Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

June 4, 2013

The book that nearly killed me (and my loyal literary cat Lulu)

TiredMe

On Saturday, I sent American Blonde off to New York and my editor.  From February till June 1, I conceptualized, outlined, researched, wrote, and edited 753 pages, which became the 525 pages I emailed on Saturday.  I’ve had to write most of the Velva Jean books quickly– Velva Jean Learns to Fly and Becoming Clementine each were completed in about nine months– but this is the fastest I’ve ever written a book.  (Even though most of the time I was working on it, I felt as if I’d been writing it my whole life and would always write it and that it would never end.  Ever.)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  I handed in the original version of American Blonde last September.  But by the time I received my editor’s notes on the manuscript months later, I’d decided that the book needed to be rewritten from page 15 on.  Not just tweaked or edited, but COMPLETELY REWRITTEN, as in an entirely new plot, new characters, new everything.  This wasn’t something my editor requested, but I knew in my writerly bones what the story needed to be.  And it wasn’t.  So I wrote it.  Again.  Only in less time!

I went through more upheaval while working on this project than I did with any of the others.  To name just two of the upheavaliest… There were the recurrent eye problems from sitting at the computer every single day since February 1.  These last few weeks, I often had to type with my eyes closed because it hurt too much to keep them open.  Ahhh… And in March, my wondrous literary agent of fifteen years went missing, only to turn up in the hospital, where he died April 27 very unexpectedly.  I’d been with John Ware since the beginning, and suddenly, in the midst of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I found myself without my creative champion, mentor, and dear friend.  (During the roughest deadlines, John would call me just to tell me a joke or leave an old, scratchy blues tune on my voicemail.  “Onward, kid,” he would say.)

TiredLulu

So when I crossed that long-dreamed-of finish line this weekend, the only sad moment was realizing all over again that John isn’t here to read the book.

But my eyes have slowly but steadily started to clear a little, and my mind is beginning to relax a little (as much as it ever does), and I am damn happy with the state the manuscript is in. (Lulu, incidentally, is exhausted. She has been sleeping nearly non-stop since Saturday, and this is a cat who rarely ever ever sleeps.)

As my mother says, You write it anyway and in spite of and because you have to (on so many levels).  And as someone tells Velva Jean in American Blonde:  “You have to be willing to work.  Just when you think you’re giving your all, know that you can go past that and give more.  You can always give more.  Don’t give up.  Don’t just rely on what you know you can do.  Think of what you hope you can do and then do it.”

Here’s a very tiny (and I mean seconds-tiny) movie that captures how it feels to have this book– for the time being– off my desk:

THIS JUST IN:  My editor has sent that manuscript back to me, asking me to trim 19,000 words before she reads.  And so, it seems, I spoke too soon…

March 14, 2012

Telling a Book Goodbye

There’s a very strange something that happens when you finish a book. Call it Writer’s Postpartum, but it is a kind of mourning/grieving/losing-your-best-friend/wandering-about-the-house-without-a-purpose feeling. It’s the feeling that something is missing, that something is not quite right, as if you’ve suddenly woken up to find yourself very far from home. When I’m done with a book, I always feel a bit like Miss Havisham– lost and sad and rambling about in the ruins of her mansion.

Because there are so many stages of a book, the postpartum can come at many different times, the worst of it being just after you turn a book in. For months, you’ve been rushing, rushing, rushing, and pushing yourself beyond all mental/emotional/physical limits to finish it, and then– just like that– it’s gone and on your editor’s desk, and it doesn’t matter if you have another book lined up right afterward, waiting to be researched, outlined, written. You still have that overwhelming feeling of loss.

On Friday, I Fedexed the first pass loose galleys of Becoming Clementine to my editor at Penguin which, in English, means that I’m essentially done making changes to the book. I will see the manuscript one more time– for what is called the second pass– but that will basically be to proof for typos. All major changes are now completed. Now, on the one hand I’m thrilled not to have to read the book again with the kind of intensity you have to give it when making edits, large and small. And there is another book to be written before September, after all, so I do need to be concentrating on that. But those postpartum feelings still crop up.

I’m not the only writer to experience them. Some of my favorite quotes on the subject:

“The book dies a real death for me when I write the last word. I have a little sorrow and then go on to a new book which is alive. The rows of my books on the shelf are to me like very well embalmed corpses. They are neither alive nor mine. I have no sorrow for them because I have forgotten them, forgotten in its truest sense.” — John Steinbeck

“I usually have a sense of clinical fatigue after finishing a book.” — John Cheever

“Writing a book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty… like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again.” — Daphne du Maurier

“When a book is done, he has his own life and you forget about him. He goes and lives alone; he takes an apartment.” — Oriana Fallaci

“I scarcely look with full satisfaction upon any (of my books); for they do not seem what they might have been. I often wish that I could have twenty years more, to take them down from the shelf one by one, and write them over.” — Washington Irving