December Theme: Gifts (Stephanie Burgis)

This spring, my first book (Kat, Incorrigible) finally came out in America, where I was born and lived for the first 24 years of my life. I've been living in the UK for ten years now, and I was absolutely thrilled to see my book on shelves over here (as A Most Improper Magick) last August...

...but yes. I may be a dual citizen now, but some things are ingrained too deeply in childhood to ever change. Legally, I am both American AND British, but I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, with one specific image symbolizing my biggest dream: to see my books on the shelves of bookstores and libraries in my hometown.

Now here's the frustrating part: when it finally happened, I couldn't actually see it. I'd planned to come home to visit for at least three weeks around the publication date, so that I could have a wonderful book launch at my favorite independent book store (Schuler Books) and sign copies at Barnes & Noble and elsewhere. I was going to visit my old schools to talk to the kids there who want to be writers. I was going to celebrate my book's publication surrounded by my family and friends from childhood, who had always cheered me on.

It was a wonderful fantasy - a fantasy built on all those years of dreaming, from the time I was seven years old onward. Unfortunately, reality got in the way. The truth is, I have a chronic illness, ME/CFS, which hit when I was 28, over six years ago. Travel is very, very hard. I also have a toddler. And when you put together the fact that my ME/CFS was getting worse and worse this spring, while my son (and my writing) still needed energy and attention...

...yeah. That dream was just not practical.

I hated having to admit it. I cried a lot. I wrote one of the hardest emails of my life to my family, telling them I wouldn't be able to come, and the second-hardest to my editor and publicist, canceling our plans for in-person book promotion.

My family understood. They visited me instead. My editor phoned me immediately after reading my email to reassure me that she and the publishing house were completely in support of me and my decision. I was so grateful that everyone understood, and no one blamed me for having to cancel all our plans.

But there was one thing I didn't expect...the biggest gift I got this year, over and over again: I got to see my book on the shelves after all.

Photos came in from my family, showing my book in East Lansing, at Schuler Books and B&N and, maybe most meaningfully of all, at the East Lansing public library, where I'd spent so much of my childhood. But the photos didn't stop there. Friends from twitter and livejournal and readers I'd never met before went out to take more and more photos of my book on the shelves, really, truly there just like I'd always dreamed, in bookstores all the way from Massachusetts to Mississippi to California.

Every time a new photo arrived in my inbox, Facebook or TweetDeck, I gasped out loud with pure wonder. I've cried over almost every picture - but this time, only happy tears. Tears of wonder and tears of gratitude.

Even though I had to cancel all my plans - even though I was an ocean's-width away from home - I still had my lifelong fantasy made true:

I got to see my book on the shelves, just like I'd always dreamed, and that experience was given to me through the generosity of so many people I'd never even met.

I can't even imagine a better gift.


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