I confess I love it when writers publish their first books, and then post photos of the book in the box it came in, or of themselves or their friends posing with the book, pretending to read it in coffee shops, at the beach or poolside. It reminds me of those first thrills, when life feels real all of a sudden. Sometimes I might wonder if there is a little too much ego or promotion in these posts, but mostly this is overruled in my mind. Because I remember the awe of seeing my words for the first time in print, the joy that comes from sharing something very personal, the gratitude that some extraordinarily competent person or press has found my art worthy of collaboration with their own.
In 1993, Sam Hamill and Copper Canyon Press published my first collection, The Island. It was the last book designed at CCP by the inestimable Tree Swenson. At the time, like most graduate students at the University of Utah, I lived in a characterful apartment in the Avenues. I missed the attempted delivery of the book itself, but the kind mailman left a pink slip. It was Friday afternoon. The soonest I could see my book would be Monday. When I called the post office and explained, the clerk mused aloud that perhaps I could catch the truck when it rolled back in from deliveries. I would need to be in the garage of the downtown post office in, like, eleven minutes. Could I make it?
Hell yes, I could.
It was deep winter in Salt Lake City, the streets were iced and choked with snow. As it happened, my truck was buried, and I knew it wouldn’t start even if I dug it out. I first thought I would have to take my mountain bike down the hill—I was only about a mile from the post office—but as I was wheeling the bike down the flights of stairs, I realized that I had no idea how big the box was. I had no way to carry it on the bike. So I hurriedly stashed the bike back upstairs and took off running, skating, lunging, in street clothes, over the icy sidewalks.
I made it. Gasping for breath, I found the truck, and presented my pink slip to the driver, and set off walking back home with the box of author copies on my shoulder. How far did I get before stopping on the street and tearing open the box to simply hold the book in my hands? About fifty feet.
The rest of the weekend, I barely touched the ground.