Salvaging bones from the tombs of old foes.

There was this book.*

It was the book before The Near Witch.

It was the first book I’d ever written, and it got me an agent, and it got me several trips to acquisitions, but the thing about that book was that it WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH.

God, I wanted it to be good enough. I would have sold my soul. The most painful part was that its bones were good, its bones had the potential, if set in place beneath the right muscle and flesh, to be wonderful. In addition to the bones, there were the words. I’d always a way with words, an ability to scrape them into something very pretty. But bones and pretty words are (thankfully) not enough, and that book never became a book.

It is probably the thing I am most thankful for, that book not selling.

I put it in the trunk, which is where, as we know, all dead books go. Or rather, a tomb. But as years went by and I moved on to other projects, I kept peaking, assuring myself it was still there. I kept the book alive with stolen glances, the way one might nurse a dying fire with a bit of air.

I couldn’t let it go.

I’m the first to tell you that writing a book teaches you an extraordinary amount about an extraordinary number of things, and sometimes the process is more valuable than the result. For three years, I told myself that about this book. But you see, I still believed in the bones.

A few months ago, I decided to open the tomb.

I thought, “I’m ready to try again.” I had read hundreds of books, and written four (The Near Witch, a sequel that will hopefully one day follow, The Archived, and Vagabond Puppies–not real title), and learned so much about writing and about myself as a writer, and I thought, “Okay, I can do this now.”

I couldn’t, not at first. This book and I had so much baggage. It was the book that started my journey, and nearly ended it.

I looked at it, and couldn’t help but see what it WAS, instead of what it NEEDED TO BE. And so, I did something that felt in that moment drastic. I changed the main character’s name.

It was such a small thread to sever, but it helped. It didn’t fix all of my problems, but it gave me the courage to sever MORE threads. Little by little, I sifted through the ruins of the book, and extracted the bones–and only the bones–of what had worked. I salvaged the elements that had made me LOVE this book, the fragments that had held on to my imagination over the years, the ones that had waited, sometimes patiently, sometimes insistently, to be revisited.

The salvaging didn’t happen in a day, or a week. Finding the strength to enter the tomb and face the body of this old friend and old foe took months, after I’d worked up the courage to pick the lock and go in.

And once there, I surprised myself as far as what I salvaged, and what I shed. I got rid of the spine, as it wasn’t properly formed. I kept a few knuckle bones, favorite details. Some days I would come at the corpse with surgeon’s eyes, carefully dissecting what worked from what didn’t. Other days I would come at the corpse like a grave robber, fleeing with a shiny relic, afraid of getting caught.

It took a combination of distances, determination, and a willingness to start again. Not change a detail here and there, but sever ALL ties to the book this WAS so I can figure out the book it’s supposed to be.

And so here I am, standing at the entrance of the tomb with a basket of bones and a head full of ideas, ready to rebuild.

*Yes, this is the MG series I hinted at in yesterday’s post.


23 thoughts on “Salvaging bones from the tombs of old foes.

  1. Danielle says:


  2. emmatrevayne says:

    As I said on twitter, I *totally* feel you on this very thing. You’re right that we learn with every book, grow, improve, weed out our flaws and try new tricks. Sometimes, that means accepting a trunk novel just isn’t going to work, because we’ve learned enough to know why it never will. Other times, though, it can just give us the skills to *make* it work, and I think there’s a reason we can’t let go of certain ideas. It’s because we’re not supposed to.

    Good luck! May the words be ever in your favor. 😉


    • veschwab says:

      Precisely. The difficulty is in being able to tell the difference between something that should stay trunked, and something that should be salvaged, and I fear there’s often no way but through trial and error, and perhaps a gut sense. Or maybe we should just put all our shelved books into tombs for a few years, and then see which ones we still wish to unearth.

  3. Dawn says:

    This is so bizarre–I’ve just this week began going back over trunk novels, somewhat shocked at what I found and planned to write a blog post about it but suffice to say, I AM SO THERE with you.

    Good luck & be brave!

  4. This is so beautiful, you really do have a way with words – and meaning.
    I can’t wait to read that book 🙂

  5. Akoss says:

    You are so brave ❤ 😀
    and a constant inspiration to me.

  6. Susan Olivares says:

    what does MG stand for?……………sorry i haven’t been at your blog for a while

  7. Pica says:

    This story makes me so happy. I am so inspired by you. And your writing is so beautiful, even on a blog post – you really do have a way with words. Best of luck rebuilding the body, and we’re all here to support you. *Sends support and virtual cookies your way*

  8. jpmsull says:

    That’s awesome. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to take a novel and then totally cut almost everything to make it what it needs to be. Also, I didn’t NW had a sequel!!!

    • veschwab says:

      It’s very, very hard. To the point where I’m by no means certain I’ll succeed. But I mean to try. And as for NW, there is a companion, yes, and it’s fully written. It only remains to be seen if it will ever be published.

  9. I’ve been wanting to do this with the first novel I wrote when i was 17. It’s my most favorite story. But I didn’t write it the way it should’ve been written. Plus, I’d need another trip to Salem to do real research.

    Good luck!

    • veschwab says:

      It’s taken me years to come back to this book. Or rather, I’ve come back to the book every year, and never been ready. I hope you find your way back to yours when the time is right!

  10. dothutchison says:

    Beautiful and brave- thank you.

  11. Marie Landry says:

    God, you’re a beautiful writer, even just in blog posts! Good for you, and how exciting! I had a very similar situation. Seven years of time, distance, writing experience, and life experience taught me so much and gave me the tools to write a better book. It was hard, and sometimes incredibly painful, but it was also necessary, and even thrilling. I hope you’re able to keep the momentum and do the amazing things I know you can do!

    • veschwab says:

      Marie, that’s so incredibly kind of you. And I’m so glad this particular post spoke to you, and I’m so proud of you for finding the distance, and coming back. I hope I can follow in your tread.

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