You might have noticed me talking about a review of The Camellia Resistance that is on Nick Owchar’s Blog. I’m rediculously excited. All that stuff about purpose aside, I’m not so philosophical that I can completely set aside my pleasure at a positive review. One, it’s just wildly gratifying that someone that doesn’t have to like me likes the book. Two, Mr. Owchar knows a little bit about this business of book reviewing (former deputy book editor for the LA Times) but he doesn’t know me. I asked him to review the book out of the blue and he had every reason to be wary of the request and say no. He’s not getting paid for his book reviews anymore, so this is all an effort borne out of love for books. Goodness knows with the way money has been over the past year, I don’t have what it takes to invest in the business of buying book reviews. As someone coming out of the media and publishing culture, Mr. Owchar could have reasonably said “no, I don’t have the time or the energy to look at a book published by a start up, independent publisher.” But he didn’t. And for that I’m incredibly grateful.
Fortunately, I have another debt to claim.
Writers need editors. Every writer, no exceptions. The editing process, particularly when you’re looking at a full-length novel, is long and grueling. You can find someone to edit your book for under $1,000. It just won’t pay for the time it takes to make something good – not just finding stray commas, but looking for gaps in continuity. Finding places where the character says the same thing twice. Asking questions about the motivation when the emotions don’t ring true. Pushing to go deeper. Being ruthless about cutting anything that doesn’t add something. Making the author justify every word, every plot point.
It’s at least a $30,000 chunk of work. Here’s my reasoning. Say an editor in a big city makes $90,000 a year. We’ll assume this is an experienced editor. A 100k word novel could reasonably take 1/3 of a year to edit properly. That’s $30,000.
I don’t have $30,000 laying around. Hell, I don’t have $3,000 sitting in my bank account.
My editor on this project did it for nothing. For three years, she was there with me sweating out plot and character, pushing descriptions to the furthest of my ability to make them tangible and real. Asking impossible questions and forcing me to answer them satisfactorily. It helps that she’s been my best friend since we were 12 (give or take a couple of years in the middle when we had our heads up our arses). No friendship, no matter the duration, could sustain that kind of an effort just on a request. I’m not just saying that – a previous attempt at a novel failed her sniff-test. I wanted her to help me make that one better too and she wasn’t interested. It was a book I wrote because I wanted to write a book, not because I had something to say. There wasn’t enough love in it.
This one is different. The Camellia Resistance isn’t intended to compete with Salman Rushdie. This isn’t super abstract literary fiction. It’s supposed to be an engaging book for people that read because they like reading. But there’s a lot of love in it. Not the mushy romantic stuff (though there is a little of that) but the kind of love that looks like a lot of damn work with no promise of reward.
It’s good. At least I think it’s good. But the reason why it’s good isn’t because of me. It’s good because I had Tink beside me the whole way. She carried the bloody thing around in her briefcase for months, crossing out words on the bus and hoping no one was reading over her shoulder for the racy parts.
Don’t ever let me get away with acting like I could have pulled this off all by myself. I’m not that good. Tink and I are good. Not me all by myself.
And since we’re enumerating my debts, there are a couple more people I owe. They’re in the acknowledgements, but there’s always more to say. (Everyone I know is wildly private, so I’m not using names.)
The Contrarian – I was living with her when I wrote the first draft. Initially, the cross-country journey was going to be done on motorcycles. She talked me out of it. Too cliched, she said. Also too cold, given that this all goes down in November. She’s been on my side since we met in 1998 – one of those chance encounters at work that develops into a friendship that changes everything.
WLV – Where to even begin. He provided half of the spark that turned into the story. He read the first draft, and the second, and the third… and so on. He also served as an amazing plot consultant, engineer that he is. General Monroe was going to kill Warren Lake in the first draft and he put an end to that terrible idea. He’s talked me through raging writer’s insecurity, fed me lunch on more than one occasion, and spent a morning pacing my dining room to sketch out the basics for The Camellia Rebellion (being written now.)
MVW – My real life Marshall. What can I tell you? He read an early draft with dread, called me up afterwards and said “You know, I was afraid it was going to be awful. It’s not. When’s the next one happening? I want to know what happens next.” He’s always there pushing me to move forward no matter what.
FEJ – A support system in every sense of the term. Always nurturing, always protective of my writing time, and always there when I needed him.
SBS – Like Neal, someone who’s faith in me has always been there. When you’re a neurotic writer, sometimes you really need someone who is baffled by your insecurities.
There you go. That’s everyone that I owe. I mean, not Visa and Mastercard, obviously. They’re there too, but that’s just money. These debts are the kind you only hope you get the chance to repay… if not in kind, then with a level of gratitude commensurate with the gift.