“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”
And I’m not singing. Not yet.
On Monday, I finished the fifth draft of my new novel, “Rise From The River,” due out by Main Street Rag Publishing Company on March 1st. Four readers were diligently reading the fourth draft while I worked on the fifth. Two readers are done; one did nothing but sing my praises (he won’t be asked to be a reader again – there’s always something to find) and one found an age discrepancy. I had two characters who were four years apart in age celebrating first communion together when they were both supposed to be eight. Oops. The two others are still working their way through.
The fifth draft didn’t take me long. One day short of a month. It helped that I had a week off from teaching when I was on book club tour with “Learning To Tell (A Life)Time,” and had a lot of time to sit in my hotel room and work. The new draft also only grew by 26 words. This is a sign to me that I’m just about done. To some, it would be a sign that it is done, but…not quite yet. If I’m still adding words, it means I haven’t finished saying what I have to say. When I was twenty pages away from the end, I also realized there was another scene I wanted to add. The persnickety in me won’t allow me to just go back and add it in. There’s that ripple effect to deal with – putting a scene in might throw another one just a bit out of whack. So it’s back to the beginning again on Monday (I always start new projects or new drafts on a Monday) and we go through it again. And again, at least a few more times. I also need to hear what the last two readers have to say.
It took me three years to write “The Home For Wayward Clocks”. “Enlarged Hearts” took two, and “Learning To Tell (A Life)Time” took just over two. And then there’s this book. Oh, this book.
The very first full draft of this book was completed in 2006. But the book actually began back in 1998. I started it. I stopped. I started it. I stopped. It’s had several different metamorphoses, several starting points, several characters. The only character who has remained constant is the main one, Rainey.
All novels are hard to write. They are the ultimate marathon in the fiction writer’s world. You have to live with these characters in your brain all the time. They don’t, or won’t, go away. You take a shower, you think about them. You drive to the grocery store, you think about them. You go to sleep, you think about them. You work, you live, you interact, you watch television, you read books, you walk your dog, you watch your son get married, you bury your mother…you think about them.
And in my case, I also write stories, I write poetry, I write other books…and I think about them. This novel has never been far beneath my surface, although I’ve pushed it back down at least a dozen times.
And then, in March of 2013, I drew it out of my surface, fully into my heart, threw it on the screen, and began to work in earnest. This time, I didn’t back down. And let me tell you, this book has made me SWEAT. The original first completed draft, written back in 2006, was 82,003 words. The fifth draft, finished last Monday, weighed in at 118,451 words. That’s a lot of growth.
Of all the emotions that we humans can feel, the one I have the hardest time with is anger. I don’t like anger. I would rather feel sad than angry. Anger in my personal life makes me turn and walk away, find someplace quiet where I can sit and wait to feel calm and in control again. Even little anger – anger at an unfair speeding ticket, anger at a bill that is incorrect – is hard for me to deal with. When I try to face off with whoever or whatever it is that is making me angry, I cry. Which makes me angrier. This is why, when there is a wrongful bill or something similar that has to be dealt with, especially on the phone, I let my husband do it. When I most want to yell, I weep.
This book was born in 1998 out of anger. Stillborn, really, because I kept snuffing out its life. I kept walking away. When I fully embraced this book in 2013, the anger was still there, and throughout the time I’ve worked on the book, the anger has grown. Things in the news that relate to what I’m writing about left me thoroughly wrung out. But this time, I didn’t walk away. My writing muscles, much more matured than they were in 1998, are in control. My anger feels channeled, not flinging in all directions. Rather than encompassing the work, the anger fuels it. It’s a solid hum that keeps me moving forward.
There’s a joy in knowing what I want to say. What I want to show.
So what’s different now, than in 1998? Why am I able to write this book now? Knowledgeable anger. I think that’s the change. When I started this book in 1998, it was a rant. I was run over with rage. What I wrote at that time was absolute emotion, to the point of being incomprehensible. Just as I dissolve on the phone, I dissolved on the page, and all that was left was a mess that didn’t do anyone any good.
But for me, writing is about doing someone, maybe everyone, good. It’s about bringing change and addressing issues and solving problems. I couldn’t solve a problem when I was that overwrought with anger. I couldn’t solve a problem when I had to walk away and be quiet in order to feel in control of my own self again.
And now, I know what I’m doing. Besides feeling an emotion, I’ve supplied myself with knowledge. There’s been research and discussions and questions and answers. It’s no longer just about the anger, it’s about seeing an issue in its totality, from all sides, and showing it with a new translucence so that others can see it from all sides too.
I know some would say to me that I must have been angry when I wrote Clocks and Lifetime too. After all, those books are about abuse, and abuse should make me angry. Well, yes and no. Those books were written out of a huge sense of concern and absolute amazement that such things could go on, and have gone on, and will go on unless we do something about it. Those books were written out of a sense of amazement that we could sit on this earth and live with each other and deny that we knew abuse was happening to our neighbor, our classmate, our brother, our friend. Deny that we could have done anything about it. And then we could point at the abuser and call him or her evil, which further removes us from our responsibility to each other.
What we claim we don’t know, we can’t do anything about.
So that’s why I wrote Clocks and Lifetime. But this book…oh, this new book. I’ve incorporated science. And facts and figures. Pros and cons. And stark in-your-face reality. Not Lifetime tv reality. Not glossed-over politically correct verbiage. No fun house mirrors, no twists on the truth.
Just the truth.
Draft Six starts on Monday. With Draft Six, I am humming, and as I go through it, and the draft after, I know that hum will become progressively louder. I’m filling my lungs this whole while.
And then I’m gonna sing.