It is with great pleasure that I post Christine’s guest blog today and I hope you enjoy her thoughts on writing, life and the second novel.
The Year of the Second Novel
My first young adult novel, Tallulah Falls, debuted in May 2006. Around the same time, my agent negotiated a deal for my second book. I was so giddy, I practically floated. After twelve years of writing, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d finally gained the summit…and the view was mighty fine.
I soon discovered what every author finds out: publication, exciting as it is, is only the first peak. Ahead: the entire Himalayan range. Oxygen! Quick!
First, there was the mysterious world of book promotion. Promotion involves a whole set of skills radically different from writing, different even from agent searches and conference schmoozing and other steps on the road to publishing. Let’s just say it’s been a steep learning curve, and I’m still hauling my keister up it. Readings, contests, meeting local booksellers,* mailing postcards, visiting schools, blogging, keeping up the website and MySpace page that are now de rigueur for authors…
…and, all the while, writing the second book.
The thing about second novels is, they come with deadlines. First novels don’t. Except for the author, nobody cares if a first novel ever sees the light of day. That’s the challenge: knowing the world is indifferent, and slogging through to the end anyway.
The challenge of the second novel is making it better than the first, and writing it faster. It took me almost four years to complete Tallulah Falls. For the second book, I had one year. I also had two day jobs, and Tallulah to promote. Not to mention a boyfriend, a house, friends, family, pets…
I quit my teaching job. At the veterinary practice, where I’m blessed with a boss who loves books, I was able to consolidate my hours into two days a week. Housework became an early, and enduring, casualty. When I’m preoccupied, I can subsist indefinitely on cheese popcorn and Dublin Mudslide ice cream; fortunately for both of us, my sweetie took over the cooking. The veggies on my plate were like love notes: Eat this, it’s good for you.
Preoccupation became my constant mental state. Novel writing is a bit like inhabiting a waking dream. After spending five consecutive days in the world of my book, re-entering the living, breathing reality of clients and patients was always a shock. Bits of my life fell away: dinners out, coffee with friends. As did every belief about what I needed in order to write well.
I used to say, If I don’t get a good start early in the morning, the entire day is shot. And: I can’t be distracted with errands and chores—it breaks the flow. Cue fluttering of hands.
Funny how quickly you can get over yourself when faced with a deadline. My hands stopped fluttering and started typing. I wrote in the mornings, the afternoons, and late at night after I got home from work. In between, I did errands and chores and all that real life stuff because—and this sounds obvious except it wasn’t—real life doesn’t give a crap about deadlines.
Maybe that’s why this year, the year of the second novel, I started feeling like a real writer. You’d think this feeling would have bloomed when Tallulah Falls was accepted for publication. Or the first time I held the actual book, with its gorgeous, haunting cover.
Nope. I felt most amazingly fortunate, but under the excitement lay doubt—maybe, maybe it was all a fluke.
There were days, this past year, when I’d sit at my computer, not a word to be found in the desert that used to be my brain, except a repeating chorus of self-reproach: What on earth made you believe you could actually write this thing? Then, eventually, the words would start coming, and the sentences, and the pages. I lived in the characters’ skins, saw through their eyes, fell in love with them. I tried to tell their stories well, so they’d come to life for readers the way they had for me. The way Tallulah had come to life, out in the world. I found that putting myself in front of strangers had an unexpected side effect: I was enjoying myself tremendously. Connecting with booksellers and readers has been a blast, the best reward of publication by far. Who would have guessed?
Oh, and the deadline? Three hundred seventy-six pages, delivered on time. The book (tentatively titled Ten Cents a Dance) will be published in April, 2008. Meanwhile, Tallulah Falls has just come out in paperback (with a brand-new, equally gorgeous cover), and I’m working on ideas for a third novel. I know a little better what’s ahead, now. More peaks, lots of hard climbing.
I can’t wait to see the view.
*Thanks to our lovely hostess who, back in her days of anonymity, gave me stellar advice on how to approach that wily species, the bookseller, in its native habitat.
Thank you, Christine.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tallulah Falls or Ten Cents a Dance you can visit Christine’s website.