Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lassoing Mavericks

For the last three months I’ve been battling the very final finishing phase on two books. You know, the phase you go through the book and make sure the characters make sense and that the internals all agree with each other. Now I’ve done the one "I like the least." (Because, like any good little girl I was taught to eat my veggies before I was allowed to have desert. Not that I’m saying I’m a good little girl, understand. Just that I was taught that just like they were.)

(Part of the problem with finishing and the reason it took so long is that both books were attempting to "come through at once" something that’s about as much fun as if they were human twins instead of literary ones. This is not a matter of a coincidence of deadlines but one of those things where for reasons unknown to you you can’t settle into a task unless you also make progress on another one. This has been known to happen to me with such disparate things as painting the fence and cleaning the kitchen. It didn’t end well in that case.)

Whenever I say stuff like "the book I liked" or "the book I wanted to write" or "the book I liked least" I seem to run into trouble with my non-writing friends who then become convinced that I dislike some of the books I write.

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve written while very sick, I’ve written while very tired and I’ve written while very depressed. None of these occasions is conducive to doing my best work and sometimes I can’t help but delivering things that I’m afraid I’ll cringe for in the future. (I’d like to point out not only am I usually wrong, but ninety percent of the time they turn out to be the most popular of my works.)

I also can’t say the books that sell or that are due at a particular time – at least while working as I’ve been the last ten years – by selling a proposal first are the ones I want to do the most. I don’t know if this was different at one time, but these days it is as though there were two universes – the books I’d like to write and those my publishers think are marketable. I’m lucky, those universes intersect pretty widely, and I’d say there’s probably a 95% overlap. From what I understand from other writers, this is not always true. However, sometimes the books that sell are in the periphery of my preference-universe, not the center. And sometimes they’ve moved there in the time between selling and finishing. However, as with all things that relate to being a creature of flesh in an imperfect world, it could be worse – much worse.

This last book I wrote was one of those and fairly peculiar as it was offered as replacement for the last book of a contract that the publisher wished to modify. It was, as such "sold" on a two line pitch and I guess psychologically it was associated with "failure" in my mind, which made it very hard for me to get into it as a project. And then there was this other siren-call from a book that is not only at the center, but in a sub-genre I’ve wanted to write in for the last... twenty years. A subgenre I have written in but not sold till this proposal.

And yet now that it’s done – through snivelling and whining and throwing hissy fits (me, not it) – I can honestly say it might be one of the best books I’ve written. It’s also, very strangely, one of the most autobiographical (incidents, not the main point) I’ve written. And though it will be published under a pen name (part of the deal that made that replacement thing so unpalatable) I can honestly say that no one could deny it’s very much MY book.

I guess some books are born yours, some become so. And some you have to pursue on horseback across the bleak prairies of writing, lasso them then burn your brand on their squirming flanks and make them yours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Two books coming through at once? Sarah, considering the breath of genres your writing covers, this is a truly awesome mind bender.