Rewrite, redux

If you’ve been visiting here during the past year, you’ll have watched the progress (sic?) of TOUCHSTONE, and wondered whether LRK will ever finish the damned book.

The process of writing, or rather, of rewriting the book has been extraordinarily difficult, for a number of reasons, many of them out of my control—family matters take precedence, unless you’re the kind of writer Too Important To Be Disturbed and asked to take people to a doctor’s appointment, far less the cat to the vet.

But there are other reasons TOUCHSTONE has taken its own sweet time in being finished. It’s a complex book, with six main characters, and writing something complex that reads simple—where the reader is never in doubt who is talking, never has to go back and check which person did what and who was once sleeping with whom—is both enormously difficult and absolutely vital. I generally hate stories with more than four or five characters because I’m a fast reader and forget details, which means either I’m paging back to check on a detail, or (more often) I just read past it and figure I’ll pick it up again as I go, which rarely happens and I’m left not entirely sure about the plot.

So this book needs to have each character presented with the vivid immediacy of a short story character but with sufficient complexity to hold up his or her part of the story to the end. And each person needs to interact in believable and interesting ways with the others, while the plot is unfolding and the main elements of the mystery are glimpsed but not given away.

Oh, and it’s historical, which means I have to get the details right. Have to have a clear enough picture of someone like Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin so that, even though he’s only in a couple of scenes, someone who “knows” the man would nod (if grudgingly) and say, Yes, he might have said that. Have to give enough of the political and economic situation that 1) someone who has never heard of the General Strike (Britain, 1926) can grasp the central issues and feel the urgency and on the other hand 2) someone who has done a PhD on the General Strike doesn’t tear his hair at my interpretation and send me an outraged letter.

So, 650 pages (manuscript pages, which will become 400+ in the book) of political action and love story, redemption and fury, nastiness and heroism. 650 pages of eye color (blue, green, and what color IS hazel, anyway?) and personal history and chronology and modern Twenties slang and fads like naturism and folk dancing and style of shoes and twenty details on every page, but the writing has to be invisible, so the reader doesn’t keep thinking Wow, she’s sure done a lot of homework here, and instead thinks, Wow, how are these people going to get out of this? Tell without telling, drop information without any signposts suggesting that’s what is being done, love the characters but be brutal with them.

So that’s my rewrite process: trying to make a year’s work so smooth it becomes invisible.

I’m on what has to be the final rewrite now, due in by the end of July. I’ve gone through the entire thing, transferred several inches of graphite from pencil to pages, and am thinking about how to reshape the last fifty pages. I have a cover, I have cover copy (ie, the description on the inside flap of the hardback’s cover) and I have my editor’s assurance that it’s hovering on the edge of superb.

With five weeks to nudge it there.

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  1. Cathy on June 22, 2007 at 9:19 am

    I can’t wait to read it!!

  2. KarenB on June 22, 2007 at 9:45 am

    It’s like having a baby. For some, one try and nine months later a new person enters the world. For others, years of disappointments or postponements before the much desired end result. Your literary children are worth many, many years of waiting. Much as we would like you to WRITE ANOTHER ONE, RIGHT NOW! we love your books enough to gather our patience and greet with joy your efforts no matter how long it takes.

  3. Roxanne on June 22, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    “What color IS hazel, anyway?” My eyes, I am told, are hazel–although they change from day to day and even throughout the day. Mostly they are gold or brown. The last thing I expected after nine months was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby.

    Anyway, I looked up a definition/description of hazel eye color:

    Four genes must determine the same color for the eye color to be ‘pure’; otherwise a mixed color such as hazel will result. As the perception of color is dependent upon the conditions in which color is perceived, so is the perception of eye color. There is some difficulty in defining the eye color “hazel” as it is sometimes considered to be synonymous with brown and other times with green. In North America, “hazel” is often used to describe eyes that change color, ranging from light brown to green and even blue, depending on what color clothing the person is wearing or what color is predominant in their immediate environment. (Eyes that change only between blue and green are not called “hazel”; the term only describes changeable eye color that includes a brownish shade within its range.)

    Everyone bored yet?

    I am glad (for you) that you are nearing completion of Touchstone. I wonder, do you ever get sick of looking at your own work? When writing, I sometimes can’t stand to read the words one more time.

  4. Carlina on June 22, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Tough to be a writer these days then? Its always the little things isn’t it? Well I am glad for you that things are progressing nicely with the lusty lot as you called them before. You’ll do superb…you always do! Now I am curious will Holmes or Russell make a cameo anywhere with the overlapping time period and what not?

    I’ll look forward to it..nothing like a little lust and intrigue with a good mystery! Hope you and family are doing well.

  5. adyktd2thewrttnwrd on June 24, 2007 at 12:15 am

    My sister is a writer and she is going through a bit of what you are right now. Although not published, she has been writing the same story for almost 7 years and it has had at least, 5 rewrites, so I understand why you are a little . . . flustered(?)

    I never knew how much work went into a novel until I got older, and now that I do, all I can say is that I wish you the best!!!!

    Just think, when this is over, you can kick back and relax, for a time . . . at least until we scream and beg you to write more!

  6. Marcia Diane on June 24, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    go, go, go, you can do it, you can, you’re almost there, and patiently we wait while nicely diverted by the book club!


    M. Diane

  7. Marcia Diane on June 24, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    oh ps,

    thanks for slinging us such a juicey tid bit about how and what you do, as always it deeply satisfies to ‘hear’ you once again. Everytime you talk about the craft of writing I am enthralled to understand what a complex process it truly is. Or should I say is for truly great writing such as yours.

    really thanks,

    M. Diane

  8. 2maple on June 25, 2007 at 8:22 am

    I’m looking forward to reading it…when its ready; done right rather than rushed.

    Funny you should mention being clear about who said what; One of my daughters just reat “Lord of the Flies”…that was her biggest complaint.

    I never knew what color hazael eyes were either. I guess that’s what color my husband’s eyes are…I always teased him they look like grapes that are going bad…they definately take on the color of what he’s whearing if its in the browns or olive greens.

  9. Kerry on June 25, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I always took hazel eyes to be what Roxanne wrote — eyes that can change from green through brown to blue, but that normally settle somewhere in the green/brown range. FWIW, I have the kind that can go blue to greenish, but mostly hang around in the grey range.

    Anyway, I mostly just wanted to say thanks, again, for taking the time to share the process with us. If it helps at all, one of the things I most admire about your books is your ability to convey all the zillions of details of time, place and character invisibly; I never feel like I’m being hit over the head with a thesis or sidetracked into a largely irrelevant discourse (included, apparently, just so the author can show me how much s/he knows about whatever it is). Clearly, it’s a skill you know how to employ.

    I am so excited to read this one — best of luck for the next few weeks!

  10. vicki on June 26, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    “…I always teased him they look like grapes that are going bad”


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