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

February 7, 2013

The creative hunch

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” — Frank Capra

Right now I am at my desk many, many hours every day (that includes weekends). The current project: American Blonde, the fourth novel in the Velva Jean series. Technically, I’m supposed to be editing the novel right now, based on my editor’s first round of notes. But what I’m actually doing is re-envisioning and re-outlining and, for the most part, rewriting the entire book from about page 15 on, which means I am throwing out around 600 pages of material.

While my editor did have lots of notes, rewriting the book wasn’t one of them. That’s all me.

I have until May 1st to do this, and it’s going to be– let me think of the polite word– challenging. The easier thing would be to implement her notes and some of my own, cut and rewrite here and there, work on one of the characters who needs working on, and maybe move some scenes around or re-envision small sections. But that would be cheating Velva Jean and American Blonde and, ultimately, myself.

Because I know, deep in my creative bones, the story I want to tell in this book. The story I should tell. The story that is more organic to Velva Jean and her journey and the setting she finds herself in. It’s the story I almost wrote last year when I was working on the book for the first time, but ended up putting aside for one reason or another, mostly time constraints– I just didn’t feel I had enough time to do that original story justice in the short period I had to write it.

The lesson: Always, always listen to your first instinct. This is something I’ve learned time and again. Usually I listen. This time I didn’t. Now I have less time than before to come up with, essentially, a brand new book. But it has to be done.

If I didn’t rewrite it, maybe no one would know. Maybe they would even enjoy the story as I wrote it last summer. But I would know. And every time I picked up that book, I would think of what it could have, should have been.

So the next time you have a creative instinct, listen to it, try it out, sit with it for a while, let it simmer, see if it flourishes. Honor it. That particular idea may not be something you need to follow all the way to the end. But then again, it may be exactly where your story wants to go.

It’s funny how stories let you know the way they want to be told.

January 30, 2012

Behind the Book — The Copy Edits

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:53 am

It never fails. As soon as I start building up momentum (the research, the story, the outlining) on the new book– Velva Jean #4– I’m summoned back to Velva Jean #3– Becoming Clementine. Friday afternoon I received the copy edited manuscript of Clementine, which is due back to my editor February 6.

Just to recap what’s happened so far in the process:

In September of last year, I handed in the manuscript for Clementine (then titled Velva Jean Learns to Spy and, alternately, Velva Jean Goes to War).

While it was in my editor’s hands I began gathering research materials and resources for Velva Jean #4, her Hollywood adventure, which is due to my editor in September of this year.

In December of last year, my editor gave me her notes on Clementine, which I had a week to implement before returning the edited manuscript to her before Christmas.

Since the holidays, I’ve been researching and brainstorming Velva Jean #4.

My editor has since gone over Clementine again, adding more notes, making more cuts, and in the meantime it has also been in the hands of the copy editor. This past Friday, that version was sent to me, which means I have set Velva Jean #4 aside again as I work on Clementine.

The manuscript will go back to Penguin next Monday, and I will go back to 1940’s Hollywood.

I will see Becoming Clementine again before it’s published– after this, we will go through what’s called the First Pass and then the Second Pass. These rounds are primarily to check for typos in the printing and any last little changes. Any larger changes need to be made now, on the copy edited script.

Which means this is it, folks. One of the most important moments in a book’s life.

So I am hunkering down at my desk. I have bid farewell to my friends and my Hollywood notes and research, promising I will see them all next week after I’m through this, because it is pretty much a round-the-clock job. Not, mind you, because the book is in such dire shape right now– I actually think it’s in really good shape– but because I have to read and edit very carefully, knowing that this is the last time for the big stuff and one of the most important moments in a book’s life.

As writer Paul Theroux once said, “Writing is pretty crummy on the nerves.” I would like to second that. But, as nerve-inducing as this particular moment in the process is, it’s also exciting. After all, it’s just one step closer to publication…

January 24, 2012

Behind the Book — Naming a Book

Book titles are tricky. Sometimes they come to you naturally and easily and sometimes (most of the time) they’re more evasive. John Steinbeck said, “I have never been a title man. I don’t give a damn what it is called.” But I do. I think titles are important.

Tennessee Williams said, “The title comes last.” This has, for the most part, been my experience. I spent two years researching and writing The Ice Master before choosing the title, which was suggested by my mother. After my editor and I settled on The Ice Master, we came up with a subtitle: “The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk and the Miraculous Rescue of Her Survivors,” which became simply “The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk” because my editor felt the former was too wordy and gave too much away.

I went through at least fifty titles for my memoir about high school (including the uninspired High School and the more inspired Riding in Trans-Ams with Boys) before my editor– during our brainstorm of 1980’s-related words and phenomena– came up with The Aqua Net Diaries.

In the case of my first novel, Penguin originally wanted to change the name Velva Jean Learns to Drive so that it wouldn’t be confused with a children’s book or a young adult book, but I stood firm and convinced them otherwise. When it came time to choose a title for Velva Jean Learns to Fly, Penguin wanted to change the name to something that could stand alone and didn’t mention Velva Jean (the sales and marketing teams have very good and convincing reasons for this). But I wanted Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and I fought for it.

With this third novel in the Velva Jean series, sales and marketing have again stated their case– more emphatically this time– about leaving Velva Jean out of the title. After all, they argue, she’ll be mentioned in the jacket copy and also on the front cover (which will say: “Author of Velva Jean Learns to Drive“). The few readers I’ve mentioned this to have reacted almost violently– they want Velva Jean’s name in there! I understand this because part of me does to. I like the symmetry of Velva Jean Learns to… But this third time around, I’m ready for a change.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want potential readers to pick up the book and think, “Oh, it’s some series about some girl named Velva Jean, and I haven’t read the first two so I can’t start with this one,” or maybe it’s because I’m, every now and again, feeling the itch to move beyond Velva Jean into new characters and new settings, or maybe it’s because of the nature of this third book– it’s a darker, broader, more epic tale, full of adventure, danger, intrigue, and action (and a grown-up love story!). Or maybe it’s because sales and marketing make a really good case. Whatever the reason, I feel ready for a new title.

The challenge about revealing said title is that, until you read the book, it’s going to be hard to really get its meaning and impact. But then, aren’t so many good titles like that?

E.L. Doctorow said, “You’ll find a title and it’ll have a certain excitement for you; it will evoke the book, it will push you along. Eventually, you will use it up and you will have to choose another title. When you find the one that doesn’t get used up, that’s the title you go with.”

That’s how I feel about this new one. I had a couple of other titles for it at first, but I wore those out. Then my editor suggested one– what ultimately became the final one– and I wasn’t sure at first. I mulled it over, I tried to think of others, I tried living with this one or that one for a day or two. But I kept coming back to the one she suggested. And now I like it. I really do.

So what is the final title for Velva Jean #3? You’ll have to tune in here tomorrow for the reveal…

January 18, 2012

Behind the Book — The Author Photo (part 2)

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — jennifer @ 8:05 pm

About an hour ago, I sent my new author photo off to New York. Unless the good folks at Penguin want or need to change it for some reason, here is the winning photo:

What do you think? Would Velva Jean approve? (After all, I am wearing red lipstick.)