What’s This About?

Recently a stranger asked me what the second book was about. My immediate thought was ‘I don’t know; I haven’t read it’. While I didn’t say that out loud, it did get me thinking.

I can tell you what the jacket blurb says. I can tell you the premise, the layers that are important to me, like family and history. None of that would be anything like what I would tell you if you asked me what a book I’m currently reading is about. For that I’d say, oh, it’s about this woman who’s doing jury duty when two guys storm the courthouse (Ransom River, Meg Gardiner) and then I’d go on in that vein. But if I asked Ms. Gardiner what the book was about and she answered in that manner I’d think, ‘great, now I don’t have to read it’ and walk away disappointed.

What makes the difference? For me, if I’m reading a book I want to share the excitement and the story. If it’s a book I’m considering reading, I want the person to hook me into really, really wanting to read, without giving away the story – something I want to discover on my own.

Looking on a new place to discover

Looking on a new place to discover

When it comes to talking about a book I’ve written, however, everything changes and I believe it’s connected to intimacy.

During the writing process I am so closely involved that the story is part of my everyday life. I’m daydreaming it, thinking about it, mentally talking to the characters, and so on. In a way it’s like being pregnant, this thing slowly coming to life inside.

After the first draft I move into editing, and then I hate the story. It’s the worst thing ever written, I’m an awful writer, why didn’t I see those mistakes (usually thought after it comes back from an editor I’ve paid), I never, ever, want to see these characters again. Almost too much intimacy. You know – the one who insists on cuddling up close and crowding you out.

Vala and Arwen

Vala and Arwen

Of course the editing phase passes, you realize it’s not quite as bad as you feared, and you let it loose into the world.

And in all that work and angst, I never read it outside of an editing standpoint. I never go back to it after it’s been published, pick it up like I would a ‘real’ book, and read it, relaxed, cover to cover. I never see it as a whole. I’m not sure I could read it without constantly picking apart every phrase. I would be afraid of finding a lot wrong. I know what I hoped to create. What I think the story is about. What I wanted it to be about.

But do I truly know what it’s about? I’m not sure I can answer that unless I go back and read it. And oddly, I find that thought a bit scary.

Nevada storm with scary flash flood

Nevada storm with scary flash flood

6 thoughts on “What’s This About?

  1. There’s a line in I think Ngaio Marsh that’s somewhat about this, and it always gives me such comfort to think she could write that line and her character would think it.

    Aha! Love the internet.

    “Agatha Troy hunched up her shoulders, pulled her smart new cap over one eye and walked into her one-man show at the Wiltshire Galleries in Bond Street. It always embarrassed her intensely to put in these duty appearances at her own exhibitions. People felt they had to say something to her about her pictures and they never knew what to say and she never knew how to reply. She became gruff with shyness and her incoherence was mistaken for intellectual snobbishness. Like most painters she was singularly inarticulate on the subject of her work. The careful phrases of literary appreciation showered upon her by highbrow critics threw Troy into an agony of embarrassment. She minded less the bland commonplaces of the philistines though for these also she had great difficulty in finding suitable replies.”

    This is from the POV of a painter but as Marsh was also a writer, and I am both, I think it applies to both forms.

    Maybe what we need to do about our major works is ask a friend and fan to describe, and then trot out that description next time someone asks!! “Well, I have a hard time talking about my own work, but my friend says…”

    • Great quote. I’ve done your suggestion in a very passive aggressive way and just now, reading your words, realized I do that. When I’m with author Susan Schreyer at an event and someone asks about my books, I very quietly step back and let Susan hold forth. She’s much better at it than I. And then I hold forth on her books. But as she told me when I didn’t want to have a photo taken, I do need to ‘pull up my big girl pants’.

  2. LOL!!! Yes, pull up your big girl pants… thats great!!! So Susan!! 🙂
    Its so funny how you write this and I can totally understand you in a way but then I also dont since I am such a fan of your stories. I will tell you my thoughts about this next time I see you in person, its too personal to write down here… 😉

  3. I have heard actors say this too. When asked about their performance in a particular film they say ” I never saw it or I never watch my own films.” I think it is a fear. I am new to this blogging business and I know I feel vulnerable putting my thoughts out there. Sometimes I think why did I write that or it did not come out the way I envisioned it. But then if I go back and re-read it after a time, I say ‘that flows pretty good. I think the writing is ok.’ I have thought a lot about this writing process recently and about creativity. Putting your unique form of creativity out there. I like to think that I will be courageous and create without worrying so much about what others think. It is a lonely process.

    • It is a lonely process, and it really helps to have a select few very trusted people to help with content. And I agree with you also that it comes down to fear. I used the word ‘intimacy’ in the blog but it’s more like vulnerability, and that seems to be where the fear comes in. And time does seem to give us perspective, as you talk about here. Thanks!

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