Monday, July 28, 2014

The Amazing In-Box of Delight

Sometimes I have finished writing one book and had no idea what to write about next. I had to mount searches, quite literally, reading up on vague ideas, following others down little blind paths, until, finally, I found something I felt passionate about.

This is not one of those times.

Right now I have unwritten books lined up in my head like taxi cars at the curb of JFK. I have ideas under contract, so that not only do I know what's coming out in March, 2015 (The War That Saved My Life), I also know what's coming out in March, 2016 (no title yet) and also probably March 2017 (no title on that one yet, either) (I don't really do titles.) And as long as I keep writing at a sparking pace I've got a candidate for March, 2018, neatly plotted out and at least partially researched, waiting inside my head. Tapping its toe, impatiently. And those are just the novels. I've got picture books jostling for air time as well.

I have never been a patient person, to the extent that my agent once gave me a small figurine of a brooding woman with wings, entitled The Angel of Patience. I used to be very proud of the fact that I was publishing a novel a year, with picture books thrown in for extra. Then it took me four years to research, write, and revise Jefferson's Sons. And it will be a full three years between that and The War That Saved My Life.

It was hard on my pride to go so long between books, but here's the funny thing: it was good for my writing. Jefferson's Sons and The War That Saved My Life are without doubt the two finest books I've written, and they got that way by hard work, patience and lots of revision. Now I'm speeding up the clock again--I can't talk about my Special Secret Project yet, except I'll say that I have to write both well and quickly, and also I'm thrilled to be doing it.

What's really gotten weird are my dreams. I don't remember dreaming about a book before TWTSML. I've always been able to have conversations with my characters inside my head, but only when conscious. The characters in TWTSML showed up in dreams long before I had their story figured out. Little Jamie holding a monstrously ugly cat. "I'm keeping him," he announced.

"No," I said firmly, in my dream. "You are not. There are no cats in this story." Jamie slid his gaze sideways, avoiding mine. "His name's Bovril," he said. "I'm keeping him. He's mine." My dream mind said, "Bovril? What kind of name for a cat is that?"

He kept the cat. The dreams kept coming. And now it's getting worse--now they're all in there. Jamie in the sequel, keeping fire watch from the church tower, the light of bombs reflected in his face. Ada in a brown coat and somber hat, her gloved hands folded on her lap.  Four little girls playing with dolls beneath a spreading tree, and a bleak prison courtyard so reminiscent of Robben Island. The flickering light of torches off  painted tombstone walls, and a slight British child trying not to stammer when he speaks. "But sir, when you die they will weigh your heart against the feather of the truth--"  "Are you telling me I'm dying?" a harsh adult voice barks in reply.

This is how it goes now. All the time. I'm telling you, it's fantastic. It's beyond effing wonderful.