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12:42 am: Wright's Writing Corner: The Long Dark Waiting Of The Soul

Prospero Lost: A Writer's Odyssey -- Part One and  Part Two
 

 

I sent the finished manuscript for Prospero’s Children to my editor, Jim Frenkel, in Summer 2001. What followed was a very, very long wait…very, very long.

 

Did I mention “very”?

 

Maybe, I should have explained that by “very” I meant a really, really, really long time.

 


 

At first, I waited patiently, working on other projects (mainly the Corruption Campaign novel I am still struggling to complete.) But as time went on, more and more people got published around me. While I sat there, still waiting.

 

I remember vividly a convention in the spring of 2002, during which I met another author who was waiting for her book to come out. We chatted with great delight, comparing our works and discovering that we had some common themes. We expressed a desire to read each other’s books. Her book was due out that fall. Mine, I hoped, I would hear about soon.

 

Time went by. Her book came out. She wrote more. She won some awards. One of her books was made into a movie. (And I am delighted for her!)

 

All that time, I waited, bookless.

 

After a while, I’m sure she thought I was a crazy person who had just pretended to have written a book. Sometimes, I wondered myself.

 

I cannot recall when I first decided to rewrite the book. Since it was just sitting around, I might as well improve it, right? But I remember December 2003. I suspect this was the second time I decided to rewrite it, but the idea came to me about three in the morning. John was in the hospital, recovering from heart surgery, and I had been up all night praying. Suddenly, I decided/resolved a number of things. (I say decided/resolved because it was four in the morning and I had been praying non-stop. To this day, I could not tell you which ideas came to me and which I decided on my own.):

 

1)  I should stick with Jim, even though he was taking a long time.

 

2) The book was getting long, rather than waiting for the publisher to tell me to cut it, as had happened to John, I should cut the book in two myself and restructure it to make the first volume a more complete story. (This well-meaning attempt was stymied by later events, but I tried.)

 

3)  Once Tor finally bought the book, if they did, I was going to get myself the best agent out there!

 

So, I began the process of rewriting the book.

 

I remember reading that when Tolstoy first wrote Anna Karenina, his heroine was portrayed negatively. Each time he rewrote the book, she became more sympathetic, until she became the appealing character she is today. A very similar thing happened to me.

 

First, Miranda got a lot nicer…that might seem strange, considering that she is rather cold in the first portion of the story. (My one great worry about the Prospero books is that readers might not hold on until Miranda starts to improve. My hope is that Mab and Mephisto will be engaging enough to draw people onward until Miranda’s metamorphosis begins.) But she used to be much worse. Slowly, through three rewrites, the suspicion and mockery was removed, and Miranda became more contemplative and caring about her family.

 

Secondly, the demons got worse…and by “worse” here, I mean more demonic. In the early version, the villains were just supervillains. In fact, the original Three Shadowed Ones had been supervillains in the game the Prospero Family came from. As I rewrote it, though, I began to think that if they were demons…from Hell…that should mean something. There should be something demonic about them, something horrible, or at least wrong. So, with each rewriting the Three Shadowed Ones became more demonic, more tied into their infernal origin.

 

So, I rewrote, and I rewrote. And more time went by, and more.

 

Now, some of you may be wondering what cause this great period of waiting. I am not going to speculate about that, except to say that my editor and his wonderful wife were in a serious car accident in the middle of this period and this contributed heavily to the delay. Other than that, his reasons for not getting back to me earlier are his own. As he is a great editor, I’m not going to say any more about it.

 

By 2005, however, I was getting frustrated. Friends I met in the first year or two of my wait were now established writers. John’s fifth book had just come out. The kids were getting older. And I was still exactly where I had started.

 

That year, World Fantasy Convention was in Madison, Wisconsin, which happened to be where my editor lived. I wrote him and said, “If I get you Volume Two by the end of July, will you promise me to give me an answer—a yes you want to publish it or a no you don’t—at WFC in late Oct. (or maybe it was early Nov. that year, I don’t recall.) He said yes.

 

So, I wrote like a fiend, ignoring my children and letting my mom and John see to them. That was the last summer I wrote during the summer. )Now, I take summers off and spend them with the kids. Back then, though, the oldest ones had only just started school, and summers were different than they are now. )

 

I finished the book and send it off to Jim.

 

 

My Adventures in Madison

 

John and I flew out to Madison that fall, a big endeavor for us. I arrived Thursday and found my way to Jim’s house, delighted to see him again. He had a big party planned for that night and asked that we not talk about the novel until the next day. I agreed, and, thus, spent the afternoon chatting with him about our families and helping him clean his house to get ready for the party. It was a very nice afternoon.

 

But I was no closer to knowing what was going on with my novel than I had been back in Virginia.

 

Friday came and went. I saw Jim a few times. Once I even got up the courage to mention that it would be nice if he gave me a yes or a no while the post office was still open, so I could mail the manuscript home if he did not want it. He gave me a really weird look, as if I had sprouted a third eyebrow in the middle of my forehead, and murmured something I don’t recall, but which left me with the impression that maybe he’d pay to send it home, if it came to that.

 

More time went by. Another writer met with Jim. She was all smiles and hope, but afterwards, she confessed that he had not accepted her manuscript. I lost the last shreds of my hope at this point. I figured that if Jim liked the book, he would have told me, and he just hadn’t gotten up the gumption to tell me yet what he really thought.

 

Saturday came, and, finally, Jim and I met to discuss the book. We decided to go out for coffee. (Being a Starbucks fanatic, I suggested Starbucks. Jim snorted with infinite disdain and explained that here in Madison, they had real coffee shops. I was okay with that.) But before we went, he left for a few minutes to use the restroom.


So, there I was, having flown across country and waited for three, waiting to be told that the guy who had had my book for four years did not want it. Maybe, I hoped, he’d tell me why, and I’d have something to work with. Or worse—and this was my real fear—he was going to tell me that he had never gotten around to reading it after all.

 

So, as you can imagine, I was feeling nervous and glum. Then, something happened that turned all that around in an instant.


Another editor walked by who happened to be a friend of a friend. I’d already talked to her this weekend and had even described my book a bit. I went up and explained that I was about to meet with my editor and that I thought I would have my manuscript back at the end of the meeting. ( I don’t recall how I said it, but I was expecting either to get rejected or to take the manuscript back if he had not read it.) Could I send it to her instead?  She agreed, saying she’d be delighted.

 

By the time Jim came back, I was confident. Nothing he said could crush me (though I was still expecting to be crushed) because I had a backup plan. So, I was cheerful and happy, despite the coming blow.

 

And still, I could not find out anything! Twenty minutes went by, during which we walked through lovely Madison, found a coffee shop, and had a nice conversation about jazz and another author’s work…but nothing about my book.


And then, as we were sitting drinking our coffee, Jim casually mentions, in passing, that he loves my book.

 

If my jaw did not drop off my face and roll across the floor, out into the street, and three times around the state capital building, it was due to sheer unadulterated luck. Sure felt like it did.

 

Turned out, even the part about jazz and the other author had to do with my book, too. Just took me a bit of time to figure out where it was all going.

 

He loved it and wanted to buy it.

 

When I came back to the hotel, now dancing on air, I let the other editor know that I wouldn’t be sending my manuscript after all. She laughed and wished me luck.

 

Assuming the higher-ups at Tor agreed, I was going to be a Tor author!

 

Next week:  Part Three:  The Great Agent Hunt

 



Comments

From:ext_204206
Date:August 19th, 2009 07:55 am (UTC)

Ulterior motive

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Hi arhyalon,

I wasn't aware that writers did rewrites. It makes sense, but I assumed they tinkered, improved sections, and removed large swads as per their editor's request. But then I am not a writer.

8 years! more patience than I.

But I comment for another reason. I enjoy your husband's blog but he doesn't allow commenting from outside livejournal. (This issue antedates the recent surge in commenting he had). Could you ask him whether he would consider allowing OpenID?

bethyada
And feel free to delete this comment.

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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Ulterior motive

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John thought he turned comments back on. Have you tried commenting on any of the new posts?

Could you try and let me know? If you can't, I'll get him to fix it.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 19th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Ulterior motive

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When I try and comment there are 3 radio buttons, anon, openID and livejournal. It won't let me select the radio button for openID

bethyada
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 20th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)

Re: Ulterior motive

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Hmm...He turned off Anonymous commenting a long time ago, because of trolling, but I thought Open ID worked. I'll try to look into it. (In the meantime, you can always get yourself a LJ account just for commenting...that's how this one started. ;-)

See what I can find out.
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From:princejvstin
Date:August 19th, 2009 09:31 am (UTC)
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Hi.

So how much of the novel do you think, in the end, was completely transmorgified by your re-write? Is there anything in particular that you miss in the final draft?
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 12:04 pm (UTC)
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The early parts are still there, for the most part, except the end. It's just smoother.

Much of what was rewritten was deepening and expanding the story. The flashbacks were all added later. The first version didn't deal with what their past had been like.

Also, the end was like two chapters instead of a book and a half. Hell was a weird sf place in the first version. Now it's much more indepth and taken more seriously.

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From:marycatelli
Date:August 19th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
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nods sagaciously

I've done (mostly in shorts) both deepening and expanding, and, on the other hand, redoing the plot. I think the former is a little easier -- but that's not saying much!
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From:damcphail
Date:August 19th, 2009 11:15 am (UTC)

And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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You make me giggle :) Still, it is interesting to see this from the abridged side of things. You definitely showed more patience then I ever could have. Probably why I've never tried to send a manuscript out again to one of the big houses. I've promised Mike I'd try again with the military sci fi one I've gotten myself into the middle of.

Hugs and love,

D-
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)

Re: And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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Thanks.

It did take a lot of patience...which was difficult. One thing I didn't put in that I should have was going to convensions and seeing you and Tee happily hawking your books, while mine languished, and wondering if I should just pull it and try something else.

But, one, I'd made a promise to myself, years before--way before the modern smaller publishers were around--that I'd keep trying with the big houses, and two, it always seemed as if the answer were just around the corner. There was never a point where I knew I'd be waiting so long til afterward. ;-)

You know something neat? So many people bought my book at my local store that they reordered a whole bunch. I know of at least three that were bought there, and they now have four more! (Most stores started with two.)

I realize that's because this is the store near where I live, but still, it was fun to see.

Something kind of funny: usually, as a writer, when you say "I write" people look at you oddly and say, "Uh, huh." But there's this wonderful young woman who works at the local B&N who is one of few people who ever acted like a fan girl. "You write? Oh wow!" and she'd ask, "How's your book going?" with great excitement.

When the book finally came out and I came to the store, a friend had already come in and snapped up the two copies they had. I had to go to the car and show her my own copy. I didn't get to show it to her in the store. ;-)


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From:damcphail
Date:August 19th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)

Re: And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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LOL...yeah, but by perservering you have sold more copies of your book in three weeks than I likely did all together the first version of Yesterday's Dreams :)

I am so glad you have the joy of this. It is well deserved.

D-
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)

Re: And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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It was my hope that the wait would be worth it...but there were a lot of moments when I just did not know.
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From:damcphail
Date:August 19th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)

Re: And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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Well...gee... just in satisfaction value alone! But on top of that, you have sold 213 copies in the last three weeks, just through those channels I can track :) And you haven't even done any conventions yet, outside of World con :)

Great things, lady, great things are coming :)

D-
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)

Re: And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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It's a very promising beginning. ;-)

I'm also very happy that the cover is such a hit, considering that Jim and I originally tried to get them to change it.
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From:damcphail
Date:August 19th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)

Re: And we're waiting, and we're waiting...

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See, that works for two reasons: 1. very classy and eye-catching, and 2. they have no clue until their done that it has absolutely nothing to do with the book! hehehehe
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From:cdenmier
Date:August 19th, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)

Rewriting

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Do you find yourself more frequently re-writing or more frequently editing/tinkering/cleaning up text?

When I was a news reporter I would typically write an article straight through and then edit: move paragraphs around, tweak transitions, add/subtract quotes, etc. Now that I'm attempting a novel (after a too-many-year hiatus from trying) I find it overwhelming to try to tweak such large portions of text. Too many words on the screen! I tend to just rewrite whole chapters (or get 30,000 words into a book, leave it for a while, then come back and start over).

Is this a normal or good way of doing it? In your years of re-writing did you ever think: when is the final draft going to come? Is this story always going to be in flux and never in stone (or, ahem, in print)?

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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 01:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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This is a difficult question.

First rule is: Every writer is different. Up until a year or so ago, I was the re-write queen, and John wrote everything in one sitting. Recently, John's rewritten his recent piece a number of times, and I've done much less rewriting. So, these things can be different, even for the writer.

Other than that, for myself, I do both. I think the art of holding the thing in your head and moving it around develops with time. Sometimes while skating or taking a walk, it will become more clear to me. I often find I need a bit of time away from the project before it really becomes clear what needs changing and what does not.

With me, it's some of both. Some of the Prospero stuff got entirely rewritten. Some got just tweeked, edited, lines moved, improved, etc.

I have another book where I've already thrown away well over 800 pages, and may have to toss out more. Hopefully, I'll get it one of these days!

I realize that doesn't help, so here's something else...one really does get better at it with time...and things really can be finished (or at least, finally sent to the printer, and then it's too late to change more. ;-)

So don't give up! Just keep going and it may well get easier!

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From:cdenmier
Date:August 19th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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That helps!

It seems that practice, practice, practice is the common theme of a lot of writing advice. Stay the course and all that.

Thanks for the note of encouragement!

(By the way, I got your husband to friend me yesterday...can I be a friend of your journal as well?)
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 19th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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Yes, indeed you can. ;-)
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From:catholicteacher
Date:August 20th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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In addition to the project with 800 pages in the circular file, (which were all fun reads for their own sake even without "working,") you also cracked out a full draft of another novel recently that was lightning compared to Prospero.
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 20th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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Yes indeed. My speed has finally improved.

That one is with my editor to see if he likes it at the moment.
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From:catholicteacher
Date:August 21st, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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The 11 yr old girl proofreading it for you likes it very much, as did I.
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 21st, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Rewriting

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Oh, that is so cool! John loves it, too. As do the boys.

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From:princejvstin
Date:August 25th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
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From:arhyalon
Date:August 25th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
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Wow...blinks...That's cool!
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