All posts in March 2012

Coming Up for Air

Revisions have been sent to my lovely editor, and so I’ve spent the past few days reacquainting myself with books, with friends, with crafts (sewing! poorly . . . ). Yesterday, my high school bestie and her boyfriend came to visit and we hiked through Minnewaska State Park, over the Shawangunk Ridge. The ground below was made of grey stone. As we walked up and up, the air cooled. All we could see around us were conifers, the still-naked tops of trees below. As we stood on a cliff face scattered with pine needles, I kept saying, “Where are we?” and “I can’t believe I live here.”

And in truth, I still can’t. I’m only three hours away from the place where I grew up. But this feels like a place where one could embark on an epic fantasy journey. When Jordan and I drive past farmlands, apple orchards and sheep fields, we still turn to one another and remark, “I’m so happy we found this place.”

New Jersey was great. It will always be, in many ways, home, but when you live there, I think you’re always trying to fit it into your mold–to find the things that appeal to you in the land of strip malls and regular malls and pavement (unless you are a person who loves those things. I think I’m not, but it took me 28 years to learn that). Back home, I had to search for fistfuls of trees between highways. Here, it’s the opposite. There are small tangles of highways between trees. And I am increasingly a country mouse. All I need now is a garden, a few acres of land to smooth down a path through the woods, a little house with a fireplace to call my own.

A few weeks ago, I took a break from revisions to go (finally) get my New York driver’s license. I drove to Kingston, spent 20 minutes in the most pleasant DMV I’ve ever visited, where the employees made jokes and were kind. After, I went to a little cafe across the street, had a really delicious sandwich, listened to the girl behind the counter make small talk with some old ladies, read the newspaper, felt really, truly at peace. In the places where I lived before, I felt like I was a scientist, always searching for the good. It’s not that those places were bad–it’s that they weren’t for me. Here, the good feels self-evident. I feel immersed in it. And there’s been nothing yet here to challenge that. New Jersey might have been home, but I’m Home now, capital H. And I’m so, so very glad to be here.

(On the way home from Kingston, I turned off the main highway, drove past neatly-tilled fields and through wild woods where houses sat nestled amid rock. And suddenly the sky opened up and I was on the edge of the Hudson River, looking out to the other side, and to the lighthouse that sat in the middle on an island. This is what I mean–this is where I live. It still hasn’t settled in. In a way, I hope it never does.)

In other news, Mad Men premieres tonight, and I guess you could say I’m excited. I had a dream this morning that it returned as a cartoon full of product placements. Betty and Don were still married. A nightmare, I guess. I suppose I’m a little anxious. I hope it will still be awesome.

Writing and Revising the Best of All Possible Books

Hey guys! First thing’s first: there was a clear winner in the “pick my author photo for me decisions are hard” election. You guys loved photo #3, and so that was what I sent on to my lovely editor! This will be my face, FOR THE AGES.

 

Second of all, I know I’ve been quiet lately. That’s because I’ve been doing that mysterious writer thing called revising. A few weeks ago, right after I got my big ol’ edit letter (alongside a marked-up manuscript which bore a veritable and literal rainbow of sticky notes), a friend asked me if I was planning to blog the editing process. But he wondered if doing so might be problematic. After all, you don’t want to reveal conflicts between author and editor.

Funny thing, though. It’s not that I haven’t been blogging because I disagree with my editor. Quite the opposite, actually–and more on that in a moment. I actually haven’t blogged because I’ve been really busy. Working till three or four in the morning busy. Scratching my head and moving stuff around in scrivener and pushing myself harder than I’ve ever been pushed before busy.

In my off-time (that is, when I’m in the bath), I’ve been reading a biography of JD Salinger. The contrast between ol’ Jerry’s editing process and my own is striking. He finished The Catcher in the Rye and then immediately boxed it up to his agent. He got annoyed when an editor asked him if Holden was “crazy.” He freaked out  over a lot of stuff, it seems. Didn’t want his editor messing with his vision. And while it’s difficult to argue with his end result–The Catcher in the Rye is pretty perfect in both conception and execution, no?–I can’t help but feel like my own moments worrying about my own “vision” and whether someone (an agent, an editor, a critique partner) might ruin it were mostly moments wasted.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying a writer should accept every editorial change unthinkingly. I have strong instincts about my work and what does and doesn’t fly. In our short business relationship, my editor has already reminded me that I should feel free to shoot down her ideas. It’s a nice reminder that my book is ultimately my book.

But I do think that even inapplicable feedback is helpful feedback. Even if a suggestion or criticism doesn’t jive with my vision of my work, it’s helpful to know how a reader who is very different from me approaches that work. Reader response is always valid, and interesting. The ability to synthesize a whole bunch of reader feedback into glittering generalities about what readers want has been key to my growth as a writer.

But I also count myself lucky to be surrounded by people–friends and critique partners, my lovely agent, my lovely editor–who are a whole lot smarter than I am. About the business. About books. I trust their instincts, and their faith in the raw material of my novel. I know that they want Starglass to be the best book it can possibly be.

Because look: Starglass has changed a lot since I first started drafting it. Back in 2010, it was a fairly quiet story about a girl whose mom had died called Daughter of Earth. I needed more conflict, so I though, “Okay, I’ll throw in a rebellion. Or something.” While Terra will always be, at her core, a girl whose mom had died, that secondary conflict–that rebellion–has grown in importance mightily. Minor characters have been fleshed out to become whole people. The world–once a stock SF setting–has been enriched. There are now themes and a hearty dose of epicness.

I never imagined myself writing an epic novel. The writer I was in 2010 probably could not have executed the task. But because I was open to suggestions from people who are smarter than I am, this book has grown so, so far past its original conception. And it’s much better than it once was. A better book.

And fundamentally different. If you’re a writer, you might know the feeling of having an entire universe in your head. Your mind contains characters, stories, which sometimes feel like they’re floating around independent of you and your body and your life. The first version of Starglass was one of these stories. Subsequent revisions–and there have been many–weren’t so much a readjustment of the original vision but a fresh new version. It’s like a “many worlds” theory of books. Revision has not just been a refinement of that original but rather a guided tour through many possibilities. The end result, I hope, will be to find the ideal version–not only the best of all possible worlds, but the best of all possible books.

Help me choose an author photo!

I’m poking my head up out of my revision hole to ask you for some help, gentle reader! I’ve been asked to send a photo on to my editor for promotional purposes. You know, an author photo. Eep! Jordan and I went outside this weekend had had two separate photo shoots. He did a terrific job (I feel so cute now!), but took so many great photos that I just can’t choose! I’ve already polled like six different groups of people, and there seem to be three clear winners. Which do you think should represent me in all of my authorial business (click on any to enlarge!)?

1. Smiley snowy Phoebe

My hair looks great here! It looks professional! I look smiley! But my shoulders look kinda wide, maybe? And maybe it’s slightly stiff? Hmm!

2. Dreamy snowy Phoebe

Look, I’m rolling my eyes at my husband! You can see my awesome stripey dress here. My hair looks great! But I’m not, you know, looking at the camera.

3. Smiley relaxed Phoebe

The second day’s pictures were much more relaxed. But the light was not so fabulous, and neither was my hair. Still, I look pretty cute here.

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Just for fun, here are some outtakes!

Curse you cursed sunlight.

This is me, regarding you skeptically.

Hee!

A rare shot of the photographer in inaction.

I just want to show you my awesome outfit.

Spock eyebrow.

. . . SOON!

Hmm. See, I kind of wonder if this photo should have been A CONTENDA. But I mean, I have no idea. You guys, this is hard! HELP!