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Tough calls

Posted on January 25th, 2010 by annakjarzab

Okay, so yesterday I alluded to an important writing thing that ocurred over the weekend of ALA, but divulged nothing more. I wasn’t being a tease, I was just growing a little weary with that post, so I decided to save it for later.

It’s later.

Now, this discussion might be a little vague because I’m trying not to reveal much about the plot of my second book. There are a couple of things I can tell you, though:

  1. It’s another teen mystery
  2. It has a male narrator
  3. It takes place in California
  4. It’s about an eighteen-year-old boy’s disappearance, which may or may not involve foul play, and his friends’ attempts to search for him

So there’s that. As some of you probably know, it used to be called Murder Burger, but RH’s legal department said that, for various reasons, it emphatically cannot be named that, so we’re at square one with the title. And actually, this thing that happened with the book all started with the news that the title had been nixed. I’d actually been worried about that from the very beginning, and finally brought it up to my editor, who promised she’d ask legal, who told her that under no circumstances was I allowed to name the book that because such a place actually exists (although my version of it was and is entirely fictional) and we’re not in the business of getting sued, which I totally understand. I don’t want to get sued, either.

But the book such as it was (and I was struggling a lot with the book such as it was, because there were obviously problems with it that I could recognize but not think how to fix in a really effective way) didn’t seem to lend itself to a new title. It seems like a petty thing to care about in the face of looming revisions great and small, but the title is the most succinct expression of a book and is therefore important. And I couldn’t think of a single thing to name the book other than MB, which really frustrated me. Revisions were also frustrating. I’d only been working on them a few days, but I knew that if I continued the way I was doing things and turned a new draft in to my editor, she would see that not enough had changed to really take the book to the next level, which was the whole thrust of this round of revision.

So, what to do? Well, I was on my way to work the Friday before ALA and I was getting out of the subway station when suddenly I had a thought: what if I took the events of the very end and moved them to the middle? That sounds crazy because you don’t know what happens at the end, but it was a major brainstorm for me. I was excited about it because it meant that the actual mechanics of the mystery plot–what things get figured out at which time, what people are involved in those revelations, the heartbeats of the story–could stay intact, it was only the perspective that would change. All of a sudden you’d be seeing things in an entirely new way. Over the next two days, I became convinced that this was the game change I needed. I wasn’t going to get any more depth out of my current book, and I needed to flip the script. This was a way to add the depth we were trying to achieve. I was certain of it.

Thankfully, both my agent and editor agree, and even though it means rewriting the second half of the book, I felt a great release of pressure when I cut 150 pages from the manuscript with the press of a button and set forth down this new path. It’s a dramatic change, but one that I think will work out very well, and of course with Joanna and Francoise patiently coaching me through it, I think the book will be great in the end, something to really be proud of instead of a joke repository, which I’m afraid MB ended up being to an extent (although I think there’s a lot of great stuff in this book, don’t get me wrong).

This writing thing, you guys–it’s like the labyrinth in, well, Labyrinth. You know how it’s always changing and it’s never the same maze twice and some meddling worm can send you down the wrong path and you try to figure out which door guard is lying but you’re too dumb and this metaphor is getting both extended and absurd, is it not? Anyway, you know what I mean. People always say that each book teaches you how to write itself, and itself only, and they’re totally right. I guess the other little seed of knowledge I’ve gained from this is that nothing you write is unassailable–I mean, yes, there’s the “kill your darlings” writing advice, which is both cliche and true as many cliches are, but there’s also the sense of being trapped by what you’ve already done. It’s just as hard to write a bad novel, or a mediocre one, as it is to write a good novel, and once you’ve finished you can’t stand the thought of pressing DELETE and watching those days and nights spent not with your friends or family, not watching 30 Rock, not sleeping, go swirling down the drain. That word count means time and sacrifices, and it’s hard to say goodbye to all that and start over.

But I’m telling you that it’s also worth it. At least I think it is. Hell, I know it is, because I spent three years writing the first verison of AUT just to throw it out and start over, and it was still another four years before I saw it on the shelves. So I get it. But I also think that this kind of work, the part of our job that requires destruction, is just as important as the part that requires creation. It’s a leap of faith that in turning your back on something you thought you loved you’re in fact turning your face towards something even better. And it’s kind of invigorating, at least it is for me. Wish me luck!

Still working on the title, though…

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