The Truth About My Next Book
Here’s the deal…last year, “Where the River Ends” released sometime in June. Maybe July. Can’t remember. It’s all a blur. Its second week, River hit the NYT bestseller list. It landed at #35, stayed there a week, and then some other unkind book knocked it off, but I’m not bitter about it. A few more counseling sessions and I should be okay.
My publisher then sent me on tour—for which I’m thankful. A great tour. Something like 20-30 cities, maybe more, as far north as Boston, west as Texas, south as Orlando and east as Italy. Christy and I returned from Florence towards the end of October.
During all of this, I was trying to finish a manuscript. Not ideal conditions but neither was the gulag when Solzhenitsyn was writing. I have no room to complain. I submitted that manuscript the week following Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, my agent, Chris, called…
He was preparing me for the next phone call. My editor. And to her credit, she had called Chris to let him know, so he could let me know, so I wouldn’t be blindsided when she called. In the world of writing, this is very cool.
She and I finally connected later in the day. She was rejecting it outright. There would be no rewrite. No reworking. No nothing. That may sound cruel, but the problem was that she was right. Spot on. And after talking with her for about three minutes, I picked up on this.
Somewhere early in the book, say chapter three, I took a wrong turn. The ripple effects scattered throughout the book. It was as if you and I had built a house. Finished the punch list, painted, sheets on the bed, curtains hung, silverware in the drawer, and then walked in the front door only to find a four-foot crack down the foundation that ran the length of the house. You can’t just caulk that.
She gave me a choice. Fix it if I could, but we both knew that was not happening, or come up with something else. I spent the holidays trying to resurrect it. It’s…tough, to let a story die.
But, after a few weeks, it was obvious. It was a dead horse. No use beating it anymore. I had to level the house. So, I went back to the drawing board, pitched another idea, and she and I spent several hours on the phone, working through plot and characters, etc. Mid-January, she cut me loose to write the story.
Sidenote: A lot of folks have heard this and asked, “Weren’t you peev’d at your editor?”
No. She’s really good. One of the best in the business. She saved me a lot of heartache by NOT releasing something that would have bombed. Prior to landing in New York, I had hoped to find an editor that could raise my level of writing. Make me better. And, oddly enough, by rejecting my work…she was. I’m still thankful for that.
The hard part came next. Coming off “The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini talks about a ‘crisis of confidence’ in “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” I understand. He said his wife helped him through. In understand that, too.
So, I turned on the light, poured a pot of coffee, and started writing. I traveled to Utah with Chris and a good friend Bill. You can find the pics on my Flickr account. Anyway, long story short…I finished and submitted three weeks ago.
Another sidenote: somewhere between there and here, my editor—after umpteen years—left Random House. She’s now a publisher at Simon Shuster with her own team. It’s a fantastic move. She deserves it. She’ll do great things. I don’t blame her. I’d have done the same thing.
There was only one problem.
I had no editor. I’ve since learned that in the publishing world, it’s called being ‘orphaned.’ Felt like it, too. Felt like somebody’d kicked me in the gut. And no one really knew what was going on. Long story short, and this can get confusing so hang on, my publisher who is one of my best cheerleaders, assigned me a new editor rather quickly. I think he’d put some though into it, too. I’d never met her. Still haven’t face-to-face. And she didn’t know squat about me, where I was in my process, or what I was working on, or the history or really anything having to do with me. So…as best I could, I tried to rehash, recap and fill her in without boring her to death. She knew my deadline, so we hung up having done the phone-call handshake, but that’s a tough way to meet somebody. It echoes with uncertainty.
For the record, the time between submission of a manuscript and phone call from editor is…(I’m scratching my head)…nail biting. Few authors breathe. Myself included. I mean, maybe Grisham or McCartney or Brown or name your icon, breath but not Martin.
Submission is a lot like giving birth to a child. No, I’ve never done it but I’ve seen it three times so I’ve got experience this side of the pushing. You (writer) birth this thing, wipe it off, wrap it up, and hand him or her to someone with outstretched arms. And, you pray like crazy that your child, something you’ve carried for nearly a year, is okay, healthy, got ten fingers and toes, and that the world will let them in because the world can be a tough place.
I know, cause the world had rejected my last child. This right here, this line of thought, it’s not bitterness. It’s honesty.
Two weeks passed. I lost weight. Christy began to wonder about me. I grew more quiet. Think church mouse.
Then I received this:
I am sure you are eager for feedback so I just wanted to let you know that I
am going to take this home tomorrow for the weekend and get back to you next
So, all was not lost. I sucked in a small wisp of air and started looking at Monday.
The weekend passed.
So did Monday.
So did part of Tuesday. Not that I was counting.
Just before Christy dialed 911 and the medics charged the paddles, my inbox dinged:
I just finished the book and WELL DONE! Really, I so enjoyed it and raced
right through it—it was absorbing and kept me wanting to turn the pages.
I can confess now that I was a little worried that the trapped in the
mountains angle would seem too farfetched, but you’ve done a wonderful job of
making it feel realistic (and harrowing). I really appreciated all your
first rate detailing (and obvious research) on all of the survival elements.
And I was completely won over by the “surprise” at the end. I can honestly
say, I didn’t see that coming, so the voice recordings had all the more
poignancy in retrospect, which is nice. I am sure you hear it all the time,
but your wife must get a kick out of the fact that she’s married to a writer
with such a way with sensitive and romantic descriptions…”
If you felt a reduction in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere last week, it was me. Taking a single breath.
As of now, it’s working title is “The Mountain Between Us” and it will release sometime next year.
And that’s good.
If you’ve navigated the internet this far, then you’re big enough to read between the lines. I won’t bore you with them, but I suppose the lessons here are many.
On a personal level, I know this: I’m gut-level thankful for folks who rolled up their sleeves and worked with me when…they didn’t necessarily have to. The list is long.
Lastly, having come off a NYT bestseller, or at least an extended list bestseller, to an outright rejection, (climbing high and falling low) I’m reminded of something I learned playing football:
I learned more from losing than I ever did winning. Having lost makes winning all the better. That doesn’t mean I like it or wish for it. I’d love to be undefeated, but this is life. Welcome to earth. We all fall down. All scrape our knees. What matters is whether and how you get up.
Okay, so maybe I gave you one itty-bitty lesson. You blame me?
My thanks to you. I’ll be in touch.