It takes courage to call my book The Lons. It doesn’t exactly ring like War and Peace or For Whom the Bell Tolls. The what? people say. The Lungs? Even Amazon’s search engine is confused. “Do you mean The Lions?” it politely inquires. Yet, the more I say it, the easier it gets.
After all, it’s a lot more fun to say the name comes from weird watermelons, rather than a complicated marriage and a tragic accident. That was how I described my first novel with the dignified title of Fighting Gravity. “Gravity,” I’d say, “as in grave circumstances.”
I’m still proud of that book, but it was definitely grave – the book, me, the readings I gave of the book. And I was glad. All that sadness and seriousness made me the literary author I always wanted to be. So did the grants and the fellowships the book helped me win to artist colonies where I met other writers who wrote sad and serious books.
One day, in 2001, just after Fighting Gravity was published, I was doing a writing exercise with my ten-year-old student named Andrew. We had to describe how it felt to be inside a giant piece of fruit like James in his giant peach. Except that my character ended up on the outside of a watermelon that was very very small. I kind of liked what I wrote. So did Andrew. Later, I read it to my grown daughter and she urged me to keep writing it. “Oh come on,” I said. “It’s silly!” But I wasn’t writing anything else and it had been fun to write and I hadn’t had fun writing anything since I was in the third grade. By 2005, my little exercise had turned into a little novel.
It was not sad and it was not particularly serious, and the action only slowed, now and then, to suggest that maybe a metaphoric and mystical something-or-other might be going on underneath the humor and cliffhanger chapter endings and other entertaining techniques. I even liked it enough to submit for more of those grants and fellowships, but the guidelines might as well have read: weird watermelons need not apply. After my agent rejected it and a friend said it made no sense I decided that it was silly, after all.
For eight years the book travelled through the firewires of one computer to the next and to the next, three computer lifespans in all, until one day, fed up with the cynicism of agents, the state of publishing in general, and the relentless rejections of all the sad and serious writing I’d submitted in the meantime, I thought of The Lons, pulled it up on my screen and found that to read it was just plain fun. Lord knows, I thought, we could all use a little of that these days.
So I asked my artist-friend Pat Keck if she’d like to devise a cover-image even before I thought of sending the manuscript to Wanda Mukherjee of The Paper Journey Press. One way or another I was going to bring those lons to light. Yes, The Lons. As in watermeLONS, the perfect title, the only title for the book I invented that reinvented me.