Thursday, February 19, 2009

Uncritical

Toward the end of December, I took a break from emergency revisions for NOT QUITE A HUSBAND and went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I shed my first tears within moments of the beginning, when the clockmaker's backward-turning clock was revealed, and he spoke of how he wished that time could flow back and bring back all the young men (his own son included) who had perished in the Great War.

The tone of the movie was set. From then on, I was completely and rapturously enveloped in the gentle yet unsentimental journey of a man who ages backward. I'd read other aging backward stories, most notably in Dan Simmons' Hyperion, so I already know it is a peculiar genre that moves me. But still, I cried and cried at the end of the movie and then went home--it was like 2:30 am when I got back--and cried for another half hour. Because it touched me so. Because for me it spoke so eloquently of the fragility of life, the inexorability of death, and the gallantry of love, knowing in the end that it might not even be remembered or recognized.

But I seem to be in the minority in my uncritical love of this movie. When I've talked to people about it, they feel the movie was too long and rather boring at parts. My mom in particular, from whom I inherited my shallowness, complained at length that there wasn't enough young Brad Pitt for eye candy. :-)

Now, what else do I love uncritically?

Some of you might know that I had a lot of trouble with DELICIOUS, that I had to throw out the equivalent of two entire drafts before my editor accepted the third version. (I am, without a doubt, the best edited writer in all of romance--bar none.) When I received the first final copies of DELICIOUS hot off the press, I sat down and read it through--for probably the very first time, since before that I always had to make changes. My verdict? "Powerful but imperfect," as I wrote in an email to my editor, vowing to keep the powerful but get rid of the imperfect with my next book.

Some of you might also know that I had some major trouble with NOT QUITE A HUSBAND in the home stretch--namely, I sent it in and my editor sent it back with a few choice words that had me wander around my house shellshocked for half a day or so before I pulled myself together to redo the book in the three weeks. (Otherwise my pub date would have to be moved back to 2010.)

Having gone through three drafts with DELICIOUS, getting a sucky draft sent back shouldn't be anything new for me, right?

Well, it was a new experience. Each time I handed in a not-okay draft of DELICIOUS, I sort of knew that it wasn't okay. The first time I actually prayed that my editor wouldn't hate it too much--she did, and I wasn't too surprised.

This time I was really, really shocked. Even after I'd rewritten and resubmitted and had my new version accepted, I couldn't stop wondering about it. Why was my assessment of the original version of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND so diametrical from that of my editor's? The ability to judge one's own work is an important quality to have for a writer, especially a professional writer. And I'd thought that I'd finally acquired that ability.

Then I read the new version of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND in anticipation of the line edit and the copy edits. I cried--and cried and cried. It dawned on me finally that NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, even the much-flawed original version, was just like Benjamin Button for me.

Have you ever read a book that hurts so good that you lose all critical faculties? A book of deep lovely pain that make you feel with such intensity and rawness that you cannot grade it on any objective measure, because you don't care, because it just knocks you out in all the right ways?

That is NOT QUITE A HUSBAND for me. Me, not my editor, fortunately. The book as it originally stood had a couple of significant structural weaknesses which I completely ignored because I was an emotion junkie getting her fix with the rest of the story. My clear-eyed editor pointed them out and made me fix them.

And the new version gets to me even more.

It feels unsettling, almost, to speak of a book of my own that way. And I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. I could very well end up in the minority here, as NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is not an easy story, nor does it have a secondary romance to lighten things up from time to time. But it is, in a way, a marvelous experience, to write something that jives with me so much that I'm utterly blind to its faults, that upon reading it I am incapable of anything but teary-eyed happiness.

The rest of you, prepare to be sorely disappointed. :-)

16 comments:

Courtney Milan said...

Heh. I just sent my novella in to my editor--and I have to admit that I am afraid I am blinded by love. We'll see what she has to say.

But I so want to read NQaH. I loved the first few pages on your site.

Kaley said...

Nice try, Sherry. But your name on the cover--"disappointment" is the last thing I'm preparing for.

What an awesome (in the true sense) experience for you to have as a writer. Protect it, even in the unlikely event the critics put their claws out.

My hurts-so-good, uncritically loved books? Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood. Little Women. The Emily books by LM Montgomery. Even the third one, when she's depressed and has writer's block most of the way through.

Kim said...

With how many times a writer has to go over the same dialogue and keep perfecting it, I would think that it's quite easy to lose your objectivity. After reading a passage for the hundredth time, how can it still feel fresh to you? If you only had the luxury of time and could put the manuscript aside for several weeks, I think you would immediately see the areas that need improvement. Since time is a writer's enemy, however, you have to rely on a second set of eyes, namely your editor. It's still the manuscript you fell in love with, just slightly refined.

Also, thanks for the fascinating in-depth story on the writing of Delicious. I enjoyed seeing your initial vision for the story and then the evolution of the secondary romance. One significant improvement was the hero's name; he just didn't seem like a Remus to me.

I look forward to reading NQaH.

Beth said...

Well, you've certainly got me intrigued.

I loved Delicious, btw. I don't know what you changed from the original, but I really like what ended up on the shelves. :)

Stephanie said...

This is really interesting. Because so often when writers are asked which of their books is their favorite, they usually reply "the one I'm working on now" or make some comment about how they can't choose among their children, etc. But I've always thought that there must be some works that are especially dear to an author's heart, even if the author never admits as much in print.

NQaH looks very promising. I'm especially intrigued by some of the parallels you draw with The Painted Veil because the original is such a dark story, yet the potential for romance and redemption is definitely there.

Psychoidiot said...

I love anything you put out! =) I come here ever so often hoping there might be a snippet of information of your new book.. and I'm glad you love your new book because LOVE shows through (okay been watching too much Top Chef)

M. said...

I just saw '12 Monkeys' again, a little-watched Bruce Willis movie of many years ago - and thought again what an amazing job Brad Pitt did in it as an insane (or is he?) animal rights activist. I feel almost bad for him that he can never escape the focus on his looks, when primarily he's an excellent actor.

Which has nothing to do with your books, but that's the beauty of blog surfing - flight of ideas!

Anonymous said...

Where's the account of writing "Delicious" that Kim refers to? Because I'd love to read that, too.

No secondary romance! Ack! I really, really like your secondary romances so far. But the premise of NQaH is so intriguing that I'll cross my fingers the primary romance is enough.

Janine said...

I think I'm a sucker for the same emotion Sherry loves, at least in NQAH, because I loved both versions.

Jill Sorenson said...

Oh, I really need to subscribe to your blog. Or remember to visit more frequently, LOL.

What you just described with Not Quite is the same feeling I had with my latest manuscript. I was so deeply moved by the story, I couldn't see its flaws. I literally wept when the hero and heroine got back together. My editor--didn't. She thought the whole thing was terrible. I was shellshocked, just like you said. Utterly flattened.

Your story gives me hope. If an extraordinary talent like you struggles with revisions from time to time, so can I.

And I'm so excited for your next release! I love a tearjerker.

Thanks.

Sherry Thomas said...

Sorry for the late response. Google was down for some time but even after Google was back up I had a heck of a difficult time getting into blogger.

Courtney,

I hope your editor loves it as much as you do. I'm intrigued by your choice of hero.

Kaley,

LOL, from your lips to God's ears. I truly do not want to disappoint, but with only 2 books under my belt, my track record isn't quite established yet.

Kim,

I actually don't have much problem polishing scenes, it is the story structure--i.e., big picture--that gives me trouble sometimes. (Which totally sucks for me, as story structure problems require wholesale dumping.)

P.S. After a while, he didn't seem like a Remus to me either.

Beth,

I can't even remember very much what was in the first turn-in version of Delicious. But boy, am I glad that Bantam didn't just take it and put into print.

Stephanie,

Wow, you know about Painted Veil as inspiration for NQAH? You must have read the Italian interview then. Can't remember I ever spoke about that publicly elsewhere.

I have to say however that it was not the book but the movie that served as my inspiration. I wiki-ed the book Painted Veil and had a WTF moment reading the very end of the plot. The movie, on the other hand, sooooooo good. And so devastating. My little romance reading soul was totally unprepared for what happened to poor Walter.

P.I.,

Thanks. I'm planning to do a in-depth story-behind-the-story for NQAH as I did for DELICIOUS in the coming weeks, so that would be extra info for you. :-)

M,

I saw 12 Monkeys, and Brad Pitt was stupendous. Have you seen 7 Years in Tibet, btw? Great acting job, AND he looked fine.

Anon,

There had been a secondary romance, but it just didn't sparkle. It also didn't really relate to the primary plot except the characters were related by blood. And it was only half-finished by the time the big rewrite order came down. On the spot I decided to chuck it, if only for time concerns. 3 weeks just wasn't enough to fix both the primary and the secondary.

The account of writing DELISH Kim referred to is on my website, in the page for Delicious, under "Story behind the Story." I posted the original proposal for DELISH, and something of the writing journey, and bits of research info. But now I'm thinking there are stuff I left out, such as why I wanted to write about a cook in the first place.

Oh well, will fill in later.

Janine,

Bless you. And yes, we certainly are suckers for the same wrenching stuff.

Jill,

Yep, flattened. That was me.

But I really don't think I have any extraordinary talent except a willingness to pitch everything out and start again.

Writers get attached to their stories--that's the way it should be. But I think more often our attachment is not to the story itself, but the way it is told. And that's where we can use a little non-attachment and say, okay, how can I tell this story better while still preserving the core of the story?

Hope your revisions are coming along swimmingly.

Kim said...

Sherry, I noticed on your Twitter update that you're hoping to write a contemporary. Do you plan to alternate or leave historical romances behind? I hope the answer is alternate.

Although I like both genres, it's always sad when good historical romance writers totally leave the genre. Judith McNaught wrote some great historicals, but has said that she has nothing new to add to the genre. She now concentrates on contemporaries. Hopefully, you will do both.

Sherry Thomas said...

Kim,

I am not going to alternate b/t historicals and contemporaries. Cuz I have only one (half actually) contemp that I've written for fun on the side--as a break from the historicals.

If someone asks me to write more contemps I'd totally have no idea what to write about. So my hope is just that my publisher would throw me a few bucks for this particular one on my next historical contract and put it out as a pity project. :-)

beverley said...

Sherry,

I'm a junkie too. I loved, loved to be moved to tears when I read a romance novel. I love that ache in my chest. I'm looking forward to NQAH like nobody's business. Champing at the proverbial bit. I know I would have loved the original version and I know I'll love, love the final.

Now you need to hurry up with The Ideal Gentlemen.

Bev

Lord, even your blogs are written with eloquence.

HeatherB said...

Oh, dear, you need not worry. My friend, author Samantha Gail, told me today that your writing has changed her mind about there not being much in historical she likes. She bought your books for Kindle after I raved about you and said your writing is (and I quote) 'Magical'.

As I adore her, I count that as high praise and will add my own (by now well-known) Sherry-worship to the stew. You rock, girl, keep making the magic. I'll put the pending release on my site! YIPPIE!!!!!!

Heather
www.blazeofbeauty..com
candles and books and contests...oh my!

Sherry Thomas said...

Bev,

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Though the situation with The Ideal Gentleman is a bit fluid. Will update as soon as I know anything for sure.

Heather,

Wow, that's high praise indeed. Please tell Samatha Gail that I'm blushing.

And thank you for all your support. I truly appreciate it.