If youâ€™ve been visiting here during the past year, youâ€™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 controlâ€”family matters take precedence, unless youâ€™re the kind of writer Too Important To Be Disturbed and asked to take people to a doctorâ€™s appointment, far less the cat to the vet.
But there are other reasons TOUCHSTONE has taken its own sweet time in being finished. Itâ€™s a complex book, with six main characters, and writing something complex that reads simpleâ€”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 whomâ€”is both enormously difficult and absolutely vital. I generally hate stories with more than four or five characters because Iâ€™m a fast reader and forget details, which means either Iâ€™m paging back to check on a detail, or (more often) I just read past it and figure Iâ€™ll pick it up again as I go, which rarely happens and Iâ€™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 itâ€™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 heâ€™s only in a couple of scenes, someone who â€œknowsâ€ 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 doesnâ€™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 doesnâ€™t keep thinking Wow, sheâ€™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 thatâ€™s what is being done, love the characters but be brutal with them.
So thatâ€™s my rewrite process: trying to make a yearâ€™s work so smooth it becomes invisible.
Iâ€™m on what has to be the final rewrite now, due in by the end of July. Iâ€™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 hardbackâ€™s cover) and I have my editorâ€™s assurance that itâ€™s hovering on the edge of superb.
With five weeks to nudge it there.