I have no idea who Mr. Bergler is, but he has, sad to say, captured the essence of what it is to be a writer. However, I don't think Mr. Bergler is a writer himself. I rather think he may be the spouse of one. There surely is a special place in heaven for the husbands and wives of writers. Not only do they have to put up with our mood swings, but they also have to fend off our terrible neediness. And believe me, there is no-one more needy than an author with an unfinished book. The relief on my husband's face when I told him I had finally wrapped up the final pages of Dragonfly, said it all.
I am finished! YES! After eighteen months of talking to myself in the mirror, swallowing tubs of ice cream and gobs of melted cheese, I have a finished manuscript. Tonight I will get maudlin over a bottle of wine and read choice passages out loud (my poor husband) and convince myself that no other writer has ever produced anything remotely as good. It is the best moment.
It is a fleeting moment. Tomorrow…well, tomorrow the realization will sink in that the time has arrived for me to share with my agent and first readers. No-one – not even my nearest and dearest – has read the book.
My husband has no choice: he has to say nice things about it -- that is if he wants a quiet life. My mother is tough and doesn't pull any punches. She lives thousands of miles away so she feels safe. My agent – well, the word "forensic" comes to mind. Let's just say I need him more than he needs me, so he feels safe too.
Then there are my first readers : these are friends whose judgment I trust. Two of them are writers themselves and three are what I call "talented" readers. Although they usually try to couch their criticism in diplomatic terms, they know it is not in my best interest for them to lie. So they dish it out and I am grateful -- they have kept me from making a complete fool of myself more than once. I'll never forget a passage I wrote in one of my previous books, Windwalker. My hero, a cave diver, is walking across the beach in full diving gear. Now, when divers enter the water, they do so backward – and I got that fact right, thanks to a real-life cave diver who was advising me while I was writing the book. But instead of just saying, "Adam walked backward into the water" I wanted to make it poetic. So I wrote: "Fins splaying his feet in a bizarre approximation of a balletic plie, Adam inched carefully backward until he reached the water's edge."
So what's wrong with this sentence?
First, it shows that the author was trying to be too cute and second, that she knows nothing of ballet. I thought a plie was the posture ballet dancers take when at rest. You know, fully upright, feet turned sideways. I felt rather proud of coming up with this inspired analogy. Thankfully, one of my first readers does know about ballet and gently pointed out that yes, a plie requires your feet to go to the sides, but it also requires you to bend at the knees. So imagine the image I would have conjured up in the minds of knowledgeable readers by having my hero shuffle backwards knees bent. In the end I changed the sentence to "a bizarre approximation of a balletic movement" but I think I should simply have deleted the sentence altogether. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
First readers are essential, and once I receive their feedback – probably within the next two weeks – I will return to the book. I don't take all their suggestions on board, but if more than one reader complains about the same thing, I take notice. On 31 March I'll hand over a bunch of sweaty pages to my editor – and then...Sigh. But let's not go there yet.
Before I forget: the paperback edition of Season of the Witch came out in the US this week. It has a different cover from the hardback and I'd love to hear what you think of it. For readers in the UK, the British soft cover won't hit the shelves until 14 July but Australia and South Africa – you guys get the UK edition this month already. I thought it might be fun to line up all the covers and ask you all to tell me which one you prefer. I'd be especially interested to see if there's a split along gender lines and according to nationality. My publishers keep telling me that UK and US audiences have widely differing tastes.
Oh, and I should mention that both paperback editions have a little bonus. They include the first chapter of Dragonfly, or rather the Prologue. My editor thought it might be interesting to add it to the back of Witch to provide readers with a taster of what's to come. Of course, it does mean that I'm not allowed to change the beginning of the book ever again. For a writer like me, who can't keep her hands off the manuscript until the day it is actually sent off to the printers, this is a tough restriction.
But for now, that bottle of wine is waiting...