Thursday, August 17, 2006

Books from Heaven, and from Hell

Today's t-shirt: "I (heart) the FCC." It's a geeky telecom thing for a campaign we did for a client back in my high-tech advertising/PR days. The idea was that there was a silver lining in one of those FCC mandates because if you bought the right equipment to meet that mandate, it gave you the opportunity to also add a bunch of profitable services. About 90 percent of the stuff we did campaigns for never actually happened (slideware runs rampant in telecom) so I don't know what actually came of all that, but I did get a cool-looking t-shirt.

Some of these t-shirt stories that involve my past jobs may give you a pretty good idea of why I was motivated to build a career as a novelist.

I had a long chat with my agent about Damsel Under Stress yesterday, and I'm psyched. She'd just read the second round of the book from hell, and she said she was blown away by how much I'd improved it from the first draft. The first draft was a struggle, but then I figured out what it was really about and almost completely rewrote it for the second draft. Normally I don't work that way. I usually know what a book is about before I start writing it, but with this one, I guess I had to write the whole thing first. Fortunately, it worked, and I don't think anyone who wasn't here to read all my moaning and groaning while I wrote it would realize how much blood, sweat and tears went into that book. I have some tweaks I want to make to the ending, and then a few notes from my editor, and this one will be done!

It seems like for every author there are a few "gimme" books that seem to write themselves and pour out with no struggle or angst, and then there's at least one Book From Hell that is sheer torture to write. I'm not sure readers can tell the difference, because the results look pretty much the same. It's the process, the stuff that goes on behind the curtain, that's different. Most books fall somewhere in the middle, with parts that seem to come floating down on a beam of light straight from heaven and parts you feel like you have to dredge up from the depths of hell.

Enchanted, Inc. was a gimme book. I almost felt like I was taking dictation from someone else who was having to do the hard parts that involved thinking. I think that's largely because I had no expectations and no pressure when I was writing it. Once I got past the first three chapters that an editor had requested, I wrote mostly for my own amusement rather than worrying about what someone else would think about it. I'd spent the previous eight or so years trying to fit what I thought editors were looking for or rewriting proposals to satisfy various people, and for once, I let go of all that and just had fun. Even revisions on that book were fun because I could feel the book getting better, and even the tiniest suggestion from my agent opened up all sorts of ideas and possibilities. I think I did all those rewrites in the span of a couple of weeks.

Incidentally, my agent has posted my query letter for that book on her blog, so if you're curious, check it out. Reading it was like a blast from the past for me because so much has happened since then. I'm in such a different place now. Then I was so nervous about sending even that query because I'd been through so much rejection up to that point. That book had really come to mean a lot to me, and I wasn't sure I could deal with it being rejected by the first agent I sent it to. Hitting "send" on that e-mail was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

Once Upon Stilettos was weird for me in that it was a gimme in the first draft, then a book from hell in revisions. The first draft poured out of me, and while I was writing, I loved it. As soon as I finished it, I knew there was something wrong with it, but I wasn't sure how to fix it. I wrote the first draft in five weeks, then spent three months revising it.

Damsel Under Stress was a book from hell throughout the whole process. I'm not sure I can entirely blame the book, though, because a lot of it had to do with what was going on with me in the non-book world at the time. There were a lot of distractions during that period involving family and friends, plus it was the first book in the series I'd written after one of the books was published and I had stuff like sales numbers and feedback from readers, so I felt a lot more pressure. I think, though, that by the time I'm through with it, it will be one of my favorites because I love the result.

Book 4 started like a book from hell. It took me weeks to write the first three chapters, but once I stepped back and let the story come instead of trying to force it, it flew and became a gimme book. We'll see what kind of revisions I end up doing on it (I already know of one or two things that will have to change, based on changes I'm making to book 3).

And now to get back to work on revisions to make this book even better.

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