The Silver Boat feels very alive to me. It's only October, and the novel won't come out until April 2011, but already it's making its way in the world. I'm always amazed at the secret, labyrinthine, enchanted life of a novel, and I thought maybe you would be, too. First it has to be written. That in itself is pure magic and spirit. The initial idea lodges in my heart, I live with it for some time, and soon I find yourself looking for a pen, jotting down the first lines, the character's name, a vision of where she lives, what she sees. Or maybe the idea is big and fully formed enough for me to go straight to the computer, open a new file, and let the story flow.
Living with the novel, listening to the characters, is more privilege and joy than work. To wake up every morning, hit the desk and start up where I'd left off the night before, let my characters lead me deeper, is the best. I'm never happier than when writing.
When I've written the last page, reread the draft, feel it's time to let it go, I send the manuscript to my agent and my publisher. For many years, since my first novel, I've incorporated talismanic elements into the submission; I almost always find a card, or a postcard, that somehow illustrates the essence of my new novel. I still remember the one I used for Crazy in Love: Winslow Homer's Summer Night, a painting of a couple dancing in moonlight on the beach.
The postcard I included with the manuscript Secrets of Paris, was a photograph of a woman writing at a Paris cafe, and actually inspired Viking to use it as the book cover.
Talismanic postcard or not, There are some tense days, waiting for a reaction. When it comes, if it's good, I'm thrilled and ready to dig into the next phase--revision. The first draft is a gift, and revision is really work.
Finally the novel is finished, accepted, and a new round of fun begins. Cover sketches, proofs, choices. Pam, my editor, had a very clear idea for The Silver Boat's cover; I remember sitting in her office when she showed it to me. I loved its simple beauty, luminosity, and the way it drew me in to the novel.
Now the ARCs (advance reading copies) are finished, being sent into the world. Publishing industry people will read it. Peggy, the agent in charge of foreign rights, went to the Frankfurt Book Fair, and showed the cover to foreign publishers, and reported back that they loved it.
Tonight I'll have dinner with a woman from LA who will help publicize the novel. I love all these moments, pre-publication, because I see how each one helps the book come to life. Books are like the Velveteen Rabbit--they have to be read and loved for them to truly be alive.
I have a shelf of much-read and greatly-loved books--my own private Velveteen Rabbits. Actually, The Velveteen Rabbit is one. Honor Moore's The White Blackbird, Alice Hoffman's The Story Sisters, J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Laurie Colwin's Happy All the Time, Ann Hood's The Red Thread, Joe Monninger's Eternal on the Water, Katherine Mosby's Twilight (published way before the other Twilight,) Rumor Godden's Little Plum, Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague, James Joyce's Dubliners, Sylvia Plath's Letters Home, Gretel Ehrlich's The Solace of Open Spaces, Pam Houston's Cowboys are my Weakness, Braided Creek by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser, and so many more: I've read and read them, loved them all, in some cases until they're threadbare.
April seems a long ways away, but I know it will come fast. Actual publication is something else again--exciting, satisfying, and I never tire of walking into a bookstore and seeing my novel on the shelf. But by then I'm usually deeply into a new novel, with a group of new characters, and a whole new life is underway. Another book, another life.