For the last year and a half, I have been blogging about the process of getting a first book published, and as the process has unfolded for me, I’ve found it easy to talk about each step along the way–waiting for revisions, doing revisions, getting a new title, seeing the cover, the page proofs, etc.
This week–in fact, this whole past month–I have very little to blog about. The book, or at least my part in it, is done. It’s off to the printer. No more editing, no more tweaking. My publisher’s marketing team isn’t quite ready to get going on it yet, since it is the fall list, and they are still working hard on the summer list. So basically, nothing is happening. The crickets are chirping. The cobwebs are forming. The author is doing increasingly neurotic things to pass the time.
In truth, things are happening. The book has gone out to authors to receive blurbs, and it has gone out to reviewers, who won’t be posting their reviews for some time because they have to have time to read it first (one would assume.) Somewhere far, far away, in a kingdom known as Simon and Schuster, meetings are going on, in which my book is at least on the radar. But for me, nothing is happening, and whatever is happening I have no control over.
If you are a control freak, this is not going to be your favorite part of the process. Not that I’m a control freak, mind you. I’m just a perfectly normal person who prefers to be in control. Of everything. Always.
So really, this part of the process is necessary for a “non-control freak” like me. This is the weaning period, the letting go period. The period where I have to say to myself, “there is nothing more I can do to my book,” and learn to feel comfortable with that. Katerina’s Wish is what it is going to be, for better or worse, and not only must I be at peace with that, but I must also be at peace with the reactions it receives in the world. It may be loved or hated, but either way, it will stay exactly as it is (Unless of course, it gets thrown into massive bonfires, in which case, I guess it will change quite a bit.)
This is an odd place to be. In the past, as my book has received criticisms, I’ve used them to improve it.
In March of 2006, the opening paragraph read like this:
Trina found so many things unbearable about her new home, it was difficult to say which she disliked most. The air was dry, filled with coal dust and the constant smell of burning from the ovens that turned coal into coke. Her throat constantly felt dry and itchy. The two room house was cramped, and they rented it from the coal company for twice what it was worth. Worse still, Momma, Trina, and her little sisters washed endless piles of other people’s laundry every week just to make ends meet, and they worried constantly about Papa’s dangerous job in the mine. Here little Holena and Aneshka never had toys or treats, and Trina had nothing but endless chores. But despite all that, every morning when she stepped outside and saw the endless sweep of dry, brown, featureless prairie to the east, she hated the lack of trees the most.
It needed work, I was told. More than I cared to put into it, so I put it away. Between the fall of 2006 and fall of 2009, it lay in a drawer, abandoned, only to be revived because some people who had read it criticized my choice to discard it. I took their advice and revised.
By the spring of 2010, it looked like this:
My papa’s dream brought us to America. My mother said only a fool believed in dreams, but she knew Papa, so she packed our trunks. And whether she believed or not, that dream swept us out of Bohemia and across the ocean. To my sisters and me, those dreams were as much a part of my father as his big laugh and strong arms, and like his strong arms, his dreams caught us up and carried us all the way.
“A new century and a whole new country!” he had declared on New Year’s Day of 1900, after talking to American recruiters the month before. Sure enough, seven months later we were leaving Europe behind.
It sold, but at the request of my editor, the first eight pages were condensed into one. The opening paragraph that will come before the world in August 2012 reads:
My papa’s dream brought us to America. Momma said only a fool believed in dreams, but she knew Papa, so she packed our trunks. And whether she believed or not, that dream swept us out of Bohemia and across the ocean. We’d arrived, in the autumn of 1900 in “a new land for the new century,” as Papa put it. By May of 1901, neither the dream nor the country felt new. They felt old and worn out. As I stood behind our house staring at a dozen bundles of filthy laundry, I couldn’t help but think Momma had been right.
All of these changes have been in response to the opinions of readers. But now, I enter a new era, in which the reader’s opinion will not–cannot–change the story. It might, however, change the fate of the story. Word of mouth remains a powerful tool for selling books, especially among young readers.
So it is sobering to realize that there is nothing more I can do to my story. It is FINISHED in a way no other novel of mine has ever been finished.
Maybe it’s good I have this calm before the storm of reviews, and reader comments, and sales figures. Because I think I need to take a really, really deep breath.