The birthing process for a human child takes about nine months. An elephant gestates for almost 2 years, the longest in the animal kingdom. Trying to find an appropriate metaphor, I move on to the inanimate. 'The biggest, baddest equipment' list includes a 31,000,000 pound bucket-wheel excavator, selling for $11 million. This device moves enough dirt daily to fill 100 Olympic size swimming pools, but can be built in three years or less. In China, a new city can be populated in that time.
And all I am trying to deliver is a book that in printed form will probably weigh less than a pound and in digital will fly through the air and land on your device adding no weight at all.
Its sweep—three generations of women facing exile and displacement in the Balkans over the last hundred years—is not trivial. But still. The original incubation for this book was a mere month. That's how long it took me to complete the first version.
The resulting Word document was so huge and unwieldy it took me a year to learn how to do the first rewrite. How do you comprehensively edit something that takes 12 hours to just skim quickly? And how do you backtrack when you're heading the wrong way through a maze of partially completed re-edits? And how do you learn which well-meant feedback to incorporate and which to ignore?
All this is a preface for the news that my book is nearing completion . . . Or at least completing its sixth or seventh or eighth rewrite . . .
Now, I am thinking about publishing more seriously. I have two publishers interested in working with me. They are very small publishing houses and I am trying to sort out the difference between working with one of them and self-publishing.
Having spent the last few years learning how to write, I am trying hard not to get sucked into spending the next three years learning about the incredibly explosive changes in the world of publishing. A fascinating subject in its own right.
But this week, that study led to a very important step in my process.
I learned that presentation is incredibly important. That the cover design of your book is absolutely key. The inside layout, the number of pages, the quality of the paper. Everything matters.
Imagine my dismay upon learning that the author's name itself is just as crucial. "If your name is hard to pronounce or spell, you will drag down your readership . . . It just might be the final nail in the coffin for your work." Lacking a good name, the author is encouraged to just find a better one.
And I of course have lived all these many years with Amochaev.
I call my friend Judy to commiserate. "It's not fair that you have this great name of Hamilton." I say.
"Uh, oh. I do understand." she replies. "It took me four years to learn how to pronounce your name, Tania." I think she was trying to be helpful. "Why don't you try your married name, Hahn?"
"Well there are many ways to misspell that . . . Han, Haun, Hawn . . . "
"Besides," I continue. "It's not particularly relevant to my writings about Russia and the Balkans."
"What about your mother's maiden name?" She asked.
"Marinovič?" I say, hesitantly.
"That's worse," she says. "What about her mother? Your grandmother?"
"I can just imagine what you're going to say about that." I say. "It's Rojnič."
"Oh . . ."
"Oh my God!" I say "I've got it!"
And so I do. I have it. I have my perfect name.
I remembered my next book, the one about my father. It starts out with my grandmother cursing her own mother-in-jaw. My grandmother. A grandmother whose memory I mostly reviled until that very moment.
It just so happens that my grandmother shared her family name with the ruling dynasty of Russia from 1613 until 1917. The dynasty that her family fought to protect until the day they had to flee their country shortly after the murder of the last Romanov tsar. A dynasty even the new tsar, Putin, is apparently considering resurrecting.
And so a new author was born. After a gestation period of many years—or just moments.