the bitch is done

It's funny how the end of the rough draft always feels like I've spent the last mumblety months slugging it out with the Muse, and that bitch does not fight fair. I've got the bruises to prove it.

Someday maybe rough drafts won't be like pulling teeth sans anesthetic. Someday I might even be able to write a book ONCE and be done with it. But no - whenever I write a book, the first draft is a long, awful slog through the story I know I want, and no matter how good I think I am, the book is never, ever as good as it was in my head.

This one is no exception. Finishing the first draft always feels a bit of a letdown: "Well, that wasn't nearly as good as I thought it would be. I suuuuuck."

It's the second draft when it gets fun. Because I'm deranged, I rewrite a book from scratch. As in, I retype the entire thing, rewriting as I go. I wish I could do like other authors; print out a copy, mark it up with red pen, make the changes and off we go. But my mind won't work that way. I have to retype all 67,200 words (and it'll grow by at least 10 percent by the time I'm done).

It's in that second draft that language comes into play, when the characters that were only shades when I began take on their three-dimensional shape, wake up and start to talk. It's in that second draft when a narrative arc and theme begins to suggest itself, when the story deepens and widens into a rich tapestry that (hopefully) will suck the reader in.

I love the second draft. And when I finish that draft, I sit back and think, "Damn. If that doesn't make 'em cry..."

The first draft... not so much. The first draft rocks me back and I think, "Shit, she really punched my lights out this time."

But whenever I finish a draft, whether it's the first or the last time, I have a little ritual.

Once upon a time, I was sent to tour the Titanic exhibition at a Chicago museum and write it up. Generally I don't pick up souvenirs when on duty, but as it wasn't a junket and I did pay for it, I decided to buy myself a little something. I'd always been fascinated by the Titanic, by its mystery and luxury, and so I bought myself a museum-quality replica wineglass exactly like the kind they used on the Titanic. It even has a White Star Line imprint.

I promptly forgot about it for years - we never used it, as it didn't match the rest of the wineglasses. But when I finished the rough draft of Nocturnal Urges, which was on spec for a real live publisher that might pay me in dollars, I wanted to celebrate.

See, that was a rough time for me, friends. I was going through my divorce, living in my father's guest room and taking care of my four-year-old son on my own for the first time. I wrote NU, primarily, because they gave me money. Finishing the rough draft felt great, because it felt like I was accomplishing something that might help us get out of the guest room and into our own place, something like restarting our lives out of the mess they'd become.

I went searching around and the only wineglass I could find was my White Star Line glass. Dad said it was cursing myself - look what happened to Titanic! - but I said screw it and poured some of his excellent chardonnay into it.

The rest is history. Jasmine-Jade loved NU and had me expand it into a novel, which was a runaway success, had great reviews, won the Darrell Award and was a finalist for the Prism. It launched a three-book series (maybe more someday) and a career as a novelist. Oh, and it got us out of the guest room.

Every time I've finished a novel draft, I drink from the White Star Line wineglass. And every book so toasted I have eventually sold, with the exception of my beleaguered Yellow Roses. And I still have hopes for that one, considering it's the best book I've ever written.

Oh, BLACKFIRE's gonna be pretty good, guys. When I'm done with the rewrite, it might even be better than YR. Maybe.

So now I'm going to finish off this really dreadful two-buck chuck in my White Star Line glass. Shaddup, it's all the wine I've got. Y'all start buying some damn books and I can afford better wine. But then I'm going to go write a couple other things for a week or two, and then it's right back on the horse. No time for the usual six-week vacation. Sara's got to be done by November if you want to see her next March.

And Memphis is never gonna be the same.


  1. Blackfire is going to be awesome. Even the rough was good.

    See, You go toe-to-toe with your muse and I go bottoms-up for mine. That's the one things I agreed with Eric Wilson on: for me, writing is sex.


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