Craig's seventh novel, Julep Street, came out today. To mark its release, he writes below about its journey from concept to manuscript to honest-to-goodness book, and some of the issues an author must think through on the way to publication:
By a happy accident of the calendar, I've had several opportunities to speak to students and civic groups in recent weeks, and during the Q&A portions of the talks, I've fielded some variation on these two questions:
1. How long does it take to write a book?
2. How do you know when you're done with one?
Each is answered with two simple words—"it depends"—and a cavalcade of anecdotes. Do I tell them about my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, which was drafted in a feverish 24 days? Or my second, The Summer Son, which needed a year to cook and a half-dozen significant rewrites? Or any of the others, all of which came with their own distinct challenges, and all of which announced their readiness in different ways.
With the release of Julep Street, I can speak in specifics, because this book's journey through the manuscript phase and, ultimately, publication was unlike any other I've written.
I started writing Julep Street in 2012, at a leisurely pace (for me). It got interrupted late in the year as Edward Adrift, the follow-up to 600 Hours, pushed insistently at my brain and demanded a quick gestation. In 2013, I finished Julep Street's first pass and a couple of rewrites, and I sent the manuscript on to my then-agent and my then-editor at Lake Union Publishing.
Responses were slow in coming. And when they arrived, they weren't what I was hoping to hear. My agent found the protagonist, Carson McCullough, unlikable, and the book wasn't the high-concept project she'd been hoping to see. (Spoiler alert: One of the freeing discoveries I've made about myself is that "high concept" isn't really my strength. I'm OK with this.) My editor found Carson's dog annoying and suggested that the manuscript wasn't quite there. The problem, for me, is that "there" was a squishy concept; I didn't know what it was or how to reach it. So I put Julep Street away and moved on to the next few books.
Here, I have to give credit and appreciation to my literary wingman, Jim Thomsen, who loved Julep Street from the start and would gently inquire from time to time about it. That kept the manuscript in my thoughts and was a crucial factor in my picking it up late last year and seeing its possibilities with fresh eyes. Thank you, Jim. I owe you. Again.
Upon re-reading the manuscript, I saw my way through. I found deeper empathy with Carson and wrote a more fulsome version of him. Hector, the dog, became a crucial character unto himself. The thematic aspects of the story, lurking beneath the prose I'd squeezed out in 2012 and 2013, became more pronounced in 2016. At long last, I had a manuscript I was ready to prepare for publication. The resulting book is out now, and I couldn't be more proud of it. And I'm pleased to have received validation in the form of strong reviews. (Here, too!)
So what made the difference for Julep Street? Time and perspective, I'd say. The well-grounded criticisms of my former agent and editor were given a chance to seep into my brain and come out through my fingertips in needed revisions. In waiting more than two years between setting it down and picking it up again, I gave my writing and my sense of story time to develop. Reading it fresh, I saw its flaws, its successes, and its possibilities. I acted on all of those, and then I released the manuscript into the editing and publication process.
Here at Lancarello Enterprises, we can't tell you when it's time to bring others into your story. That's your journey, and it's personal and unique. Our best advice is to write as well as you can, develop a strong relationship with your manuscript, rewrite until you've done all you think you can do, and then put some faith in professionals to help you realize its potential. When you've reached that point—when you're ready for developmental editing, copy editing, or publication design—we'll be ready to talk. Always.
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