Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stuck in a Hard Place

One thing about my Super Special Secret Project (I promise, I'll reveal all the moment I am allowed to do so; it's not up to me) is that it comes equipped with a very tight deadline. Tight enough that when my husband asked whether I'd be taking my usual Florida riding trip this winter my answer was not, "Of course!" but "ah, we'll see." Tight enough that my son observed wryly, "You're going to have to work like a person with a real job."

Yes. I am. This doesn't bother me; I've done it before. I once wrote a series novel start to finish in 2 1/2 weeks, and that was while taking care of an infant in my spare time. The day after we moved into our uncompleted farmhouse, my editor Fedexed the page proofs for a novel-length manuscript, due the following week. I once made a production deadline by 20 minutes. I've worked hard and long before and I don't mind doing it.

However, there's hard, and then there's hard. I earned this gig through my ability to tell the truth about very difficult subjects (slavery, sexual exploitation) in such a way that it can be read by fifth-graders, without overly traumatizing them. I'll be doing that again now with a whole different topic, and after two days (yesterday and this morning) on Google I can tell it's going to be tough. When I wrote Jefferson's Sons I had the luxury of taking my time. When something was particularly hard--when, for instance, I learned that the real-life James Fossett (as opposed to my fictional character James Fossett) had been sold away from his family at the age of eleven and thereafter disappeared from history forever--I could give myself time to grieve. I walked away from my desk that morning and didn't sit down to it again for two weeks. When I did, I wrote the worst scene in the history of human writing about James being sold, and I let it stand for months before I tried a different version. And then I let the new scene stand, even though I knew it was garbage, for awhile before I tried again. (I think it took about a dozen tries--I'm not making that up--before I could manage the scene that's in the book.) (I'm happy with the scene in the book.)

This time around I'm going to have to plunge into icy waters and stay there. Which is, now that I think about it, the only choice my main character has. So we'll keep each other company, she and I. But it's not going to be easy.

How do you cope with hard things?