Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When Is a Book ‘Done’?


I’ve spent the past month on the changes my editor suggested for When Maidens Mourn.

Her suggestions were not massive or even extensive, but I'm not one of those authors who can dash off revisions in a day or two. In fact, I probably spend more time revising my books than certain prolific authors spend writing their books. It takes a lot of thought, some quiet back-burner mulling time, lots of agonizing and thrashing and snarling, and slowly, bit-by-bit, I feel my way to a revised manuscript.

Am I ever satisfied? No. I sent the revised manuscript for When Maidens Mourn to my editor last Thursday night, because I was determined to get it over and done with before the holiday. Steve and I spent a blissful three days up at the lake, during which I spent some time thinking about my next books and second-guessing some of the changes I’d made on Maidens. As a result, when I got home Sunday night I sat down to write my editor a quick email: “I know I sent you the revisions for Maidens before I went away for the weekend, but while I was gone I did some thinking and want to go back and tweak a few things. So delete the chapters I sent on Thursday, and hopefully I'll get a new, improved version to you by the end of the week.”

My editor—a lovely woman, by the way—just said, basically, Fine. I’m eagerly awaiting the new version. (My agent, admittedly, kinda freaked.) So I’ve spent the last couple of days doing that “tweaking.” Am I satisfied now? No. But then, I’m never satisfied. The truth is, every time I read a manuscript, I see things that can be changed. Sometimes it’s little things—a word, a sentence, a scene that could have been better. But eventually a writer just needs to say, Enough already! and move on.

So that’s where I am, today. I just fired off the new revised revision to my editor. I still have a niggling feeling I could have done better, but I'm so sick of the thing that I know "better" is impossible at this point. Because to answer my question, a book is never "done." Alfred, Lord Tennyson first published The Lady of Shalott in 1833; he then substantially rewrote it and republished it in 1842. Obviously that niggling "it could have been better" is an occupational hazard.

On a related note, I can tell you we now have a cover and cover copy, so it’s starting to feel like a “real” book even though the release date is almost ten months away. I’m just waiting for the nod from my editor, and I’ll be able to post the cover. Personally, I think it’s quite stunning. But more on that, later.


Beth said...

Wasn't it Hemmingway who said: A book is never done. The editor comes and snatches it from your hands.

Or something like that.

Congratulations, I'm looking forwards to reading this new one.

paz said...

Félicitations! I am very happy for you -- the siren call of the incomplete manuscript will not be spoiling your fun. I am also thrilled that the day when I get to visit with Sebastian and Hero is nearer!

Tina said...

Hmmmm...since this book is coming along so quickly, maybe it could be released earlier? Maybe in time for christmas, so I can wrap it up and put it under my tree?...

orannia said...

YAH for being finished...and you like the cover? More YAH!

Charles Gramlich said...

I know what you mean with the agonizing. SOmetimes I get so irritated with myself that I can't let something go and move on to the next scene. I'm so damn slow.

cs harris said...

Beth, I think he did. It's obviously a very common problem.

Paz, thank you. Now I need to get back to work on Number Eight.

Tina, for some reason the "accounts" aka the bookstores seem to want longer and longer lead times these days. Not sure why.

Orannia, I'm really anxious to unveil that cover!

Charles, but what you produce is so beautifully poetic. I don't even have that excuse.

Elaine said...

Speaking of poetry, having just re-re-read Shadows, I finally remembered to google the line of poetry Sebastian quotes to Hero. Sir Thomas Wyatt, I find. And reading the whole poem plus an analysis, I have to wonder if Sebastian intended a commentary on himself and Hero when "he" "chose" to quote that poem?

Jane said...

How cool! Congratulations on completing the book. I'm looking forward to reading it. Hopefully, the ten months will fly by quickly.

BTW. Elaine has made me curious. I'll have to look up that quote. I assume it's the one in the last chapter.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Personally, I think it’s quite stunning.

Okay, after everything you went through with Shadows, this is huge praise. Can't wait to see it. :)

Steve Malley said...

PIcasso once remarked that no painter ever truly finishes a painting. You may have sold it years ago, you may come across it hanging in the Louvre (he was the only living artist to ever exhibit there), but you still find yourself tempted to take it down and a little more blue...

And it's not just artists and writers. Henry Ford's staff had to nail the boxcars shut to keep him from tinkering with the Model A's before they shipped! :D

tiffalex said...

What was the Sir Thomas Wyatt quote in WSD?? I must have missed it.

cs harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cs harris said...

Elaine, as I read the poem, its about a man who reflects in the first stanza of his previous promiscuity, then in the second remembers when a lover came to him tenderly and seduced him, then in the third he is bemused to find the tables turned as she gives him leave to go and he feels forsaken.

This has always been one of my favorite poems (as is "Go and Catch a Falling Star" by John Donne, which I used in Why Mermaids Sing), and I simply love those lines. I thought they were particularly appropriate because Hero comes to him, and because he has felt forsaken, although of course by Kat rather than by Hero.

Jane, thank you. And here's the poem:

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)

They flee from me that Sometime did me Seek

1They flee from me that sometime did me seek
2With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
3I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
4That now are wild and do not remember
5That sometime they put themself in danger
6To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
7Busily seeking with a continual change.

8Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
9Twenty times better; but once in special,
10In thin array after a pleasant guise,
11When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
12And she me caught in her arms long and small;
13Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
14And softly said, "dear heart, how like you this?"

15It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
16But all is turned thorough my gentleness
17Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
18And I have leave to go of her goodness,
19And she also, to use newfangleness.
20But since that I so kindly am served
21I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Barbara, of course it's not EXACTLY what I would like to have seen, but after my last two covers, it's a huge improvement. And yes, it did make me go "Wow."

Steve, I did not know that about Picasso, or Ford. I guess I'm in good company!

Tiffalex, it's in the final scene, where Sebastian quotes a line of poetry. I didn't identify it, but it's above.

Elaine said...

I like that application of the poem to their situation. The undercurrents of the encounter in the second stanza seem to echo in the scene between Hero and Sebastian.I can foresee a time when Sebastian and Hero may feel bemused by their feeling for each other.

I also recently tracked down a recollection of Kat attending one of Annabelle Hershey's salons. In WSD, Hero says she attends those salons occasionally as well. I can foresee an interesting encounter.

Elaine said...

Speaking of covers (as you were a while back), I have been faced afresh with the cover of WRH and shudder everytime I see it. (Maybe I should just remove it?) I can't remember the blog discussion of it, but I was thinking that such a cover - completely unrelated to anything that happens in the book and pretty misleading - is disrespectful to the author and the readers. Just MHO.

paz said...

Thank you for the poem and also for its interpretation. The old-er grammar and turns of phrase made English harder to understand than it usually is, and I might have missed some of the nuances.

KaHolly said...

Hurray! I am only beginning book 4, but am eagerly anticipating the release of When Maidens Mourn. I stumbled upon your stories just this winter and am enraptured by the characters and story lines. Such a delight. ~karen

cs harris said...

Elaine, sometimes it scares me the things my readers pick up on.

Paz, it is very open to interpretation.

Karen, thank you so much. It's wonderful to hear.

cs harris said...

Elaine, as for the cover of WRH, I wish you could have seen the original version: the model was wearing a corset and petticoat, and it had all these sparkly lights, so that it looked like Sarah Jessica Parker being chased up the stairs by a ghost. I pitched a royal fit and finally got them to add sleeves, get rid of the laced back, and change the color so it looked like a dress. I seriously hate the covers of Gods, Heaven, and to a lesser extent, Shadows. But Maidens is striking, if not quite what I'd have done myself. I'm waiting for approval from on high before I can reveal it.

Anonymous said...

I'm so looking forward to When Maidens Mourn. I know it has gone to the publisher but when will it be released?

Anonymous said...

Also, they are lighter and can be used around plants which prefer somewhat acid content in the soil composition.

Wood chips: This material contains bark, and wood
of various sizes. Depending on the density of the mulch, one
should lay two to six inches of mulch over topsoil in the
vegetable garden.

Feel free to visit my site: mulching

Anonymous said...

It's very simple to find out any topic on net as compared to books, as I found this article at this site.

Also visit my site :: bet angel