I have a longstanding relationship with bookstores, but this was my first visit to a bookstore from the other side of the publishing market. To introduce myself as a local author, to ask for a partnership in promoting books: this is the ultimate ‘friend request.’
I prayed in the car as I sat in the parking lot.
God, show me where to go, who to talk to. Go before me. Show me what to say and how to do this. You got me into this thing… show me what to do next.
I headed straight to the information desk at the Tattered Cover, as if I just had any old question at all. The woman behind the counter is soft and gray; she wears red glasses on a chain around her neck and she has a streak of pink through her silver hair. Her name is Jinx. And she adds, “But I’m not one.”
Note to self: I might want to be her when I am in my seventies.
“Good morning, my name is Tricia and I’m a local author. I just wanted to stop by and share an advanced copy with you, to see if you might like to carry it on your shelves.”
Jinx was as friendly and interested as if I were a first grader on her front porch selling chocolate bars for my school fundraiser. “Well, look at you! Let’s see what you have here.”
I handed her a copy of And Life Comes Back. She lifted her red glasses to her face and tipped her head back to read through her bifocals. She read the title, and then she lowered her glasses just as quickly and looked straight at me. The look on her face was a blend of recognition, instant friendship, sadness.
“Oh, honey. You lost your husband? My husband just died six weeks ago.” She reached across the counter and placed her hand on mine. She leaned in close. “Tell me, honey… am I going to make it?”
Our eyes mirrored each other. I placed my other hand over top of hers. “You will. You’ll make it. Even when you don’t want to, you’ll make it.”
She told me how she has just returned to work, how that has been the best thing for her. She told me that her husband was 81, and she had taken him to the ER because he was dehydrated. In the sea of tests, they found a blockage in his intestines that turned out to be a rare and agressive cancer, and he never came home again. Jinx just bought new living room furniture, petite and feminine to replace his overstuffed recliner, so she can somehow enter the living room again.
“You’re doing a beautiful job, Jinx. Look at all that strength,” I said, still holding her hands.
I would have applauded her if she had told me a very different journey of progress, one of sleeping all day and missing meals. I would have said, “And look at all that strength.” Because that’s what it is: it is strength to grieve and feel and live and sleep and eat and be.
She began writing down phone numbers for me, people I could call to talk about book orders, signings, and readings. She called to the other woman behind the counter, “Margaret, who handles our orders from Waterbrook?”
“Well, I do!” Margaret joined us at the counter and shook my hand. She wiggled the mouse on the computer and said, “Let’s see what we have here. And Life Comes Back… Yep. I’ve got it. I’ve placed orders for all three bookstores, and we can’t wait to get them in.”
(All three locations of the Tattered Cover, my favorite chain of bookstores in Denver, are already expecting my book and waiting for the order to arrive. Pinch me.)
“Oh, and Tricia, let me ask you this: would you say your book is more along the lines of grief and recovery and self help, or is it more of a Christian book study? The reason I ask is because – I mean, it’s okay if you talk about God in it – but sometimes people buy a book about chemotherapy, and they get home and discover it has a dozen Bible verses for them to look up. And that’s just not the book they thought they were buying. So I need to be careful to put Bible studies in the Christian/Religion section. You know?”
“I do know – I’m so glad you asked. It’s a memoir of grief and hope. It tells a story. God’s all over it, but it’s not a Bible study.”
“Oh, that’s good to know. Okay. Let me just change that here in that computer…” (click, click, click, type, type, type) “and there we go. I’ve changed it in the computer, and we can market it more broadly for you.”
Jinx told me to who I should call to schedule a reading at any of the locations, and then she said, “When you call Charles, tell him you met me. He’ll know how important that is to me. And please, ask him to let me be your hostess on the night when you come here. I would just love that. I mean, anyone will do a wonderful job hosting you, but I just really want to be the one. Can I hug you before you go?”
You can, Jinx. And you’re definitely not one.
God had led me straight to the woman who will host a reading, the buyer who orders books from my publisher, and a widow who is finding the ground beneath her feet. He even clarified and broadened my market as a cherry on top.
He arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
I choose to call you a rockstar.
Even though you triple booked yourself this morning, absentmindedly missing appointments in multiple places,
You got your car fixed.
Even though you dislike spending money on cars or pets.
And when the auto guy patronized you, suggesting you swipe your credit card just as if you were buying a pair of shoes, you responded with courtesy laughter instead of a swift kick.
You are a rockstar. Go buy yourself some shoes.
The Committee of Personal Affirmation
University of Denver Writers Workshop Readers Circle:
An Interview with Tricia Lott Williford
DU: Tricia, tell us how you manage your schedule. How do you maintain your blog (with thousands of daily readers), work on your book manuscript, and manage your home and the needs of two little boys?
Tricia: I keep lots of lists. I keep lists of lists. I have a spiral notebook with me always, and it’s quite literally my brain on paper. When I have an idea for a blog post, I jot it down. When a quick and sacred memory pops into my mind that I want to include in the book, I jot it down. I also use this method to remind myself of grocery items and overdue library books and parent/teacher conferences. It’s one big jumble of information. As for time management, I don’t really have that figured out yet. Both of the boys are in school now, so theoretically, I should have more freedom now, right? I haven’t figured that out yet. I just do what needs done right now. I just do the next thing. That’s ultimately all I’ve done for the last year and a half: I just do the next thing. And it’s pure bliss when ‘the next thing’ is 2000 words toward my book manuscript.
DU: Talk to us about this book you’re working on.
Tricia: Originally, I was planning to write about my first year as a widow, of all the things I overcame on a daily basis as I pieced myself—and my life—back together. But my editors suggested that this book would be too sad for too long, that reads are not willing to voluntarily submit themselves to that kind of mental and emotional journey. So I kind of tore the book apart and started over. Now it begins with this story of the day I got my tattoo, and it jumps around chronologically—before he died, after he died, and the triumph and tragic beauty sprinkled all throughout. It’s no longer a widow’s story. Now, it’s a story about rebirth, a memoir about overcoming the worst thing possible.
DU: Some people have said that your grief seems easier than others, that your tragedy is less somehow, since you’re able to write about it.
Tricia: You know, I really don’t see any point in comparing degrees of crisis. Crisis is crisis; loss is loss. There is no more or less. There is only the deep consuming hole, the void of being left behind. My crisis is different from other people’s, but that’s all it is: different. I would, however, like to clarify: it isn’t easier because I can write about it. I write because that’s how I process, live, work, think. So I needed to write to make any sense of this at all, to bring any order to my days. That doesn’t mean it was easier. It means it’s what I needed to do to breathe again.
DU: Do you ever struggle to convey the truth of what happened? Is it difficult to be authentic with your emotions before an audience you don’t know?
Tricia: I struggle to convey the darkness of the swallowing grief. There are really no words for it. And maybe that’s why my writing might make the grief seem easier—because the truth is unspeakable. No matter what I could write, the hurt felt deeper. So I struggle with letting that go, knowing that no matter what, I’ll never say it exactly the way it happened.
As for authenticity, I think one of the greatest gifts in this journey is the blog. I had already been writing to an unknown audience for five years before Robb died. So when my life fell apart, the blogging was nearly the only thing that hadn’t changed. I sat down at my computer and wrote again, beginning with, “Well, something has happened. Here’s where we are now.” And my readers blessed me. They joined me in the journey, and they shared my story with their friends and family, their friends of family, their friends of friends. And they keep reading, joining me over a cup of coffee each day.
DU: How do you feel about this level of celebrity you live with now?
Tricia: Is that what this is? Is this a level of celebrity? I don’t know—it’s all so new to me. I was interviewed for a Denver magazine recently, and the journalist wanted to know about Denver’s new and famous author. And I thought, “Denver has a new and famous author? Who is it? I’d love to read her stuff!” Then it occurred to me: he’s talking about me. Oh my goodness. He’s calling me Denver’s new and famous author. That’s so crazy to me.
DU: How do you manage this high profile in your daily life?
Tricia: Oh, I’m the same girl. I’m a mom, and I take my kids to football practice and painting lessons. We go to the bakery after school for the best cookies in the world. I write every morning at Starbucks, and I follow the same traffic patterns and visit the same places that have always been part of my every day. The difference now is that the people around me recognize me, they know my story, and they recognize my kids. I don’t think about all that very much, or it could really distract me—either I would begin to write for them, or I would stop writing all together. So I just do my do, and I meet lots of new people along the way. People who know a whole lot about me.
DU: You have signed a two-book contract. What will the second book be about?
Tricia: In my contract, it’s called “Untitled Work #2.” That’s publisher lingo for “we’ll wait and see what she wants to write about.” So, I don’t know—really, I don’t know at all. I’ve got my hands full writing this first one. So I’ll give this all I’ve got, and then we’ll see what emerges next. Anne Lamott is the brilliant voice that whispers to me, Always write your best stuff, and there will always be more. So I’m not saving any of my best for the next book—I’m giving it to this one. And I’m banking on more of my best for the second one.
DU: What do you want your readers to think and feel after they read your book, And Life Comes Back?
Tricia: I’d like for them to find hope and truth. I hope they’ll know they can survive the worst possible thing, and I hope they’ll feel equipped to walk alongside others in their crises. I hope they laugh. I hope they love better, harder, more. And I hope they say, “That was a damn good book. I’d like to buy one for all my friends.”
If I were to describe my first year without Robb in just a few words, I would choose these:
I was in shock of many kinds, emotional and physical. I spent months not believing that this was really real. I spent nights writhing in panic and disbelief, the freezing sweat of remembering.
I was terrified. For more reasons than I can name.
I was blind, walking forward without a map, never ready for the next blow. And there was always, without fail, another blow.
I was numb because that’s what the body does when one must survive. It stops feeling.
Those are big, bold words.
With those major players on 2011’s roster, there wasn’t room for sadness. She needs a space all her own.
Now that I am one month into this second year, I can see that it is different.
I am no longer shocked; these facts have become my life.
I am no longer terrified; I am actually unspeakably brave.
I am no longer blind; I have lived through one full calendar year, and even if I don’t like what’s coming next, at least I know I’ll surpass it.
I am no longer numb; I’m starting to feel.
Frostbite doesn’t hurt when fingers are frozen. It’s when those nerve endings start to warm up – that’s when frostbite cuts like a knife.
I’m starting to feel.
I’m starting to cry again. I hadn’t in a long while.
But these are different tears,
warm and healing.
Perhaps the first year was for my head;
perhaps this second year is for my heart.