I’ve finished my novel. The short story that gave birth to my book’s central character is only a memory. The man in that story has evolved considerably. He’s deeper, more fully drawn. His suffering is more complex. Behind me are the years I labored to write this story. Ended—if only for the moment— are my struggles with the novel form itself.
The writer Richard Bausch once told me that unlike the short story, the novel gives the writer more room to move around. And because of this, the form may be more forgiving. I agree about the luxury of “room,” but I also discovered the high cost of transitory attention. Those six-week novel-spewing wonders notwithstanding, the novel demands hours of uninterrupted work over an extended period of time. I spent years resisting this fact as I tried to “fit it in” between my freelance work, teaching—daily life. My novel confounded me with its complexity. And all my outlines, time lines, index cards, three-ring binders, and “maps” taped to the wall could not compensate for the hours I needed to put in. In facing these facts, I learned how to write a novel. I also came to understand a good deal about myself.
But now, it’s over. The months of writing, refining, reworking…all at an end. The pages of my drafts run to the thousands. I’ve filled a storage bin with my notebooks and research materials. Rubber-banded bundles spill out from an adjacent box, cover a desk, a rug. But at last…it’s in the hands of my publisher, Blank Slate Press.
John Steinbeck kept a diary during the creation of East of Eden. It’s said he began each day by writing a “letter” to his editor. These entries were published in 1969 as Journal of a Novel. The book is a tremendous comfort and inspiration for any writer, and I recommend it highly. I’m particularly drawn to an entry he made as he was approaching the end of his novel.
“In a short time that will be done and then it will not be mine any more. Other people will take it over and own it and it will drift away from me as though I had never been a part of it. I dread that time because one can never pull it back, it’s like shouting good-bye to someone going off in a bus and no one can hear because of the roar of the motor.”
Steinbeck wrote these journal letters—and the first draft of his novels— in long hand, using specially made books supplied by his editor, Pascal Covici. He couldn’t have imagined the technology-infused world of publishing today. But he did understand the handing off—the time when the intense relationship of writer to work must end. When the words become a book, become a product that moves through a crowded marketplace.
The people at Blank Slate Press have been preparing for this for a very long time. We’ve exchanged hundreds of emails. We’ve had hours of face-to-face discussions. The book covers (one design for the paperback, one for hardback) have been created, voted on, chosen. The text has been checked and re-checked countless times. Galleys were ordered and delivered. Proofed. Advance Reader Copies have been designed, printed and bound and are in the hands of reviewers.
Internet publicity—which was in place from the very beginning— is heating up. My book trailer is nearly finished. Readings are already scheduled; more are being arranged.
My novel will debut this spring. It is a time of expectation and anxiety. A time that calls me to be tireless and cordial….thick-skinned…unflappable….and more outgoing than I really am.
I do not want to go back to the beginning. It is time to send my book into the world. Even as I fear for it…hope for it…shout good-bye amid the roaring of the machine.