Thursday, October 17, 2013


For the past few weeks I have been away from my novel.  This is not laziness; this is how novels are made.  You send a draft off, and you put the novel Away.  If you read it, pick at it, worry over it, you'll never see it fresh, and without seeing it fresh you can't evaluate it properly, and if you can't evaluate it, you can't make it better.

Now, there was really nothing stopping me from immediately starting work on another novel while the one I was working on rested, but my excuses were these: 1) the next novel will either be a sequel to this one, or what I'm calling my "Egypt book."  (I never have proper titles until the very end, because I suck at titles.  Once one of my novels had its title changed post-production on the advice of the sales department.  I'm not kidding.  It was a good change, too.) 2) I can't work on the sequel to this novel (either the "Ada book" or the "England book" depending on whether you're talking to me or my editor) until I know how this novel ends (I tried that once and it really didn't work).  3) I can't work on the "Egypt book" until I've finished the research for it, or at least gotten farther than I have (this may be a spurious reason).  4) I can't work on the "Egypt book" because it takes place in England/Egypt in the 1920s and the "England book" takes place in England during WWII, and those two settings are simultaneously too close and too different for me to hold in my head at once.

4) is the real reason for not working on the Egypt book.  I have found I can easily go back and forth between, say, The Appalachian Trail during the present day, and WWII France.  I can also shuttle between present time/anonymous American place, and France during the age of Marie Antoinette.  Those are seismic shifts.  You won't muddle the details.  But English society changed a lot in the 17 years between my Egypt book and my England book; the changes are important, yet relatively subtle, and I struggle to hold them in my head at the same time.

That, and I liked having a few weeks off.

What I liked even better, however, was my super-wonderful editor's fast and wholly lovely response to this draft.  She started her email out WOW.  It's hard to imagine a better opening word than WOW.  Even if she had gone on to make a lot of big change suggestions (a favorite of mine, from another novel, was her casual, "I'm not sure first person is the best voice for this.  Let's try it in third."), which she didn't, I'd still be pretty tickled about WOW.

Anne Lamott is a writer I mostly adore, but she does one thing that makes me crazy:  she repeats, ad infinitum, that writers need to cut half the words from their first draft to their second.  I'm sure this is how Anne works, and judging by the results, it's a good system for her.  It is not how I work, not at all.  I add scenes throughout, over and over, layering the story so that each draft gets longer and more complex.  You'd be surprised by what I lever into my manuscripts, if I ever let you see them at their raw, just-hatched stage.

So I'm off to get down to my real work.  I leave you with this line from Kevin Henke's classic Lily's Purple Plastic Purse:  "Wow.  That was just about all [s]he could say.  WOW."