The revision is back with my intelligent and meticulous editor. She’ll be reading through it and there may still be some tweaking to do, as well as the copy-edit, but the big work is really done. I’m excited…and scared!
This has been such a long project. I began, 8 years ago, with an entirely different novel when I had a baby and a pre-schooler. After a couple of years of floundering on that book, I decided to take a break and write something for fun. Fun became serious about a subject that I felt called to write. Otherwise I’d have given up because the call was demanding.
I wrote 2 complete books. My first concept was genre fiction–and when it was done, the fastest book I’d every written, it was a competent mystery of its sort. I was also in the process of looking for a new agent, and everyone I approached was taken aback by my change of genre. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought I could do a one-off book and then back to whatever I felt like. Uh no. They explained to me that this would be a career change and publishers would expect a commitment to, not just the book, but more of the same. Who knew?
The alternative was to take the book I’d written and re-write it as literary fiction. Simple. I’d already written 2 books of L.F. Do what you do so well, I was advised. Easier said than done.
Looking back now, I can see that in attempting to do that, I was trying to imitate myself, to take elements from previous works and try to apply them to the very different story I was writing. It didn’t work.
My first draft of the literary version, which took a year, was absolutely terrible. My agent tried to put it tactfully, but it’s hard to be tactful when absolutely nothing in a manuscript is working. After the shock (I thought of giving up the book; I thought of giving up writing), I set out again from scratch because of that call to the story that I couldn’t ignore.
Draft by draft, all my imitations of myself were cut, the last vestiges by my editor at Random House. What was left was everything that belongs to this story–to this book.
After every novel I’ve written, I’ve thought about the twisty process of it, and learned something I believed would make the next novel faster and easier, but it never was.
This time? I don’t know. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.
What I can say is that it’s natural for everyone to tell you that you should repeat what you’ve done before that’s been successful, or to copy someone else’s successful work. But they really don’t mean it. They think they do–but editors, agent, readers who love good books know when they see good work and know when they don’t.
So write in the way that is true for you. Will it get published or be widely read? I don’t know. Nobody can say that one way or the other. That’s the point. Every success that follows the conventional formula of its day can be matched by a success that diverges from the formula and breaks every rule.
But writing your own truth in your own way for that particular book is what will, in the end, make it a good one. That’s the only thing in our control.
This is the only book my kids can remember me writing. My first novel came out when my oldest was a baby, the second when my youngest was. For years they’ve been asking, “Mom when will it get published? Will it get published?”
Now I can say yes. There is a summer ahead of us and I’m looking forward to spending time with my husband and my girls, now going into grade 8 and grade 5. There are other things to think about than writing: swim wear and jewelry making, for example. There are books to be read. Pools to swim in. Plays to watch. And that’s just this week!