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March 25, 2013

Laura Preble: Raising a Book Without Losing Your Mind (PS – It’s Too Late for Me, Clearly)

I just finished my novel!

Here’s the weird part: I feel a big letdown. I know, this could be my Irish tendency for melancholy peeking out, but it happens every time I finish something. I have a sense of loss rather than a feeling of triumph.

I feel like Debbie Downer. My husband is all excited for me, and wants to celebrate, and I say something like, “Well, it’s a little too early for that,” to which he answers, “Why? You finished it, right?” and I say, “Yeah, well, I guess.”

Maybe this is because I never feel truly finished with any book I’ve written. I feel like there could always be additional tweaks or changes or additions or subtractions. Are the characters well-rounded, appealing, complex? Does the plot work? Did I do enough research? Did I get rid of awkward, confusing, or wordy bits of verbiage? After reading it numerous times and getting tips from my selfless beta readers, I think I’ve dotted all the I’s and crossed the T’s (and by the way, I know that I and T do not need apostrophes, but I don’t know how else to write that. But what if I’m wrong??) At this point, I’m so tired of reading it and writing my story that I just want to let it go, so…I do. Then I worry that I didn’t do enough.

I could compare it to child rearing, although fictional characters have a little less backtalk and attitude than real kids. (Mostly.) It’s similar in that you do your best, you try to infuse the child or novel with all your best qualities, with your wisdom, your gifts, but then at some point you have to just let it (or him) go out into the world to see how he/she/it performs. The experiences have similar qualities: with a book, you worry about how other people will see it, if they’ll see what you see, or understand what you were trying to do. With a child, you hope that people will accept your beloved baby, see the good in him or her, and credit you with good or decent parenting.

At this very point in time, I have a young’un going off to college. He’s so enthusiastic to get out of here and go to New York that he constantly reminds all of us that in a couple of months, he won’t be around to take out the trash and other such menial tasks. He is so ready to go that it’s almost making us glad that he’s leaving, even though we’ll miss him a lot. But I’m afraid that he isn’t ready, that we need to teach him some last-minute grown up stuff, or we need to be sure he has a work ethic before we cut the tether. What if he mixes the whites and the colors (in the laundry, I mean). What if he forgets to eat vegetables (which he doesn’t eat here anyway, unless you count iceberg lettuce.) What if he starts hanging out with the wrong people, and he falls into a life of Big Apple debauchery and destitution?

My book is a lot like that, except I’m pretty sure it won’t go out drinking and wind up unconscious in Times Square. I don’t want to let it go, but at this point, it’s really the only thing left to do. I love it, but it’s frankly annoying, and I want it to leave. Yet, I am terrified to let it go. What if it’s not ready? What if there’s some crucial element missing? It might be so.

What if my main character has some weird nervous tic that I know nothing about? What if the multi-dimensional villain I’ve crafted actually has the same name as the head of a major publishing house? What if, in my sleep-deprived and addled state, I’ve used words that only exist in my own mind? Or…horror of horrors…what if the book really sucks, even though I’ve expended time, money, energy, and love on it?

This book could be a total reprobate. It could steal money out of my purse. It could take a can of spray paint and scribble illiterate graffiti on the walls of my house. (I envision grammatical and spelling errors like ‘A famus Arthur lives hear!’ or ‘Donut beleev everthing u reed!’) Or maybe the book will take my car out for a joyride, crash through the plate glass window at the Barnes and Noble, and spill an open container of malt liquor all over the too-many copies of Twilight that every bookstore, grocery, and liquor store seem to have.

But in books, as with children, we do our best and then have to trust that they find their own way.

Maybe I should celebrate. But I’ll hide my keys just in case.

About the Author:
Laura Preble is the award-winning author of the young adult series, Queen Geek Social Club (Penguin/Berkley Jam), which includesthe novels Queen Geeks in Love and PromQueen Geeks. She has also won a KurtVonnegut Fiction Prize, and has been published in North American Review, Hysteria, and NEA Today.
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