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OUT TAKES ...bits and pieces of story, research, and process


Waiting for the Call

A new old entry! Sweet memory. September 22, 1997. The interview in question is about Cloud Mountain, published the previous spring. The novel-in-waiting is Flash House, then in the earliest stages of gestation. Disaster will indeed strike in the course of writing this novel, and it won't see publication for another five long hard years. Sigh.

I'm expecting a call from a radio interviewer this morning, to discuss the novel I published last spring, publicized last summer, and have half forgotten in the wind-up for the new novel I'm trying to start writing. This is the twilight zone period in writing. Rather, it's the ultimate phase of the twilight zone that stretches from the delivery of the final manuscript through to the saturation of the next novel-in-process. Ordinarily I wouldn't experience this final phase. The publicity for novel A would have lapsed, and I'd be completely preoccupied by the day-to-day struggle between novel B and the distractions of family life. This time, all agreed, it would be prudent to extend the machine, do another round of publicity for A, and hope this might kick a little life into the lower-than-expected sales performance of A. The problem is, I'm not thinking about A.

Writing books is often likened to giving birth. But the whole process of producing and publishing a book is more like raising a child. There have been times when I've been pushing one book out the door at the same time I was in labor with the next. Now that I'm writing novels, however, I find that I must birth, raise, and launch one book before I can successfully conceive the next. And therein lies the rub when the launching of A takes longer than expected.

This is like having a child fail to "take" in college, and Mom has to go out and sweet-talk the dean. Suddenly the child who's supposed to be on his own is back, floundering around the nest, causing conceptus interruptus.

The lovely thing with writing, unlike life, is that, short of death or mental disability, there's no biological age limit on book-bearing. But, as with child-bearing, the process is rarely as smooth as one would wish.

Going into round 2 for book A I will not have the boundless optimism I possessed last summer. I must swallow certain disappointments, bite my tongue over the mistakes made with the launch, certain fears that the work itself falls short of my intentions. I am forced to consider the possibility that my child is not the marvel, the beauty, the promising genius that I thought him to be. It's just possible he's a drop-out. Yet, when this radio interviewer calls I must make nice, tout A's virtues and good intentions, his passion for love and history and juicy secrets. I must feather my nest and crow like a proud mama.

Meanwhile B tugs at my skirts, makes a mess, misses the toilet, and generally screams for my attention. I'm lucky. B has been successfully conceived, bought and paid for by the publisher on the strength of my promise to deliver a healthy, bouncing book, and the birth of the first few pages has given me hope for B's future. But disaster could strike at any moment. There's still a lot of growing to do, and surprises are an inevitable, essential, and constantly worrying part of the process. B is where my heart lies, and I cannot help but resent A's intrusion when he's supposed to be flying on his own. But I have no choice. Both are mine, and I have the parental duty to both equally. And simultaneously.

I must go. The phone is about to ring.
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