Six impossible things

First Final

Every saga has a beginning, and this one begins four weeks ago, when my editor sent me a three-page, single-spaced revisions e-mail and a copy of the ms. for what is now Across the Great Barrier that was full of comment balloons.

It didn’t arrive.

We didn’t realize this for a week, because I was being restrained and not asking “Where the $#%@& are the revisions requests you promised me on Monday?” and he was being restrained and giving me time to think about them because they were fairly substantial (we’ll get to that in a minute). By the time we got that sorted out, I was down to two and a half weeks of revision time instead of four.

This was important because those two and a half weeks included a) my turn making tea for the girls (six of us have been doing this every other month for…over twenty years, for sure. Between cooking and cleanup, it’s a big production and eats up at least three days, counting the day of the tea itself), and b) a drive down to Chicago and back to take care of Dad’s paperwork and bills for the month, which took about four days but only ate two because I took the laptop and worked while I was there.

Fortunately, I didn’t have much in the way of questions; David is an excellent editor, very clear in explaining what he wants and why, and he’s also usually on the same wavelength as I am (meaning, he doesn’t ask for totally off-the-wall things like “Why don’t you put in some explosions? I like explosions.” or “What this needs is a completely new plot twist that has nothing to do with anything else in the story…put it right here, where it will wreck the pacing and twist the main plot totally out of shape.”)

Unfortunately… Well, I did mention that these were substantial revisions, didn’t I? By my standards, anyway. Among other things, I ended up needing a whole new chapter (containing a whole new character, because it’s really hard to do very much dialog that’s only tagged “one of the men said.” I needed somebody for my characters to talk to).

And of course David put his finger right on every single place where I’d hoped I could avoid dealing with some bit or other, or where I knew it needed a bit more but I’d figured I could skate by with what I had. I couldn’t even really argue.

So after I’d read the letter and the comments through once, I sent him an email and we worked out the new title and discussed a few aspects of the story that hadn’t been clear. To him, anyway; I knew the answers, but they hadn’t gotten down on the page. (One of my besetting sins is that I either over- or under-explain; I can’t seem to get the hang of making things clear without actually saying them straight out, so they come out cryptic instead of…well, instead of that thing Megan Whelan Turner does, where the reader figures it all out for themselves and feels clever). While we were discussing, I mulled things over. And made tea.

Mulling is a necessary part of the process, and very important. It doesn’t look like writing; indeed, it usually happens when the writer is doing other things (baking scones and making chocolate silk pie, in this case). Anyway, once tea was over and cleared off, I got started on the actual writing part, with two weeks left and a trip to Chicago coming up.

How I do revisions is, I look at the big ones, and if any of them look easy, I start with those. None of the big ones looked easy, this time. So I did a first pass, knocking off the little changes to get rid of as many comment balloons as I could and feel like I’d made some progress. “Little changes” are usually stuff like deleting unnecessary adjectives or changing a word choice. Every so often, I’d go back and write a few sentences or paragraphs of the new chapter. Then I hit the short scenes, again alternating with the new chapter. The nice thing about revising is that every time I get stuck, I can skip to some other part of the manuscript and work on that for a while. The unfortunate part of revising this way is that it leaves all the hardest bits for last.

On Thursday, I emailed my editor and asked whether Production was really going to be working on my book all weekend, or was the deadline actually Monday morning? David assured me that Monday would be fine, so Production was off the hook for the weekend, and I was on. Until 9:01 last night.

The manuscript is now 10,000 words longer than it was when it started. It has one entirely new chapter in the middle (I hope I didn’t miss anything when I renumbered all the rest of them), four or five completely new scenes, and a whole lot of new paragraphs scattered throughout. The last chapter got taken apart and totally rewritten; so did two of the mid-book chapters. This is all a lot harder than it sounds, because when you add a new chapter, you have to revise about half a chapter before and half a chapter after to make the transition into and out of it work properly. Same thing for new scenes, and even new paragraphs.

So it’s done (until the copy-edit comes, anyway), and I am going to take the day off and play computer games. And then get back to work on the next one.

  1. Oh, honey. Virtual hugs. I hope you are very pleased with the final version, and that you have a scone left in the freezer to have with a cup of tea, because you deserve it!

  2. Good luck! A question, seemingly random, but – what kind of computer games do you play? I am curious.

    • Kathi – Hey, everybody is entitled to complain about their job! And the fact that the revisions/copyedit/galleys always arrive at THE most inconvenient time is pretty much a given. I figure, as long as I made the deadline with something I’m not ashamed to put my name on, it’s all good.

      Cassandra – It’s easier to say what kind of games I don’t play – that would be first-person shooters. I think I’ve done most other kinds, from strategy games like Civ IV to Adventure to RPGs like Morrowind.

  3. If you don’t mind a suggestion, I ran across an RPG with a couple of unique twists on the usual thing. It’s called Din’s Curse and is made by independent developer Soldak Entertainment. You can find a demo for it at

    • nct2 – OK, I just blew two hours playing the demo. This is yet another game I really didn’t need to know about… 🙂

  4. Oopsie… Hope I didn’t delay Book 3. 🙂

  5. Wow, sounds like you had a tough time there. I’m glad you could relax afterwords. 🙂

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