Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Do I Ever Revise?"

In half an hour or so, I'm Skypeing a group of students from--well, I just went and looked it up, and I don't know where they're from. I know the name of their school, but frankly it could be anywhere. Anyhow, their librarian sent me a list of their questions ahead of time, which I completely appreciate, not so much because I need to prepare answers, but because it cuts down on questions like, "Have you ever been to prison?" which I have gotten before. (No. I have not.)

One child is apparently going to ask me, "Do you revise?"

I am so tempted to say, No. I do not. Every word in The War That Saved My Life is printed exactly as it first sprung from my brow, shining and whole. I don't even have to fix typos.

It would be, of course, the world's biggest lie.

In the spirit of inquiry, this morning I tried to look up my first email from my editor, Liz, about TWTSML. I have long remembered, and maintained, that her initial reaction was to say, and I mean this as a quote, "This isn't really your next book, is it?"

Which is of course editor speak for this is SO bad. We are never, ever, publishing this. Yikes.

It turns out I changed email addresses right about then and so my email records don't go back quite far enough. Liz retired and no longer has her files, either, and Lauri Hornik, head of Dial and my very old friend, insists that Liz would never have been quite so blunt. Lauri understands memory as a fallible thing, which it is, but still I'm pretty sure I'm correct here. Liz's first reaction was oh hell no. And I read her first reaction and thought, damn. Then I wrote back that yes, it was indeed my next book, but that clearly I had some work to do. And I took the 70 pages of novel I had at that point and threw them into the trash. I started again.

And again. And again. For a few drafts I solicited opinions from my husband and daughter, and these were so uniformly negative that I didn't even bother consulting Liz. But then I finally got it. I sent Liz another couple of pages with the triumphant heading, "Ada Finds Her Voice," and these were on the new email, so I just unearthed them.

And they're terrible. Really gut-clenchingly bad. Here, exhibit A, the opening paragraph (skipping a prologue which I eventually discarded):

I'm remembering what it was like, seven years ago when things began.  Susan found my birth certificate, so now I know that I was ten years old in 1939, but I didn't know it then.  It's hard to believe I didn't know how old I was, but in truth my world before the war consisted of two things:  our third-floor flat, and whatever I could see or hear or talk to out our single window down to the street.  Birthdays weren't celebrated in our flat or on the street.  No one ever mentioned mine.
Please contrast that to the opening of the final, published version:

"Ada! Get back from that window!" Mam's voice, shouting. Mam's arm, grabbing mine...

This is actually making my day, because I'm hip deep in revision of the sequel, and honestly it's starting to be a real mess. (And I'm sorry about the double-spacing. I can't get it to stop.) I mean, I'm at the part where most of the stuff that will happen is down, but my editor (Jess) had a sort of brilliant idea about getting rid of a whole bunch of fairly good writing, so I'm trying to do that while retaining my favorite lines--it's a mess. And apparently, that's okay. Because if I can turn "this isn't your next novel" into "Ada Finds her Voice (which, while dreck, was infinitely better than what it replaced)", and the crap paragraph above into an actual novel, then I'll be okay with this sequel too. After all, I do revise.