Saving My Spot on the Shelf

I have a confession to make. Every time I go into a new bookstore, I always look for the shelf where my books will sit one day. Depending on the selection and the genre I’m currently working in, I usually fall between the works of Robert Easton and the novels of David Ebershoff. I don’t know why I do it. A touch of vanity? Camaraderie? Reassurance? A challenge?

I’m not sure what compels me to search the Es — with Dickens and Dumas watching from above and Faulkner and Fitzgerald standing guard below — looking for a book that hasn’t even been written yet. Once I find the place, I push the books aside a smidge as if to make space. At this point, I start feeling silly and wander off to another aisle.

There’s something about this ritual that fires my imagination. The shelf is a finish line. It’s real. I can touch it. It’s more than a little self-indulgent, I’ll admit, but it does boost my confidence. When I get back to my computer, I’m more resolved to get to work — to actually write instead of just dreaming about writing.

And someday soon, when I scan the fiction section, I won’t find an empty space between Easton and Ebershoff; I’ll find a novel by Jonny Eberle. Right where it’s supposed to be, in the spot I saved for it.

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Update (2023): A few days after I published this piece, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I received an email from the author David Ebershoff. He wrote, simply,

“Hi Jonny–

And I look forward to seeing your books there on the shelf, slightly ahead of mine.

Good luck with your writing.  It seems you are well on your way.

David E”

It’s me a little longer than I expected to get there, but even a decade after getting that email, David’s note of encouragement still motivates me. I haven’t written than novel yet. The goal posts may keep moving, but I still have this feeling whenever I step into a bookstore and I’m greeted by that warm, inviting smell of paper and binding, that there is a finish line. That shelf is still out there—with enough space for all the stories I hope to tell.

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