar shop on Broadway, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Mitch Albom, Neil Gaiman, and Anne Rice.
On June 21, I once again sat at the upper level of Northshire listening to another author. Courtney Maum read from and discussed her debut novel, I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU. It’s a story about a monogamist’s attempt to earn his wife’s forgiveness, while ultimately answering the question: Is it possible to fall back in love with your spouse?
Courtney began her presentation by saying that she last visited Saratoga Springs when she was a young teenager attending Skidmore’s Summer Jazz Institute. She laughed, revealing that she shyly spent most of her non-performance time in her dorm room because she was one of only two girls amongst approximately one-hundred boys. Acknowledging her husband and daughter in the audience with a smile, she pointed out that she returns without her “boy” fear.
Courtney then read a passage from her debut novel that ended with one of the many provocative summations about marriage dispersed throughout her story, “But no one tells you what you start doing to each other when you wed….No one explains that six years into it, a simple request to Pick up a half pound of ground turkey and maybe some organic leeks on your way home? is going to send the free, blue sky crashing down like a pillory around your neck, see you clutching your paper number at the butcher’s ashamed to be just another sucker bringing white meat home.”
After her reading, Courtney welcomed questions from the audience and described her novel’s fascinating journey to publication: “I first wrote this book before I was married, I was twenty-five. I was busy revising it for an editor at a major publishing house when this editor up and left her job, leaving me orphaned, disillusioned, crushed. My then-agent sent it out to eighteen other editors, who sent back eighteen rejections. Fast-forward ten years later, my current all-star agent, Rebecca Gradinger, convinced me to resurrect the project and give it another chance. By that time, I myself had been married almost as long as the couple in the book and was pregnant with our first child. I decided to rewrite the book entirely, using many of the same characters, which allowed me to draw from my personal experience of matrimony, which surely improved the book.”
What happened next?
Courtney landed a publishing deal with TOUCHSTONE, a division of Simon & Shuster, Inc. and it was released on June 10, 2014.
How is I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU doing?
It has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and has been featured in national periodicals like The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair. It was also selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2014 and made The Today Show’s and O Magazine’s Must-Read Summer List.
I asked Courtney, “After being rejected, and spending ten years in your dresser drawer, I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU, was released by a major publishing house, is receiving outstanding reviews, and is steadily climbing in sales rankings. Can you find some words to express how success feels? Are you doing anything special to celebrate?”
Courtney responded, “The positive attention is flat-out bonkers, but the truth is, I’m trying not to settle in too much. I suppose it’s a defense mechanism honed after so many years of rejections, but I prefer to live this like a blissful out-of-the-body experience. As long as it feels surreal, I’ll be able to keep writing, and that’s what matters most to me.”
I then asked her if she had any advice for writers struggling to get published.
“In terms of advice, I have so much! I made a lot of mistakes along the way and wasted time feeling angry…I’ll just say: keep your head down, don’t be bitter, get off Facebook, do the work.”
Well, okay Courtney. I’m on it!
One more thing. I’ll never, ever throw out a manuscript. You never know what may happen in ten years.
A Little Something Extra:
My signed copy of I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU: