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.