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.
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.
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.