Lucy Ferriss

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I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Anniversary

January 06, 2016

One year ago today, my novel A Sister to Honor hit the shelves. This is not the landmark event it used to be. Advance copies had gone out to bloggers; preorders had been available on Amazon for months. Still, I remember waking up that morning with a bit of a frisson. All the work was done, now; it was time for my book to live out its life. Not quite like birth--for one thing, I hadn't experienced hours of labor the night before--but perhaps like the birth a mama bird witnesses when her chick cracks out of the egg.

Me with Matt Tannenbaum, owner of The
Bookstore in Lenox, MA, on pub date.

The work wasn't done, of course. Quickly (though not quickly enough) I realized that letting the world know about my book was going to be my job. For one thing, my publicist left the company three days after pub date. For another, even the freelance publicists I lined up expected me to carry the ball on social media everywhere and all the time. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. I was meant to be on them, having "a conversation." If I were good at conversation, I wanted to tell these well-meaning people, I would have become a talk-show host and not a writer. Writers are reclusive. Their best conversations are with their characters. But I tried, I really did. First, I revamped this website on which you are reading this blog. Nice site, yes? I sure hope so. Then I got my Facebook page up to 500 Likes. (You may have accessed this post from that very page.) I don't know why 500 was the magic number, but my publisher kept saying it: 500 Likes, 500 Likes. Then I hired a 23-year-old to tweet for me. That wasn't enough, as I soon learned. First, I am allergic to exclamation points, and 23-year-olds are addicted to them. Second, since I wasn't really engaged in the "conversation," my followers were in the hundreds, not the thousands.

Anyway, I was busy. I was traveling. So many bookstores, so many writers' festivals, so little time.

En route home from Tucson

It was sharply satisfying to meet readers, not just people who knew my work, but readers of all stripes, readers looking for escape and for wisdom, for love and for thrills. The book garnered some fabulous reviews, but the comments that have meant the most to me have come mostly from readers, emailing me or writing on Amazon or Goodreads. The story Ferriss wove was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking. . . . There are times you will want to rage, as well as times where you want to break down and hold the characters and ensure that everything will be okay. . . . The human condition, portrayed magnificently by Ferriss, in a web not of her protagonists' making. A conflict of cultures described so knowledgeably. A page-turner. . . . This is a book that will forever stay with me.

Wow. Responses like this can go to your head. But mostly I was so pleased that people seemed to get the book, seemed not to view it as some Westerner's exotic ideas about Pakistanis, or some sort of anti-Muslim narrative, but as a deeply human story that is about Americans as much as it is about another culture. That pleasure has gone some distance toward overcoming disappointment in sales. My publisher has been perplexed that the book hasn't sold as well as my last novel, The Lost Daughter (which, while I love it, is not in the end as good a book). After all the appearances and readings, I'm not perplexed. First, in the end, many Americans do not want to read about foreigners. The cover of the book, lovely as it is, emphasizes the "otherness" of the main character with the white headscarf. Second, the title--which, like The Lost Daughter, was a compromise with the publisher--placed the book is a large camp of books by women that have either a family member or the word girl in the title. So-and-so's Wife; The Such-and-such Girl; etc. My editor and I had been debating one-word titles, perhaps Honor or perhaps Dishonor, and I suspect either of those would have signaled the non-chick-lit nature of the book. As it was, I found myself on panels with authors of books about sisterhood or books about amusingly dysfunctional families. This outcome is no one's fault, but rather the nature of typecasting--of women authors, of reader expectations, of what the words literary and commercial mean.

But then the Women's National Book Association chose the novel as one of the 2015 Great Group Reads. And while sales didn't soar after that announcement, I have heard from many groups who are reading the book, talking about it, talking about the issues it engages. Now that's the conversation I'm interested in. And if A Sister to Honor continues to spark those dialogues through 2016, I will be deeply honored. Thanks and Happy New Year to all!

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