As a career writer with many books under my belt, one of the eternal struggles is letting go of the book that’s finished to move on to the one that isn’t.
It’s a challenge every single time—going from working on a book that’s now been through untold numbers of drafts, then developmental editing (three round), line editing, copy editing, proofreading, where each time it’s been polished a little more and a little more, and all the bits shine and intwine in just the right way, to …
The Mess is the raw material of the next book that the girls in the basement have handed up to me in a big bucket. It’s not at all polished; in fact, it’s the opposite of polished. It’s full of repetitive words and information and clumsy descriptions and “you know, Jane” dialogue. The theme is misshapen and overtly obvious and I certainly couldn’t go into a store and buy anything as one of these characters.
Because it’s not time yet.
I’m right there with the Mess right now. I’m only a quarter of the way in, and until I hit that magical 30-35,000 words, I’m always feeling my way. What does this character think? Why did I layer in that business about toads? Until I can walk around within the world I’ve created, in the skin of the people who are telling the story (I almost wrote, the characters I’ve created, but hahahaha. I did not create them. They created themselves and then auditioned), I’m a little lost.
But the real problem is the nagging little voice that keeps saying in its sour way, “Well, this is nothing like When We Believed in Mermaids, is it?”
It’s really, really not. I am not sure exactly what it is, but I can tell you it’s not Mermaids.
Mermaids is the book that’s coming out in just three weeks. When I sat down to write it, I had just finished a gift book, The Art of Inheriting Secrets, which was a bit of a departure for me, with a puzzle at the heart of the book and an English setting. I’d just moved to a new publisher, Lake Union, and I had new everything. New editor, new systems, new ways of doing things. I adored the book and everything about it, as one does with a gift book that simply lands in one’s lap and begs to be written.
Yes, ok, I’ll do that.
When We Were Mermaids was most adamantly not a gift book. It was a challenge technically, with dual narrators and dual time lines that required switches back and forth between present tense to past tense. (Yes, there are reasons—I didn’t make that hard choice on a whim. It solves a story problem, which is how to keep the reader oriented in time and place.) I had to do a lot of research on events in the timelines, on various occupations and hobbies, on all kinds of things. A very important secondary character proved to be slippery and hard to know, while the main narrator was so unlike me—an ER doctor, a seriously athletic surfer, aloof—that it took a lot of time to find my way into her skin.
It made me work, that book. Work really, really hard. I then worked with an editor who pushed me harder and deeper than I think I’ve ever gone, and worked hard some more.
In the end, I fell in love with Kit as much as any character I’ve ever written. It’s also, without a doubt, one of my strongest books, at least in my opinion. Early reads seem to say the same thing, and I’m excited for it to arrive in the world.
But you know, here I am again, with a Mess on my hands. [Read more…]