The Second Book looms foreboding in writer mythology. An author debuts their first novel, which smashes its way onto all of The Lists, garnering the fledgling writer attention and acclaim. With agents and publishers standing by, they begin their second novel and … bleh. Blah. Ack.
Mira Jacob spent a decade on her first book. "I wrote the book for 10 years, stopping in the middle because my dad got cancer and I couldn't write while that was happening," she told Spine. "A year after he died, I started writing again, and a few years after that I finished the book. My agent, who had been waiting a decade for it, was really, really happy. Random House bought it a few months later."
The novel, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, smashed its way onto all The Lists, garnering Jacob attention and acclaim. Then came the questions.
"One too many people asked me if 'Sleepwalker's' was going to have a sequel, and that kind of question makes me claustrophobic in my soul." In part to push her creative self forward to the next narrative while avoiding this constant question, to skirt the Second Book trap/trope, Jacob moved into a different medium: the graphic memoir.
"This felt like new country," Jacob told Spine. Also, the medium worked for her material. "It was simply the best, easiest way to get what I wanted — a bunch of weird conversations into the world."
Jacob has published shorter graphic pieces at BuzzFeed. For the new, longer work, a memoir called Good Talk: Conversations I'm Still Confused About (to be published by Dial Press), Jacob wrote out a script, and is now tackling the illustrations. "It's a pretty straightforward format," she said.
Jacob tries to create every day, between four and six hours if she's writing and "double that, easy" when she's drawing, surrounded by … stuff. "I work in a crazy loft space run by a hoarder. It's jammed with set pieces and old carnival cast-offs and the occasional disappearing mannequin," she said. "It's usually freezing, so I have a pile of hats in one desk drawer. The other is full of Sharpies because I would date Sharpies if I could."
When it comes time for feedback, Jacob relies on a dream group of writers, one she herself pulled together after a frustrating experience with a previous crew. "I was in a very new writing group where I suggested we bring in more people of color (there were two, including me, in a six-person group) and the ugliness that ensued was shocking. It made me think about the caliber of writer and thinker I want to be around. I'm not talking about publishing accolades, I'm talking about the ability to be insightful, generous and brave in approaching writing, to offer something more interesting to a conversation than fear wrapped in rationalization.
"Around that time, I started building a dream group in my head. I was worried at first that I was being unrealistic — that person dating a jerk who dreams up a perfect and nonexistent partner. But I couldn't stop. I went to bed at night obsessing about it and thinking, which writers am I so impressed by that submitting to them would be as nerve-wracking as potentially helpful? Which ones are leading the curve into the world I want to see instead of running from it? Who can I learn from? I started making calls. Alexander Chee [The Queen of the Night] was the first on board. Kaitlyn Greenidge [We Love You, Charlie Freeman] said yes. So did Scott Cheshire [High as the Horses' Bridles].
"The best part was how every single writer I called said yes almost before I finished the question. There are nine of us now, and we're keeping it there. Every month after we meet, I come away thankful. The quality of the feedback, the hearts and minds behind it--it's pretty stunning. For me, it has been a kind of great lesson — you just can't settle for a bad fit when it comes to readers of your work. At best it will always feel a little off, at worst it will actively stunt your growth."
Jacob's unwillingness to "settle for a bad fit" helped shape the American cover of "Sleepwalker's." After the publisher presented a series of odd cover options, Jacobs started to worry. She asked for a meeting with the publisher.
"I started by going through the things that were okay, you know, trying to be diplomatic, and she said, cut to the chase, tell me why you don't like them. I told her I was nervous we were headed toward the territory of 'Indian for the white gaze' — you know — elephant, red sari, Taj Mahal. We came up with a loose game plan. It was a relief." The final cover features elements from the central family's home in India.
The foreign covers bear little resemblance to the final American cover. The cover used in much of Europe, Jacob's mother's favorite cover, features a garden in the evening. "The German cover is stark — two white people in a desert oasis," said Jacob. "I don't know who they are but I do love the mood."
The Italian cover features a Hindu god, though the book doesn't feature any major Hindu characters. That said, Jacob finds the cover "really beautiful. Beautiful in a way that makes me wish there were major Hindu characters in the book."
While no sneak peeks are available for the cover of "Good Talk" cover, interested readers can catch bits of the new book at Jacob's Instagram account.
To keep up with Jacob online, visit www.mirajacob.com.
Susanna Baird serves as Authors editor of Spine. She tackles her own creative writing and client projects from her dining room table in Salem, Massachusetts. When not working words, she helps lead The Clothing Connection, a local nonprofit getting new clothes to kids who need them. Find more of her writing at susannabaird.com, and find her (re)tweeting regularly on Twitter @SusannaBaird.