Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bad News, Good News

I missed blogging last week. One reason was, we’re packing to move. Actually, we have hired a moving company, so we don’t have to do everything, but on the other hand, my husband has books, I have books, and we have books; so we are each packing our own books so they don’t all end up in one huge pile. Plus, we are sorting through the accumulation of twenty years and discovering what a pair of pack rats we are. So things are being kept, sold, given away, and thrown away. Our new place is about two-thirds the size of this one, which is encouraging the disposal of things. We closed on Tuesday, handing over a check that was scary in size. And for right now, we own two homes.
The second reason was even bigger: I had a book come apart in my hands. Not a literal book; that is, not a book you pick up and have the pages fall out. No, this was a book I have been writing for months, with nine chapters on the computer, eight of which had been shown to my writer’s group and carefully commented on. Based on the synopsis, my editor had been complaining there was not enough stitching in it, so I was adding lots and lots of it. But it turned out that what she didn’t like was the core plot, which involved an ancient golden Buddha hidden inside a fake-stone one. My agent and I had a long talk last week, in which she finally explained the problem in words I could understand. I was angry of course, because why hadn’t that been made clear long ago? But a day or two later my agent phoned again and we brain-stormed and came up with a fresh angle, and suddenly, instead of having to start on a brand new book, the plot of Thai Die became viable again. My editor loves it. What’s even better, the changes needed aren’t so enormous that I have to start completely over – in fact, I can keep chunks of the plot already written, with alterations. All I have to do is research the history of silk . . . Oh, well. It’s an interesting topic. I have already learned that a roomful of silkworms munching on mulberry leaves make a sound like heavy rain. And that there are pieces of brightly colored silk more than two thousand years old.
This past weekend I was at a quilt show in St. Paul. It started Thursday and ended Saturday. It’s amazing how fun and exhausting it can be to be friendly and interested and excited from ten to five, three days in a row. I signed a lot of books, which was great. On Sunday this nice woman stopped and we talked. She is a professional quilter. I have never made a quilt. But about three years ago I bought a few pieces of fabric at a quilt show. Then more at another. The only requirement I had was that it have a chicken theme. At first I bought it because I like chickens and the patterns were amusing or beautiful. You would not believe how much chicken-themed fabric there is out there, and I kept buying it. After awhile I had so much I knew I was going to have to make a quilt of it – I was buying “fat quarters,” which contain a quarter yard each, and so are not big enough for me to do anything else with it. I decided it was just going to be squares, none of those complex patterns for me. So I took a couple of lessons and bought a fabric cutter and cutting board and a very large, clear-plastic ruler. Just to make it a bit more interesting, I decided some of the squares would be stitched (counted cross stitch, needlepoint, punch needle, applique). I bought some stitching patterns – there are a lot of chicken patterns, too, I must not be the only person who likes chickens. But somehow the writing kept getting in the way and the fabric, only a little of it cut into squares, just sat in a box. I did most of the stitched squares, but not all of them. I wanted the quilt for our bed in our new place, but we’re moving June 26, and I was upset with myself for not getting this done. But this wonderful woman, the professional quilter, said she’d make the fabric into a quilt for me – and at a price that is very reasonable! I wanted to hug her, I wanted to fall on her neck weeping with joy. I told her I wanted to complete a couple more stitched squares, then I’d send everything to her. Her name is Karen and she lives in Wisconsin, and I’m not telling you any more than that for fear some of you would get in line ahead of me. But I’m reasonably sure that my birthday present to myself this year is going to be a new quilt.
So life is exasperating, infuriating, frustrating, exciting and, most of all, good.


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You poor lamb. Moving alone is enough to make someone want to crawl into a hole and never come out.

Thanks for the insightful look at what can happen on the road to publication--with the book "falling apart." When it happens to me (at that stage, it's already happened pre-contract), I'll think of you.

Sending a virtual hug your way--


Camille Minichino said...

Monica, it was worth the wait for this blog. We've all had that sinking feeling when a book falls apart. My first reaction is always Forget It I'll Never Write Again, then I start to see, as you did, that I can salvage most and that in the end it will be better.
On moving ... the last time for me, 5 years ago, I decided to finally alphabetize my books by author, within subjects. So as I packed, I had boxes laid out with Mystery A-C, Mystery D-F and so on, then Philosophy A-C ... and so on, and threw the books into the correct box as I took them from shelves, corners, closets. Then when I got here, I just loaded the shelves by box.
Thinking of you and your new quilt! Camille

Deb Baker said...

"Falling apart" happened to me several months ago when my editor CALLED to discuss the "core plot problem." At first, I was distraught. How could I salvage this in two weeks??? After a few days of thought, I realized I could do it without starting over, and the book is stronger than ever.
Good luck with your move.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Oh, Monica, I'm sure all writers empathize with what you're going through--at least with your plot. And I dread the idea of ever moving, too! I'm glad things are coming together for you. Hugs!


Monica Ferris said...

Oh, you all are such a comfort to me! Thank you for your supportive words! And you are also right, the book is better for the storm. Camille, I wish I'd thought of that sorting thing, what a great idea! It would have made shelving the books in the new place sweeter -- and made finding a particular book so much easier. I am keeping my research and "help" books (dictionaries, thesaurus, Name Your Baby, Scene of the Crime, Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation, History of Silk)together.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I think Camille's idea is super.

I wondered to our other Midnight Ink authors if they also have a "crap" moment when they despair. Many emailed me to say they do.

I'm editing a YA novel that might never see the light of day, and as my shoulder cramps from my position on the mouse, I wonder, "Am I just wasting my time?"

Kathryn Lilley said...

Monica, Joanna, et al,

I totally relate to the "crap" moment. Mine came more than two years ago, when the idea of publishing my book was still only a glimmer in my eye. Back then, I'd submitted a chapter of my yet-unpublished tome to a writing group (we're not even talking an agent or a publisher, here, just a writing group, for crying out loud). This group had, as one of its members, a certain, ahem, "Well-Known Writer."

Well, Ms. Well-Known-Writer not only rejected my work, she copied me on some emails that implied that it was good that I didn't "stick my head in the oven" over her group's rejection of my application for membership.

I spent quite a bit of time boo-hooing over that rejection. Then I picked myself up, and kept on writing! Now I have a multi-book contract with a major publisher.

Moral of the story is: keep writing, and believe in yourself! You go, girl!


Joanna Campbell Slan said...


You really have to wonder, don't you? I mean, what on earth would make a person--nay, ALLOW a person--to treat someone like that?

And I know you, and I know what a sweet person you are, and how that shines from you. So, of all people, why be mean to you?

Well, all I can say is, "You go girlfriend, I've got your back." You point out that monster to me and I'll...I'll...I'll think of something mean to do!

I am so glad you didn't let her stand in the way of your success.


Monica Ferris said...

Kathryn, it was very strong and intelligent of you not to let that professional writer get you down by doing such an unprofessional thing as write and forward ugly e-mails. You didn't want to join that writers' group anyhow, if that sort of depressing and unhelpful commentary is allowed in it.

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