What uppity-ness this writing a blog on a single idea stretched out over three entries and fifteen days! I mean, who the hell do I think I am? But this is the last I will have to say on the matter until I say something more on it, I promise…really.
In July of 2009, two years into this odyssey of writing a book, I had what I thought was a finished product. Just needed a couple of days running the old spell check through the whole thing, and off to prospective agents. But then an idea popped into my head…an already shaky proposition as my recent history had proven, but this one was really dangerous. As in six more months of work, dangerous. As in six more months falling deeper into debt, dangerous. As in practically rewriting the whole book, dangerous.
I was harmlessly reading aloud from the first chapter, to myself…which is more sane than it sounds, I think. I hope. And since this chapter was the story of Ethan starting out in Ireland during The Hunger, I slipped into a bit of a brogue while reading the dialogue…then eventually while reading the prose, too. And it just sounded right, for Ethan to have his own natural voice like that. And if Ethan merited it, then so did the other main characters…Mary would have several voices actually, depending on the situation, having to be a chameleon between southern belle and field-hand dialect and everything in between…Marcella would be proper nineteenth century but with attitude, two-thirds Elizabeth Bennet and one-third Gloria Steinam…and Micah would be reserved, withdrawn, speaking only when necessary and only what was necessary, like three old men I overheard having coffee one Sunday morning at the Nice n’ Easy in Holland Patent, N.Y., never using five words when three would suffice.
Soon these voices were all I could hear when I went back over what I had spent two years and my life’s savings on writing. And I knew that this was a way to make the book better. I felt it was good enough to get published right then, but this was better. And what good is all this uppity-ness if in the end it settles for good enough? How many endeavors end up on the virtual scrap heap of good enough? And I don’t mean the sort of thing that we pour everything into and come up short, but the sort of thing we grow tired of, lose confidence or desire, and put aside. I know that defined my entire life to that point…a long history of inspired beginnings, earnest efforts to a point, and then the slow fade into good enough.
But there was something different about this particular endeavor. Perhaps it was something as mundane as being on the north side of forty by then. Perhaps it was having come so far…two years without two consecutive days away from it, dreaming of the book, having it a constant presence in my waking thoughts. Perhaps it was feeling that I owed more, everything I had to give, to these four people I’d created and followed around for two years (and I don’t really mean metaphorically followed around…yes, it does sometimes walk a fine line between creativity and madness). Or perhaps it was just being so tired of good enough that it had to eventually inspire either quitting entirely, or straining to the “last full measure of devotion”, to quote Mr. Lincoln.
Six months later, I’d completed it. Then came rewrites after feedback from my new agent. Then came more rewrites from my editor’s feedback. And more rewrites. And more rewrites. Until, about three weeks ago, I spent the better part of a twenty minute phone call with my editor’s assistant deciding whether to keep or drop an “s”, a single “s”, from a particular colloquial expression. Just over four years on this journey, more rewrites than I ever imagined I’d do when I first started out (and if I had known, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so eager to write a book)…and one final “s”…and then it was done.
And one last bit of uppity-ness by way of summation: the book is perfect…for me. By which I mean that I would not change even an‘s’ or an apostrophe in it. It is the completeness of my present abilities. Of course nobody else will see it that way. But they’re not supposed to…remember, this is my verse. Some may like it, some may hate it. None of that is for me to control, or to cater to, lest it become less my verse and more theirs. And besides, it’s rather nice to linger in this feeling for a few weeks, having given everything I had to give to one thing, for once in my life. I smile now just writing those words. I wish the same for all of you.
May the road rise up to meet you…but even if it doesn’t, a little uppity-ness will get you through.