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July 27, 2006

Revisions

"Dear Editor:  Enclosed you will find my finished manuscript. I know you'll read it with your usual thorough diligence. Please be ruthless! As always, I want to produce the best story possible, and I am eager to do whatever's necessary to make the book the best it can be.

Yours, Nancy

Those are the words I type in the letter that accompanies my "finished" manuscript when I turn it into my editor every year. I want her to know that I'm willing to make as many revisions as needed to make the book wonderful.

But what I really want to write is, "Here's this f$%!ing stupid manuscript.  I never want to see it again. If  you don't like it, shred it or burn it and scatter the ashes over Staten Island.  Just don't send it back to me because if I'm forced to read this shit again, I may climb the nearest clock tower and lay waste to--"

Well, you get the idea.

This year, I tried to finish a manuscript while doing a driving tour of several states to promote HAVE YOUR CAKE AND KILL HIM TOO. (Which is still selling well, thank you for asking.) I know there are authors who can write in coffee shops, baseball fields and maybe speeding rockets and certainly hotel rooms, but I'm not one of them anymore. I need silence. In fact, I need days and days of serenity to gather my thoughts sufficiently to write a book. My brain just can't take more stimulus than a cup of cold tea.

This year's resulting manuscript was . . . not great. I usually don't turn in a manuscript until I know it's worthy, but this time I simply ran out of steam. Not to mention time.  My editor, always polite, was getting nervous, I could tell. So I turned it in against my better judgment and waited for the revision phone call. When it came, my editor's tone of voice tipped me off immediately. She didn't like it. Not at all. The book was too dark. The plot didn't make sense. The characters were lackluster. The final chapter included a colossal cheap shot. I had lots of work to do.

Nothing she said surprised me. I knew most of it already and appreciated hearing her suggestions for fixing the problems.  The rest of her criticisms I was grateful to hear, too.  I know she's someone who really wants to help me make the book better.

So . . . I had major revisions to do for the first time in many moons. As I dug into the book, I came up with even more changes I felt needed to be made. The biggest challenge for me is cramming the whole story and all the language into my head at one time so I know that if a detail appears on page 6, I must be sure it matches the corresponding reference on page 387. I must grasp the whole story in one gigantic mental document, and I need all my poor wits to do it.

Then my best friend died, my elderly mother broke her wrist, both daughters graduated from their respective schools (hey, good stress is still stress!) and I came down with pneumonia. In July. With the clock ticking, I struggled to do the re-write. I tried to be witty and amusing during a stretch of personal lousiness. I had no choice. I had to do it because the book is due in production next week. My dear husband took a 5 day motorcycle trip in 90+ temperatures to give me complete peace, and I worked 16-hour days the whole time he was gone. I wore the same bathrobe for days and ate tuna fish from cans, alternating with Wendy's mandarin chicken salads. And an entire pound of peanut M&Ms. Plus lots and lots of Rolaids. My garden withered. The Book Tarts sent me encouraging emails. My neighbor phoned to make sure my corpse wasn't rotting on the living room floor.

But I did it. I finished the sucker.

Hey, it was hard work.  But it wasn't standing on a street corner in Fallujah watching for suicide bombers or even passing mandarin chicken salads out the drive-up window at Wendy's in the blazing hot sun.  It's the work I choose to do.

When, in a blaze of triumphant glory, I sent the revised ms yesterday, I immediately received two out-of-office auto replies--one from my agent and one from my editor. They're at the RWA convention listening to writers wrangle about what romance is and isn't. I could have revised for another week instead of breaking my neck to get it done. But, no.

C'est la vie.

During all this angst, my daughter Cassie was studying for the bar exam--that horrible, awful, very bad test that all lawyers must suffer. This grueling rite of passage takes two days to complete, and they don't even get the results for 8 weeks. It's killer pressure because their careers hinge on successfully preparing for and taking this one incredibly difficult exam. And my daughter--what a trooper!--studied without exhibiting any of the melodrama she grew up observing at home.  (That would be . . . uh, me.) She was self-disciplined to the n-th degree and managed to keep her sanity, too. Her marriage stayed together. She didn't have a meltdown. Best of all, she thinks she passed.

So in my post-deadline glow, I'm reminded that this is what a writing career is--showing up and getting the work done in time even when you're sick of it and would rather watch Oprah and eat mango popsicles. You stick your butt in the chair and keep it there until the damn thing is finished. And then you do it all over again.

Damn, Nancy, you're thinking. Another lecture about self-discipline?

Uh, no. Today I'm celebrating letting go. Trusting your reader friends or your agent or your editor to step in and point out what needs to be done. And doing what they tell you to do because they're the ones who are thinking straight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to clean up the Post-It notes that are ankle deep here in my office.

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Comments

I'm hoisting a glass of virtual champagne in honor of your newly revised manuscript. I have no doubt it will be a good book. Real writers always worry about the quality of their work. It's the ones who are sure they've written the great American novel who write bad books.
Elaine Viets

Isn't it amazing how one can survive a series of intense experiences, grief, illness, injury, writing a future best seller,...while those post-it notes that breed like bunnies???

I hope the effing book has an effing passage about the effing protagonist's effing neighbor's effing roof getting effing repaired by effing shirtless m-f'ers, with lots of effing ogling going effing on. During m-f'ing quiet time.

Probably not the record, but not bad, huh?

Nancy, I know no one more disciplined than you. Cassie did not spring from whole cloth. (Or maybe she did and you and Jeff have some explaining to do.)
I'm sure it's a fabulous book. And, like Elaine said, it's the ones who don't worry who write crap.....GOOD JOB!

First things first - How is Mick? If you're reading this and you don't know who Mick is, you need to get yourself out to a bookstore and start Nancy's Blackbird Sisters mysteries.

Now - I agree - I'm sure the book is great. Plus, now you have a few more days if you get the urge to hit it again.

Finally - GO CASSIE!!! If her post Bar-Exam experience was anthing like mine, she's having Mimosas and Motrin about now and getting ready to pass out.

Well, just don't let them edit out all of the dark bits. I like a touch of dark...or more than a touch. Humor and darkness go very well together.

Josh - not to worry. Those guys are at my neighbor's house today. Not sure what OSHA would have to say about the keg actually on the roof while they're up there...

Okay, maybe I just finally have time to read the news after finishing the effing (thank you, Josh) book, but does anybody else think that the one who really ought to be in jail is Andrea Yates's lunkhead husband? I mean, really! I am outraged!

And now he's married again??

I guess the thing to do is make him a character in a book, huh? Man!

Oh, Lord, yes, he should be in jail! I put most of the responsibility at his door. She'd been ill for some time, and still he kept her pregnant and at home with those poor children...home schooling them, for God's sake.

And now he's remarried with a new baby.

With 30K words left for me to plunk out for the rough draft of what I really hope is novel #1, it's nice to know the "pros" have trouble sometimes do forcing themselves to just buckle down and write in the face of mango popsicles (or in my case, the first season of Veronica Mars on DVD)

Nancy - speaking of bad spouses, I think you blogged about the Dr. Moomba before.

Since you were in a Wendys-induced zone last week, you may have missed the fact that, after months of speculation, the wife's lover finally cracked and confessed. The wife was arrested too. Jail is too good for those two.

Yes, here's the latest on the case of Dr. Moonda's murder. It would make a book except it's all cliches: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06206/708350-85.stm Very, very sad.

Wasn't Mr. Yates keeping his family in an abandoned bus for a while? And she was supposed to home-school them there??

As my mother was being wheeled into the delivery room with me, her fourth baby in 4 1/2 years, and the first since the mentally retarded one two years hence, my father, unhappy that all she had been able to produce was girls, leaned over to her and said, "if it's a girl, we are going to try for another."

He got me, and she got relief, three children too late.

Congrats on finishing the book! I totally agree, Mr. Yates should have gone to jail--he was more guilty than Andrea.

Yes, they lived in a bus for some time, but they were in a house at the time of the deaths, if I remember right.

I don't know if Mr. Yates should have gone to jail, but I know that Andrea passed my "crazy person" test, and, yes, I do actually have one of those. He certainly was guilty of being a bad husband, but there aren't enough jails to hold all of us who might be that.

Josh, you've got to tell us about your "crazy person" test. C'mon.

"If a person does something that only a crazy person would do, then that person is crazy." Drowning your five children in the bathtub one after the other qualifies. Driving your two children into a lake in their car seats because they are getting in the way of an affair does not qualify. Killing seven of your babies over nine years (happened in the '50's and '60's in Philadelphia with Marie Noe) under Munchausen by Proxy qualifies.

It's sort of self-defining. Sort of.

Nancy! Nancy! You are telling my story, except that I'm one month behind you and my children aren't studying for the bar and I don't have pneumonia. You give me hope, that one day I will change out of my pajamas and become human again.

Nancy, popping up for air between running and back forth to the new house, so I can say CONGRATULATIONS! Hope you can give yourself some time to relax and recuperate!

Congratulations Nancy, and thanks for the article on Laura Lippman.

Congrats, Nancy! I think the two of us alone keep GM / Post-It in business. We should get some sort of bonus.

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