Leeann's Letter: On Fate + My First Novella

Novella No. 1, definitely one for the history books.

Novella No. 1, definitely one for the history books.

by Leeann DelHoyo Duggan

As we learned from Cher Horowitz, our Lady of Beverly Hills, a “Monet” is a painting or person that looks great from afar — but up close, it’s just a big old mess. Recently, I realized my life is a full-on Monet. The granular day-to-day often feels like a mess of wrong turns, false starts, and dim hunches. But often, in the long-shot of retrospection, it suddenly all makes sense — those minor decisions that put me on the path of bigger goals, the losses that swept me clear for new joys.

When I look back, I see the events of my life snapping into a kind of focus that I’m often tempted to call fate.

So it was that a tiny decision I made a year ago — to attend the first-ever Novella salon — put me on a path that bettered my life in so many ways I could not have envisioned then, and that I’m still happily traveling today.

See, last October, I was a woman still reeling from twin humiliations: a sudden and traumatic breakup with my long-term partner, and being laid off from my full-time job. Those two things happened in April 2017, just days apart as disasters are wont to do, and I spent that spring and summer in a daze. I watched entire days go by from my bed. I was propped up, just barely, by a small number of family members and friends to whom I’m eternally grateful. I’d lost the mooring of my partner of six years and the anchoring daily routine of a job in one fell swoop. Rent was suddenly a struggle. I probably should have looked for a job, but I didn’t. My confidence was decimated. I felt as solid as a slime mold.

By fall, I decided I’d better come out of hiding, or else I’d not only die alone, but also my body would tragically not be discovered for weeks because I had no social life to speak of. If I wanted a better future for myself than becoming a lurid Post headline, I told myself, I should probably do something WILD, like leave my house. So one day, I sucked it up and sent a few long-overdue texts, made plans for coffee, a movie. I started volunteering with kids whose boundless energy, curiosity, and bluntness left me little room for self-pity. I slowly started to change my vibe from “mushy sadgirl soup” to “snapping out of it.”

One day in a fit of determination, I promised myself I’d say yes to anything a friend asked me to do for the next month.

Understand that for a Cancer with depression and social anxiety, this is a feat akin to summiting Kilimanjaro (which I would not do, too outdoorsy). Within a few days, my friend Roxanne Fequiere invited me to the very first Novella salon. An intimate get-together of cool ladies, which would kick my ass, force me to write, and feature free wine? Lord, I have never RSVP’d so quickly.

Writing and free rosé, TELL ME WHERE.

Writing and free rosé, TELL ME WHERE.

And it was….everything I thought it’d be. I spent days agonizing over my first piece, a short story about a teenage girl who worked at a click farm in Brazil, which one of my reading group members dubbed “eerie and weirdly sad” and “very Black Mirror” (which was what I was going for, basically). I got a little tipsy on the wine founder Abby Adesanya bought with her day job money and almost teared up as Roxanne, Novella’s first-ever selected speaker, read her piece “First Gold,” an essay about the friction between her childhood fashion desires, the ways her mom reigned them in, and the multiple meanings gold holds for her as a woman of color. I remember looking up at her and Abby, two deeply fashionable literary ladies and thinking, “okay, I am fucking with actual goddesses here.” (Btw, you can and should read all of Roxanne’s essays on The Stacks here.)

Dos Dope Queens

Dos Dope Queens

After their Q&A, I screwed up the courage to introduce myself to Abby, who literally dreamed up Novella and brought it to life. She was sweeter than I typically expect women that beautiful to be, and seemed thrilled and slightly surprised with the turnout and everyone’s enthusiasm: “I was afraid no one would come!” I told her I’d come every month, and to contact me if she needed anything. A few month later, when Abby decided to build a team to grow this thing, she did.

It’s wild to look at pictures from that night now and remember that these women were strangers to me then.

Abby, Jackie, Sara, Roxanne, Steph, women I’ve since confided in, vacationed with, gotten tipsy with, schemed with at The Wing, kiki’d with in the group chat, traded career and love advice (to varying degrees of success), met bleary-eyed on many a Sunday morning video chat.

Later, we were joined by Jinnie, Erin, Audrey, Ene, Cady, Chanel, Daniela, and so many others who attended a salon and kept coming back, bringing new friends into the fold and bringing this community to vibrant life with their stories and feedback. New faces joined our team — the literal lights that are Kelsey on social media, and Lourdes and Sandy on The Stacks — our editorial secret weapons with huge hearts and amazing stories to tell. (I’m still obsessed with Sandy’s story about the exquisite comforts of Salvadoran food and Texas sunshine on a visit back home, and Lourdes’ tale of catharsis-via-karaoke, in case you missed them!)

As for the things I’d lost when this story began, well, these ladies also introduced me to the first person I dated after my big breakup. It wasn’t a forever thing, but it thawed me. That’s big, and I’m grateful for it. And I’m now Editorial Director at Novella’s The Stacks, a site I’m enormously proud of, and which I truly believe is home to some of the most thoughtful writing on the web (if u like us, tell a friend). I feel lucky to be a part of it and to have a job with a mission I can believe in.

Yes, I know this sounds Polyanna as hell. But I came to Novella with a deep desire for creativity and community, and I found it here. This community has been a light as I emerged from a dark time. And it’s my dearest wish that you come and find your people here, too.

I see you — trading numbers at the salons, offering each other career advice and connections, saying “hey we should hang out sometime” and unlike in every other situation, actually doing it! I see you chilling on Instagram, getting brunch, scheming on your own big ideas, and it fills my heart with joy. (Also feel free to invite me to brunch like anytime, I am basic as hell and I love brunch.)

So, thank you to everyone who has been a part of this, whether you’ve been here since the start or just joined us yesterday. It’s because of you that Novella is special, that it’s a place where you can find your people, and maybe even your purpose.

Come say hi next week, at our salon with the extraordinary writer Fatima Farheen Mirza, or as we celebrate and shake it down at our first-year anniversary party (HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who purchased tickets and supported this thing! Lemme borrow that suitcase if you win!). Thank you, and I can’t wait to keep listening to your stories in year two and beyond.

Say hi! Leave a comment below or email me at: leeann@novella.nyc. You can follow me on Insta too, I do that sometimes.