Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My words are mine, but they are not me

Sometime after my first book, Legacy of Honor, was published, someone remarked to me how vividly I had described the heroine's experience of being so cold during the Russian winter after Napoleon's disastrous invasion.  I said I remembered very well writing that scene, and that to get all the sensations, I merely stepped out the door into the dark night of a sub-zero northern Indiana midwinter.  I knew what that cold felt like.

My experience.  My words.  My book.

But not me.

When Firefly was going through the editing process at Pageant Books, my editor wanted to change a scene in which the heroine Julie looks out her window to watch the rising sun light the mountains to the west.  The editor wanted the sun to light mountains to the east, and I literally had to draw her a picture to show how the rising sun casts its light from the east to the west.  You know what I mean, don't you?  Well, so did I, from having spent many an early morning watching the sun come up and light Saddle Mountain in Tonopah, Arizona to the west.

My experience.  My words.  My book.

But not me.

There's a scene in the book now titled Secrets to Surrender in which Viva protests Rio's intentions to sell a mule.  Although his arguments made perfect sense, she is emotionally attached to the animal and resists selling her.  I bond to animals -- and sometimes to possessions -- instantly and I felt her sense of loss even though I, as a human being and as an author, knew it's only a story.

My experience.  My words.  My book.


I make jewelry from rocks.  Remember my saying that I watched the rising sun light Saddle Mountain?  My husband and I used to go out to far western Maricopa County, in the area dominated by Saddle Mountain, early in the morning and spend all day collecting rocks that were then sliced and polished and wrapped in precious metal wire to make jewelry.

In order to sell my jewelry -- which I do -- I have to let it go.  I have to stop owning it.  And when someone buys it, it becomes theirs.  It's not mine any more.  It's not me.

At an art show many years ago, a potential customer was looking at one of the small ironwood bowls my husband had made.  The customer asked if it would make a good ashtray.  We were honest and told him it would probably burn, since it was, after all, wood.  Duh. 

And so he didn't buy it.  But what if he had?  What if he had used it as an ashtray and burned the hell out of it?  What if he put salad in it and ruined the finish?  What if he got pissed off and burned it?

Well, I wouldn't want to know about it, but once he bought it, it was his to do with as he wanted. 

If an author can't separate herself enough from her work that she takes criticisms of it personally, then she really needs to get out of the business.  I just can't stress this enough.

You are going to get bad reviews.  It will happen.  I can guarantee it.  Somewhere along the line someone will not like your book.  Maybe a lot of people will not like your book.  It's even possible that no one will like it.  You may have written a really terrible, really bad, really shitty book.  It's possible.  And you are too close to it to know for sure. The only people who can tell you that are people who aren't you.

No one can guarantee your success.  It will happen, or it won't.  No one owes it to you, and no matter how hard you try, you can't make it happen.

You are not your book.  You are not the sum of all your books.  You are you.

Let the book go.  Let it live on its own, or die on its own.  If you didn't do the best you could, then you should have, and it's not the reviewers' fault that they didn't like it.  It's your fault.  If you did the best you could and they still don't like it, then there's nothing you can do about it.

The only thing you can do is walk away from it.  Go on to the next book.  Make it better.

But you cannot make it you.  You cannot make you it.

And if you can't understand that, if you don't want to understand that, if you refuse to believe it, then you are probably in need of more help than I can give you.

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