2022, A Year of Writing
For Christmas, my in-laws gave me a small photograph of an unknown, long-dead sixteen-year-old girl. It was an exceptionally thoughtful gift. It’s a memento of my writing in 2022.
Strictly speaking, it is not a “photograph” at all, since that term refers to an image printed on paper. They gave me an ambrotype, which is a glass plate with a negative image, placed over dark paper so viewers perceive it as a positive. To confirm my identification, I delicately pried the ambrotype from its red velvet-lined case. Called a union case, it is made of shellac and wood pressed together with an intricate design on the cover. The material was an early forerunner of plastic, patented by Samuel Peck in 1854. Between the case and the photographic process, I could date the gift approximately to 1860, just before cartes de visite printed on albumen paper became the new standard.
Three years ago, the ambrotype would have meant nothing to me. I knew nothing of photography, let alone historic photographic processes. But during the pandemic summer of 2020, I started writing a novel titled The Ghosts on the Glass about William Mumler, a 19th century photographer who claimed he could take pictures of spirits. In 2022, I finished.
I produced far fewer pieces of writing this past year than in ones. After joining Prose in fall of 2019, I produced a piece per week: short stories, poems, essays. I dabbled. Writing The Ghosts on the Glass, I periodically paused my novel writing and editing in favor of a few poems and short stories, but mostly I stashed ideas in documents and put them aside. When the novel is done, I’ll write some of these stories, I told myself, and late this summer, I did write two. I posted “The Last Paddle” to Prose almost immediately. “Servant of the Servants of God” awaits further revision before I submit it to an historical fiction journal to see what happens. I waited a couple months to finish editing because I’ve learned that time away from a piece freshens the eyes. I am still waiting as the year closes out because I’ve learned that novel writing is addictive.
I’m four chapters and 10,000 words into my second novel and loving it. It’s more historical fiction—the genre and the need for research suit me well—based this time on some local history. Before 2023 closes, I’m hoping to write another 40,000 words. I’m also hoping my first novel finds its publisher. I don’t want to inflict blow-by-blow announcements on the world, but I will say I am neither at the starting line nor near the finish line of achieving publication. When I have definite news to share, my Prose friends will be among the first to know. I think you’ll like The Ghosts on the Glass.
Someone else did. I published a few short pieces and created my website this year, but whenever I look back on my writing in 2022, I will most remember the conclusion of the George Saunders contest on Prose. I did indeed get to send him 25 pages of my writing, the first section of The Ghosts on the Glass. I assumed I would get a brief paragraph of notes, and I crossed my fingers for some sort of general compliment; I got so, so much more. Mr. Saunders turned out to be just as thoughtful and generous as you’d hope from reading his work and listening to him speak. He gave me fantastic, very detailed advice for those 25 pages—and he liked them. The man who wrote Lincoln in the Bardo read 25 pages of my writing and said they were good.
That’s my mountaintop. I’ve learned enough about the publishing industry in the last year to know that nothing is certain, and many would-be books die during submission. I believe that The Ghosts on the Glass will find the right editor at some point; for that matter, I’m optimistic that my work in progress will, too. Regardless, I’ve written something genuinely good, and I have a multi-page email from one of my favorite writers to prove it. I keep a printed copy tucked in a notebook, on a shelf in my usual writing room. I read it again, sometimes, when I need to believe.