Sunday, February 25, 2018

Looking Back and Looking at the Pages

I’m going to risk sounding arrogant and admit that rereading my own books is fun. I don’t mean reading a book I’m currently working on. I don’t mean editing or proofreading. I do enjoy that – I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t enjoy it – but I wouldn’t call it fun. I mean going back to reread something that is published, released and done. Why do I do that? It’s not because I pick up one of my own books whenever I’m looking for something to read. If I was that arrogant, I wouldn’t admit it. Probably.

Most of my books have a story. Not the story within the pages. Since I write fiction, that story is a given. I hope. I mean most of my books have a specific struggle that comes to mind when I remember writing them.

The story of Said and Unsaid is me yelling at myself as I tried to type it. That one had the roughest rough draft. The notebook was littered with arrows pointing forward and backward through the pages, paragraphs crossed off so many times I wasn’t sure if maybe I was trying to uncross them, and writing so scrunched up in the margins that I had to guess what half the words were. At one point, I was trying to follow symbols that I invented to help myself. I was so confused it wasn’t helping.

The story of Jealousy & Yams is the looooong list of titles I rejected trying to name it. They See a Family has a sad story. A minor character is loosely based on my uncle, who passed away while I was writing it. Andrew’s Key changed the most from my original concept. Berries, though only a tiny part of the book, are central to the story of Beyond Wisherton. The kids eat wild berries in the story. There are yellow and green ones on the bushes and because they are foreign, the kids don’t know which are ripe. In the end, (teeny tiny spoiler) the berries they’ve been complaining about tasted yucky because they ate the wrong color. I screwed that up in the first draft. The ripe color changed halfway through the book. I went back and fixed it, including at least one mention that was already right. Then I had to fix it again. I couldn’t seem to keep those berries straight for anything. The last thing I did before I released the book was find every mention of yellow and green to make sure it stayed consistent.

Writing a book is work. It’s work that I love, but it is work. I remember the work. I don’t remember everything. That’s why I sometimes have to reread my books, especially if I’m working on a series. I wrote Hearts on the Window about a year and a half after I’d finished the other Hartford books so when Seth Anderson showed up in the story, I couldn’t remember what color hair I gave him. I had to find him in Collecting Zebras, then because I’m a little paranoid I had to make sure he had the same color hair in the next book. I’ve had to remind myself the day of the week something happened, a last name, the number of siblings and so on. I usually have to read a little to find these things. That’s where I find some unexpected fun.

Mixed in with sentences I could recite without looking are occasionally things I don’t remember writing. It’s fun to be surprised by that. I get to read conversations that make me smile. I find enjoyment in the writing and perhaps confirmation that all those struggles actually produced something worthwhile. And if taking a little pride in my work makes me sound arrogant, then let’s just pretend I didn’t admit it.

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