Thursday, January 25, 2007

Leaving a Book Behind

Some writers hate to finish a book. They’ll wax eloquent about how much they miss spending time with their characters. Even if they’ve written dozens of books, they can still tell you the names of each book’s main characters, and talk about them as if reminiscing about old friends.

Other writers seem to need to firmly close the door on one book before they can start the next. There is normally a 12-14 month gap between when a book is finished and when it finally appears in stores. This means that when a writer is sent out to promote, say, Book A, s/he is actually deeply involved with writing book B or C. Those writers who employ selective amnesia can find themselves in the embarrassing position of remembering less about their book than the fans who have just read it.

I fall into the second category. I recently received a frantic call from my editor: their copy department had done a lousy job on the flap copy for WHY MERMAIDS SING, and the catalogue was due to go to press. Could I please write something? My first thought was, Oh, God; what happened in that book? I mean, I could remember the premise: Someone is killing the sons of London’s most powerful families… But after that? I had to haul out the manuscript and go, Oh, yes; now I remember.

I don’t know why I have this need to repress one book before I can go onto the next. It makes it impossible for me to write more than one book at a time. I’d be interested to hear how other writers handle this.


Charles Gramlich said...

When I was in my 30s I could remember every detail of every story or book I'd written. Now that information is gone without much attempt at "repression." I've never worked on two novels at once, although am considering giving it a try. For short stories I haven't had much trouble.

Steve said...

For me, the characters from the old books are like old friends from, say, college. Once you quit hanging out every day, you start to lose touch.

Some of them make it easy to catch up with, or to relive old times. Others leave me slightly embarrassed and in a hurry to finish my drink and leave. As it were.

The characters in the new works sort of crowd the old ones out.

Hardest is doing character sketches at conventions (I'm also a cartoonist) for books that've been out-of-print for years. I've found myself having to copy off of my own old drawings...

Stewart Sternberg said...

I'm having that problem right now. There is a novel which I am halfway through, but an idea has come up that I can't walk away from. I am going to have to put the first novel on hold and work on this other novel while the iron is hot.

Not being a fulltime writer, but rather an educator, I have to make choices. My plan is to outlining the new novel, then depending on how things run, returning to the first.

I believe in being methodical, but sometimes you have to go with gut.

By the way C.S., if you are ever casting for a villain in one of your stories, feel free to use me. I have been begging people to immortalize me for years. I would have loved to have been a Bond badguy.

cs harris said...

I've never actually DELIBERATELY repressed a story, Charles; I've just gradually realized that I must be subconsciously doing it--either that, or my memory is very bad! An interesting comparison, Steve. And Stewart, I'll definitely keep you in mind for a bad guy!

Chap O'Keefe said...

An interesting post and comments. Most of what is being said sounds very familiar. I usually write three westerns a year. Currently, I have four lined up at the publishers and I'm working on a fifth.
SONS AND GUNSLICKS will be published at the end of March. I've recently written an article for the promotional Black Horse Extra ezine where I use this book as an "excuse" to comment on crossovers between crime and western fiction. The article is called "Detectives in Cowboy Boots" and is presented from a semi-autobiographical viewpoint, mainly about some once well-known writers I knew in my earlier editorial career.
I don't think I could have written an article about my new book per se, because most of the finer details about it and its writing are forgotten. (Coinciding with the "embarrassment" you mention, Candy!) When I read the proofs in November, it was almost like seeing someone else's work.
The book I regard as my favourite, and the one I can recall most about, is generally the one I last completed. The situation changes as I work toward completion on the book in progress.

Jane Henry said...

I've just finished the first one I'm going to have published, so I am in the process of saying goodbye to my characters and hullo to some new ones. It is hard to let go, but the new characters are really bullish about pushing their way in so I think it will be ok. Actually, I have a character from the book after next bouncing about in my head as well. I can't help it, she just popped up and she is very very demanding and won't go away and wait her turn.

I don't find it difficult to switch though, but I think that is partly because I was an editor first and I worked on such a huge variety of different books, I am used to jumping about.

best wishes