Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College. After riding a motorcycle across the country, she worked as a features writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. She now lives in Washington state with her husband and sons.
by Sibella Giorello
I can still remember the ringing phone.
Coming through the front door from vacation — sand still in my hair — I lunged for the telephone, always certain somebody has just died.
But it was my editor at Revell.
“You won!” she exclaimed.
It will sound disingenuous but the truth often embarrasses: I didn’t know what she was talking about. Several significant moments of silence passed. Then an idea dislodged itself from my beach brain.
Oh. Christy Awards. This weekend.
My first novel, “The Stones Cry Out,” was nominated for best first novel.
“What’s wrong?” the editor asked, as the silence stretched on.
“You’re probably in shock. Isn’t it great news?!”
Despite the nomination, I never expected to win. Given the great novels competing in the same category, I didn’t think my book would win.
Actually, I didn’t think it should win.
My first novel reminded me of a knock-kneed colt struggling to stand up on its own feet. That it would win an award like the Christy seemed absurd. I wondered if a mistake had been made.
Ever since, I’ve felt a certain ambivalence about winning that honor. I figured my problem was pride (I’m human; there is always pride). But four novels later, I can see some sense in my ambivalence. And I can share three important lessons.
One: Pray that your first book is not your best.
Despite the award in my hand, I remained busy grieving my novice abilities. Fortunately, God countered the sackcloth-and-ashes with a spirit of perseverance. I decided the only way to get better was to keep going.
“Most people won’t realize that writing is a craft,” said Katherine Anne Porter. “You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else.”
Of course, you will find your own ways of enduring the early apprenticeship, but one of my favorites was The Tour of First Novels.
One day, at my most frustrated, I stormed into the library and checked out first novels by my favorite authors. Within hours, relief was humming through my veins. Not that schadenfreude sort of relief, but something productive.
Most of those first books were bad. Some even stunk. And none matched their author’s later output.
Like most first novels, those first books read like seed pods yearning to bloom.
Or: knock-kneed colts struggling to stand.
Two: In the modern era of e-books, the first book might not be so final.
Some months ago, the copyright to “The Stones Cry Out” returned to me.
Here came my colt, running for home.
Unfortunately, temptation was riding with it.
The rationalization went like this: It won a Christy. Received good reviews. Launched a successful series. You should just put it on Kindle. As-is….
But we’re called to be workers who need not be ashamed, “rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15). Since I still didn’t love my first book, it was my responsibility to do something about it.
With prayers for humility and discernment, I proceeded from Page 1 and continued to the end, rounding out scenes, adding flesh to characters, trying to bring the story closer to what followed in the rest of the Raleigh Harmon series.
And when “The Stones Cry Out” was put on Kindle, I didn’t hesitate to add the Christy Award honor.
Because it looked different to me now.
Not only for the new work done, though it played a large part. The difference was lesson three.
I didn’t write that first book to win an award; I am grateful for it. But I am also grateful that the honor didn’t fill me with (more) pride. The simple fact is, I write because God made me a writer. That’s what I’m supposed to do. Any honors, awards, or leading positions on the best-seller list can only be viewed through the lens of grace.
Completely undeserved: And yet, there it is.
And the apprenticeship carries on accordingly.