Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Last sentence, last period, done. Stare numbly at the computer screen for a few minutes. Attach manuscript to an email and hit Send. The book flies away to New York City. I collapse on the couch with a big juicy comfort-food-style novel and turn off brain. Meanwhile, in NYC, my editor goes to work.

Several weeks later, the manuscript—printed, this time, rather than electronic—arrives at my door via the wings of FedEx. I open the package with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, riffle through the pages. Penciled in the margins are brief notes from my editor: Wow! and Great line and Tighten through here and, in several places, See ltr.

Ltr. means the editorial letter accompanying the manuscript. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that editors don’t edit anymore. If that’s true, then I’ve hit the publishing jackpot, because my editor is amazing. My first draft, like all first drafts, had its creaky places—the action in one chapter not quite tracking with what came before, the emotional pitch a little off, the characters’ motivations gone a tad wonky. Most of those, I thought I’d fixed, or convinced myself, No, it’s fine, really. But my editor has an uncanny nose for spots like this—she nailed every single one I knew about, and some I didn’t. If you’re having flashbacks of English comp class, getting your paper back with red marks all over it like a mouse after a cat’s done with it, fear not. The editorial letter is thoughtful, detailed, supportive, and encouraging. It's not criticism, it’s collaboration. Reading it left me inspired and enthused to tackle the rewrite, full of new ideas and possibilities for the story.

Inspiration and enthusiasm are key, because rewrites are tough. I heard this bit of writing advice once and never forgot it: “The first draft is the writer telling herself the story. The second draft is the writer telling the reader the story.” Meaning, the first draft is where we figure out what happens and what the book is really about. In the second draft, the job of revision is literally that—re-vision. Seeing the story again, but this time from the reader’s perspective. Almost every scene is re-imagined to streamline the action, heighten the intensity, get to truths that weren’t quite realized before. Some scenes are tossed completely. (Another classic bit of writing advice: “Be willing to kill your darlings.” Painful—but necessary.)

From the arrival of the the manuscript on my porch to a finished, revised draft: six weeks. Ten or twelve hours a day, five days a week (I work my day job the other two days). That last week, I was at the computer sixteen to eighteen hours a day. And then...

Last sentence, last period, done. Stare numbly at the computer screen for a few minutes. Attach manuscript to an email and hit Send. The book flies away to New York City. I get dressed, grab a protein bar, rush to my day job. Meanwhile, in NYC, my editor goes to work.*

*To find out how the revised manuscript continues on its way to a finished book...stay tuned.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And the Title Is...

Ten Cents a Dance!

That's the newly official title of my second novel. A lot of people are surprised to find out that authors don’t get final say over what their title is. That’s not to say that the publishing house won’t go with what we suggest; for my first novel, I was really attached to Tallulah Falls, and fortunately the folks at Bloomsbury loved it, too. Simple as pie, warm fuzzies all around.

In her book The Forest for the Trees, former editor Betsy Lerner recounts the story of how Peter Benchley’s first novel got its title. How to convey the terrror of a great white shark hunting humans at a popular coastal resort? They tried Death in the Water and Leviathan Rising and just plain Leviathan and The Jaws of Death and, Mr. Benchley estimates, perhaps a hundred other suggestions. Even his dad got in on the act, with What Dat Noshin on My Laig? But whatever someone’s favorite was, someone else was sure to hate it. Finally, with the book about to go into production, a choice had to be made. The only title that everyone didn’t absolutely loathe was…Jaws.

Which now, of course, seems the one and only perfect title for that book.

Titling my second novel, while not as straightforward as the first, was thankfully not nearly as agonizing as the Jaws experience. The whole year I worked on this book, I called it Taxi Dancer, mostly because I had to call it something besides Second Novel and I couldn’t think of anything else. I kept waiting for inspiration to strike, but then in March the manuscript was finished, it was time to hand it in, and still lightning eluded me. Nobody at the publishing house was crazy about Taxi Dancer—which was OK with me, I didn’t like it, either. My editor came up with Ten Cents a Dance, and that proved to be the winner, to everyone’s great satisfaction!

Next week, I’ll write about the editing process (which I just finished—whew!—and which is why I’ve been absent a while from this blog!)