I’m in this sweet spot between books, and it seems like the perfect time to put my thoughts to blog. I’ve been thinking about what it will be like having my second book compared to the first. Beyond, you know, terrifying.
VIRTUOSITY is seven months old. THE SPACE BETWEEN US is five months away. (Heartlandia has been turned in, and I’m in the thick of book 4 while awaiting edits.)
I say the sweet spot because nobody has read THE SPACE BETWEEN US (except some family members and a blogger and the team of geniuses at S&S who make magical things happen), so this isn’t a response to how that book is being received. As far as I know they’ve yet to load the ARCs into S&S distribution cannon and blast them into crowds of unsuspecting bloggers.
My opinion: I think THE SPACE BETWEEN US is a better book. I will always love VIRTUOSITY, but as a writer, I feel like I got better. (And thank goodness—if I’m not improving, what’s the point?) But I recognize that nobody else may agree with me. Or everybody will agree? I can’t even guess which one it’ll be. And as much as I love both of them, I don’t think either is as good as Heartlandia, but getting and staying excited for 2013 is tough work. Not enough caffeine in the world.
This process—being in various stages of four different books—has made me change the way I approach books as a reader. If I think something is interesting or I’m impressed with a specific talent that I see a writer has, I want to read all of their books. I want to understand where they came from and where they’re going. I now understand better that while each book has to stand on its own, it’s just one piece of an author’s entire literary contribution. I don’t think I used to have a sense of that. Being a writer has made me much more appreciative of imperfect literature that has threads of genius in it.
I hope, I really hope, people approach my books the same way. Of the four books that will have my name on them by 2014, I don’t think any will sum up everything I have to say on its own. I have not yet penned the Great American Novel and I’m feeling like it’s much more likely that I write several Good American Novels. Several? Maybe dozens! Maybe gazillions! Sorry, I had to say gazillions because my brother just told me he hates that word. Ridonculous, right? Ha. That was the other hated word, if we’re calling it a word. Hmm, maybe I should dedicate the rest of this post to pissing off my brother…. Feels like too much work. That’s the difference between now and 15 years ago—it was never too much work back then. *sigh*
One parting thought. It’s easy to think of books as a please-me product instead of art. In iPod is a please-me product. We purchase an iPod and we expect it to do exactly what Apple promises us it’ll do—we expect it to please us.
So we purchase a book and we expect it to please us too. We all do. I do. But sometimes if it’s different than the cover, than the summary, than our expectations, than the last book we read, than the song with the same name, than whatever mood we were in when we sat down to read it, and we get annoyed. We’ve been lied to. We need a refund and a written apology from Apple. I mean the author and publisher, and maybe the author’s parents and/or children also.
But books aren’t that type of product. Hopefully I’m not sounding full of myself here, but I like to think I’m creating art. Sometimes when I listen to a piece of music or look at a painting it takes some work to understand it. There may be parts that are easy and that speak to me, but I usually recognize there are details and themes that I’m not getting. I know that I have to be exposed to them more, or try harder. And I refuse to say that an entire genre of music or style of painting is crap just because I don’t get it. Art isn’t supposed to just happen to you. If it’s worthwhile, it takes effort, and that’s why Bach sounds simple and boring at first and gets exponentially more complex and beautiful when you put years into understanding it. Mathematically, emotionally, musically, scientifically, spiritually—it is a freaking human brain of complexity.
So, um, I’m not Bach. However, I would love it if my work found readers who were willing to look at it as more than a cheap thrill. Not that I don’t want it to be entertaining—I READ FOR ENTERTAINMENT ALL THE TIME!—but can it be both? I hope so. I think it is. And I have to believe most readers are in this camp. I’m writing for them. Sometimes they aren’t the most vocal readers, but that’s okay. I’m still writing for them. I’ve met enough to convince me, I know lots, and I think writers and true book lovers are this way.
The best books I’ve read are the ones that have changed me. If I’m not different at the end, I haven’t done my job as a reader. That’s one of the reasons I write. I want to change people.
Was that a six-paragraph parting thought? Yikes. And now, I step off the soapbox. I’m going to go read the book that is currently fascinating me and making me want to be a better writer.
(ONE DAY by David Nicholls if anyone cares. So smart. I love what he includes and what he leaves out, and the dialogue, and how well I know these characters as real people.)