The Physicality of Making Books

Yeah, I know.  Time and again I start something, like this new blog, then walk away from it. But that’s really not what is happening here. It’s about time, or more pointedly the lack of it, and lining up priorities like we’re an emergency room and I’m a triage physician. Or something like that.

I don’t know how other people do it. This is the only way I know, since I’m making it up as I go along. I’m not talking so much about the creative act of writing, but the exhausting process of organizing chapters and making sure the various drafts don’t mix and mingle so that you wind up with a marriage of the amputated parts you don’t want and can’t find the sculpted lean prose you want to retain.

It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And just to make it even more fun, I’m “processing” one manuscript,  (sorry if that makes my desk sound like a meat packing operation), that’s on it’s fourth and we hope to all that is sane and holy next to last draft  — Buck’s — while I’m am still squeezing out words for my own in clusters as though they were icing dots emerging from a pastry tube.

We no longer have an evening cocktail  — not sure that’s an improvement — I think I’m typing more and enjoying it less.  I think we’re in a self-induced boot camp for writers.

One cool and unexpected by-product of our intramurals is that I’m becoming a fairly decent editor.

1-IMG_8312And lest you think we’ve become total drudges, on Tuesday I woke up with a bizarre craving for fried mullet. When it refused to go away, even after dousing it with a completely sensible breakfast of Uncle Bob’s Old-Fashioned Red Mill Muesli and Low-Fat Organic Plain Soy Milk, we decided on the “indulge it” cure and at 1:30 drove over to the iconic Jerry’s Drive-in, where we bellied up to the lunch counter and ate a plate full of fried mullet, turnip greens and cole slaw. Miss Faye, who has worked there since 1959 (yes, I said 1959) knew without asking that I lusted after a chocolate milk shake made with real ice cream the way they do. After our meal, her eyes got even more twinkly, and she sidled away. I knew she was up to something. She brought us a baby shake to share. That’s the kind of thing that reinvigorates a soul and restores your faith in humanity.

We’ll get there. In fact, we’re almost there with Buck’s manuscript. Mine will be a leisurely walk in the park by comparison. I told Buck when we started this craziness that a first-time novelist needed to present a manuscript of somewhere between 100,000 and 130,000 words (tops). I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m pretty sure a word count of over 200,000 for a newcomer is like a long walk off a short pier. Well, the boy has done it. He said he couldn’t possibly, but he has. From plus 400,000, a rip-snorter (don’t make a face, that’s a perfectly good description) of a story has emerged and will face down the slush pile weighing in at a mere 120,000 words. When I said I’m becoming a “decent” editor, the adjective I probably should have used is “merciless.”

I just wanted to drop in for a minute and say hi, and that I hope you guys are hanging in there, too.

And one more thing. Nobody disturbs us while we’re working, because we have a secure locked gate and a “Guard Cicada.” Don’t tell anybody the shell is empty.

Click to enlarge so you can see formidable lock and chain and the ferocious Guard Cicada.



2 thoughts on “The Physicality of Making Books

  1. Oh, Beth. How wonderful it is to see you words here, your saucy sense of humor, to celebrate these hefty accomplishments with you. There is so much art, so much organization, and so much energy in making a book. And when each of you is, in effect, creating your own baby, the layers of challenge only multiply. Buck is so blessed to have you as wife and best friend and “merciless” editor. Really, you can’t top that. Love to you and the work to come!


  2. I feel like we were related in a past (or maybe future!) life, Kate. Wonderful to reconnect with you here and at your site. Hope you, your husband and your lovely babies are thriving.


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