Once more into the breach
My editor sees right down to the center of the Earth. Have I mentioned this before? I’ve been working with Brett for a couple years now, and I’ve seen what he can do with other people’s work, but having his eyes on my manuscript is by turns thrilling and terrifying. He gets what I’m doing: any writer will understand how rare and invaluable that is. He’s taken on the charter of making my novel into its best self, rather than turning it into the novel he wishes he’d written. Having my editor truly understand what I’m doing feels as if he has looked into my soul–and thought it cool.
In the course of looking all the way into the soul of this novel, Brett has found a few places that needed to be dug into more deeply. In each case, it’s been a place where I had an inkling that something was wrong but no clear idea of how to correct it; once he cracks those places open for me, I’m astonished by what I find inside. Every place he touches grows.
Today I begin work on the last of those–and the most nerve-wracking yet: a chapter late in the novel’s second act, in which an all-but-hidden subplot of the next novel intrudes into this one. It’s mostly a very good chapter, but there’s this one little soft spot in it: a place in which a minor character suggested he planned to stir up trouble and then I didn’t follow through. On the original draft, I got to the end of the scene without having found a natural way to dig into the issue–or, truth be told, much clarity on exactly what the guy was going to do. But it was in all ways a minor issue, and the tension of the novel was ratcheting up rapidly; so I let it slide. So did my beta readers.
But then Brett looked at this chapter.
“Hey,” he said. “Whatever happened with the rest of that bit?”
Have I mentioned that Brett sees all?
Last week I took a run at a quick fix: wrote half a scene in which the minor character began wreaking trouble and the protag headed it off at the proverbial pass. I could smell the can of worms there by this point, and didn’t want to deal with it. We’ve got to finish editorial.
Neither Brett nor I was excited about what I wrote. Finally I admitted that I was just trying to get the issue off my plate and decided to dig back in. It bounced around in the back of my head for days. If this were a movie, there would be a shot of a very big clock ticking loudly right about now.
Two days ago, the meat of what this scene should be came to me in a flash, in the shower. But I was racing out the door and didn’t have time for more than a few hurried notes. By then I could see what the action should be, and was already pleasantly surprised by the thematic stuff beginning to sneak out around the edges. But I smelled some deeper monster lurking there, and I didn’t know its name.
Did I mention we’re trying to close out editorial? We’ve got to be in typeset in 10 days, or we’ll blow our schedule.
Yesterday I had to drive to Decatur again. This is always when I get the best thinking done. On the road I realized that the person driving this interaction is not the character we’re looking at, but another person who is also in the room. And finally I knew the deeper monster’s name.
Oh, this is not what I want to be dealing with today. I am in endgame in editorial on both this book and Leona’s. The next six weeks will be a whirl of editing and typeset and book design and dirty dishes stacking up in the kitchen. I’m afraid of what is going to happen when I crack this scene open, because I know it’s going to ripple through later chapters: little ripples, but it’s too late in the game for any ripples at all. And yet, now that I sense what needs to be done, I can’t let the novel go forward without it.
I am grateful every day for the flexibility of small-press life, for the freedom it affords to do exactly the art I want and the ways it lets me create opportunities for others to share in that joy. But today I feel as if a sinkhole has opened up in the middle of the road, and I’ve got to build a bridge in five minutes, and I’m not quite sure the sinkhole is through growing.