November 9th, 2006

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

The fear and the glory

Years ago, I was dragged if not exactly kicking and screaming then certainly grumbling darkly something along the lines of "But WHY would I want to go and see a sports movie?" to see "Chariots of Fire" when it first opened in the cinemas. I remember, this was back in Cape Town. I was, what, first or second year of University; the cinema was reached from our hall of residence by catching a suburban light rail to a commercial and entertainment main hub a couple of stops down the line. I seem to recall that we had to run to catch the train, a fact that, in the light of the movie we were going to see, took on a greater than expected significance in the aftermath.

I remember grumbling all the way in.

I also remember being obvlivious to the world on our way back to our residence. The movie might have been a "sports" movie, but it was also a transcendent look at the human spirit, and it had caught and conquered me from the first moment of that incredible opening shot of the young men running on the beach, with that surging and never-to-be-forgotten music beating like a heart in the background. I suppose over and above the visceral reaction of having the movie make me fall in love with it on the purely emotional level, there was, even then, the writer in me who was looking at the few minutes of that opening shot of running on the shore and marvelling at how well the main characters were established with just a few lingering moments - the sheer joy of Eric Liddell, the fierce concentration of Harold Abrahams, the slightly bewildered Aubrey Montague, the easy aristocratic sense of entitlement of Andrew Lindsey. It was masterful.

I remember the movie very well, just from that first viewing alone, and I have seen it quite a few times since. I probably know most of the dialogue by heart by now. There are certain scenes that stay with me. Like, in response to Harold Abrahams' first sight of Sybil Gordon on stage, "Harold is smitten!" And Lord Lindsey's response, "Smitten?! He's decapitated!"

And another. In the locker room, straight after Abrahams won his Olympic medal. He's alone in his corner, meticulously packing his bag, and Aubrey Montague, exuberant, excited, full of a champagne mood, making a motion to go to him.

And Andrew Lindsey putting out a restraining hand and urging Aubrey to leave Harold alone.

"But he *won*!" Aubrey says, his face full of mystified incomrehension.

"Yes," Anderew Lindsey replies seriously, "he won. One of these days, Aubrey, you're going to win too. And it's damned hard to take."

In some ways that's the relationship I have with the joy of my life, my writing.

There's the glory. The way a story unfolds in front of me, the way that the characters take over and live their own lives with confidence and passion, the way I understand my worlds, the way I can hold my entire story in my head and turn it this way and that and watch the gold flakes fall where they may, as though in a sumptuous snowglobe.

And then there's the fear - it goes out, and the first level of fear is the reactions of the people who hold its fate in their hands, the editors. They return the annotated manuscript with comments and suggestions scribbled all over it; they will write you letters about it, incredible letters which often make you slap your hand against your forehead and go, "Why on Earth didn't I SEE this idiocy before I sent the thing in? How could I have missed this?". Letters which also have the advantage of being a vision of your work through an independent pair of eyes, and which brim with insights which make you, the writer, preen in the knowledge that someone "got" your work or else cringe because obviously you had utterly failed to get your point across at all. And these are things that need to be looked at, addressed, the book tweaked and fixed and rearranged to fit, and to suit. (There's another level of fear, one a way down the line, when the book is actually Out There and you wonder if anyone has ever seen it, is at all interested, or if it's only the people who hate it who have ever read it... but that's a whole another can of worms, perhaps for another post).

The editing and the subequent rewrites, though.

There are always things I find myself agreeing with in these editorial letters. There are also things I don't necessarily fully agree with, but don't, in the end, mind doing their way. There are also things which I know I cannot do, not without ripping up the roots of the story and changing it into a whole another animal. An example of this last was when one of the early editors of "Jin shei" wanted me to pare down the unwieldy number of protagonists and suggested I simply subsume one of the characters into another... whom I saw as the other side of a coin, the two characters might have been alike on the surface but they were utterly different beneath and it would have been completely impossible to "merge" them in any meaningful way. So to this, I said no. I did pretty near everything else they asked - to date, in various novels, I've rearranged entire sections on editorial request, pulled endings and written entirely new ones, changed any number of smaller things - but there ARE points on which I'll stand firm because changing THAT would wreck the shape of the story in my head.

I've done all this. I don't necessarily like doing it or enjoy doing it, but I've been blessed with good editors and I know my work isn't holy writ, and I am happy to implement suggested improvements. I'lll work with an editor in whatever way I can, in order to give my "baby" the best possible shot out there.

And it doesn't matter whether it was the first time or the ninth time, I universally react the same way at the beginning of the process, just before I roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. It's fear. Possibly even terror. A complete loss of confidence. "This whole thing is AWFUL, and there is too much to do, and there is no way I can do this and still have a story left at the end of it!"

But I gird my loins, in the midst of whimpering and whining, and I'll knuckle under. I've been told by a number of editors that I am very good to work with, and I rather treasure that reputation - I am very happy to treat editors as valuable allies in a joint assault on the fortress of Making It Better; if there are certain walls of that fortress which I firmly believe should stay standing, I"ll fight for that, too, even holding off the allies in the process - because, after all, I was the one who build the fortress and I am the only one who can know where the load-bearing walls are and which butreesses cannot be taken out without a complete collapse. But for the rest of it - I'm all too happy to have friends in the makeover business.

However, right now, I'm at that terror stage, and I'm still staring at my MS and groaning that I can't do this.

I will, of course. And quickly, and efficiently.

Once I get started.

Once I get over the fear. Once I set my confidence in my work back on its foundations.

But just for the record - man, I love writing. I hate rewrites. It's like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, but all the pieces which you believed without question belonged in a certain place have suddenly been decreed to be the wrong colour and the wrong shape, and it's that moment of floundering while I try to fit them in to their new place that I don't like at all. I'm always happy with the outcome, in the end - or else I would never let it go forward. But the road to glory is the road of fear, and I"ll never stop being afraid. It simply... means too much to me not to be afraid. What I am aiming for, quite simply, is the mastery of that "Chariots of FIre" opening shot. And the road from here to there is a thorny one.

There are a lot of people out there who write, and many many many aspire to be published. But few realise just what that means - things don't end when you sign your publishing contract. That is not, as Churchill once said, the beginning of the end - it is, rather, the end of the beginning. Are you warrior enough to buckle on your armour and go forth into the good fight...?

Some day, like Lord LIndsey said, you too will win. And you will find that it IS damned hard to take sometimes.

Back to the fear.

The afore-promised Part The Second...

Okay, so you Brits and Aussies and other assorted non-North Americans have had access to "Embers of Heaven" for some time, so you were excluded from the last contest - because it was aimed at folks who might find the book hard to get.

The North Americans will, in the fullness of time, be able to obtain "Gift of the Unmage", the first Worldweavers book, with relative ease in their local bookstores - starting in February 2007 - and before that preorders are being taken at Amazon RIGHT NOW, so that side of the planet's covered. My lovely agent has already sold a Polish edition of the trilogy, but as yet there is no indication of one to be published in the British/Aussie/etc general readership area.

So here's the thing. THIS competition is ONLY for those not living in the United States and Canada. The prize... is one Advance Readers Copy of "Gift of the Unmage", Book 1 in the Worldweavers trilogy. Same rules apply as with the "Embers" contest - I will screen the comments to this post, if you are interested in being in the draw please leave me a comment saying so with an email address to which I can apply to the winner for a mailing address.

You have until I return from Orycon to put in your names - let us say that the draw will take place on November 20.

Please note the icon - it's a picture of the artwork on the extraordinarily beautiful cover of the new book...

Good luck!