Novel situation

So, some good news: (But first: a random question: How many of my posts begin with “So, …”?)

I have been chosen as one of BlogHer’s 2011 Voices of the Year, for the piece I wrote on meeting one of my mother’s former students. It’s a nice little honour, to be chosen from more than 1000 entries, that. I’m kicking myself a little for not being able to get to meet more of these great writers at BlogHer’s annual conference in San Diego in a couple of weeks, but I have seriously used up my quota of child-free vacations for this quarter. Among other reasons. (I am looking forward mightily to next year, however, when I will crash in Up Popped a Fox and Peaches and Coconuts’s hotel room, and see just what Deb on the Rocks has planned for the Queerosphere brunch and the like. I’m hoping it’s in Vegas.)

And some other writerly good news of a slightly different sort, but still good, all the same: I finished the first draft of my novel.

And now, I need to rewrite the whole thing.

Ha ha!

No seriously, I need to rewrite the whole thing. I kind of knew that. Sort of. But then that kind of/sort of feeling was confirmed by my editor/good friend/mentor, Jennifer, who met with me in Toronto right before I went to New York and told me, very gently but firmly, over smoked Arctic char salad with avocado and new potatoes at The Swan Restaurant, that I kind of needed to rewrite the whole thing. Except that she didn’t say “kind of.” She just made about a zillion intelligent observations that I might want to address: that I’m relying on inevitability of external situation as plot, that all the people are incredibly nice and that I seem to shy away from conflict or resolve it immediately, that it’s not clear whose story it is. You know. Just minor things.

I’m trying to think of an analogy for this, and the best one I can come up with at the moment is that it’s like that perm you got in eighth grade. Or those acid-wash jeans. Or, maybe — just saying, for the sake of example — that tattoo you got at age 21, the one of the snake, from page 203 of Alice Walker’s novel, The Temple of My Familiar, because it “sheds its skin but is ever itself; because of its knowledge of the secret places of the earth has survived from now until the end of time.”

I mean, barf.

Except, of course, of course, you got that perm and how could you have known any better, everybody got them, suffering as you did through junior high school. And that tattoo, precious and sanctimonious and silly as it is, is now part of you, witness to your different stages. And though you may think, What was I thinking?, you know you thought it, and that, at the time, it was integral.

So, so it is with this book. I had to write 284-odd pages of perms and acid wash and early 20s tattoos (my roommate at the time got a gecko, on a whim, because… Well, I don’t know. She liked the picture.) to get to this point, right now, where I have to rewrite most of those 284 pages. Because there are no shortcuts. Inasmuch as I not-so-secretly harboured the hope that Jennifer (Jennifer, who has edited some of the leading writers of this country , Giller- and Governors General Award–winning/nominated writers) might just sit down across from me at that restaurant and say, “By God, Susan, this is the most stunningly perfect first draft I’ve ever seen.”

By God.

But she didn’t say that. And — perhaps strangely, perhaps not — I’m not devastated. I did look at her, one eyebrow arched, when she suggested that after I sat down and worked through all of it on paper and figured out the answers to some very key questions, that the rewrite actually wouldn’t be so difficult.

And I said, “And how do you know that?”

And she said, “Because I’ve seen writers do it over and over again.”

And I thought, Okay, I’m going to trust you on this one.

And then I wandered the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn (and even a bit of Queens, not to mention South Orange, New Jersey) over the next week and a half, and mapped out the whole thing from memory, scene by scene, on index cards, and all of a sudden ideas, solutions, started popping up. I wrote those down on index cards too. And I began to get just a little bit excited, began to get the sense that maybe, with just a very large amount of backbreaking work, this wouldn’t be so hard.

Especially since I have this new notebook: