A Novel Is Forever

There comes a time when you as a writer may become a bit weary of reading even your own work. Eventually I find I have read a manuscript so often I can recite it almost by heart. Every sentence, word, period, comma… all means something, and I have read them over and over and over…

[Correcting the printed draft of Tomorrow The Grace. Photo by me, Potton, England, 2019. Text copyright © me, 2019.]

Uh, and I find I get myself into a twist over the likes of should it be “Holland” or “Netherlands?”:

[Correcting the printed draft of Tomorrow The Grace. Photo by me, Potton, England, 2019. Text copyright © me, 2019.]

A novel is forever. So I want it as I want it. And so, by the end of an extensive session of re-reading, often I could use a drink too:

[Correcting the printed draft of Tomorrow The Grace. Photo by me, Potton, England, 2019. Text copyright © me, 2019.]

When I do reach the end of it within the next few days, I know from experience that if I go back to the beginning and start reading it again I will find DIFFERENT things I will want to change. I put the same effort into every page. Yet I always have parts of my books that I “dislike”… but fortunately readers never know which they are (and I am never saying).

Post-publication you also learn some readers see things in your writing you never intended to be there in the first place and may ask questions you never considered: “Who is he supposed to represent?” “Why is she this way?” “What does that reference to that damaged church represent?”

Uh, he is he. She is what she is because I like her that way. And that damaged church is a damaged church.

* * *

Suddenly I remember this. To be an author is to be “critiqued” – which is a polite term, often employed in academic circles, to soften the reality that you will be criticized. If you don’t want criticism, and you take up writing fiction, you are in the wrong line of work. You will be criticized – perhaps harshly so.

If criticism of your writing goes with the authoring territory, it may drive you bananas when someone lectures you as to why you have written that novel and what you mean by what is in it. But that is also part of the game. An excellent recent example I have seen of that is (the now late) Philip Roth getting into a dust up in 2012 with Wikipedia:

Screen Capture of the New Yorker.

Essentially Wikipedia told Roth that, yes, he was a primary source (“the greatest authority”). However, well, they needed secondary sources to alter the entry. They would not take only his word about what he meant about something he wrote in his own book.😂😂😂😂😂

* * *

Today is an ugly anniversary. The 1950s-built replica of Fort William Henry stands on the site of the original fort built in 1755 on the edge of Lake George in upstate NY. I’ve been there several times and it is remarkable inside:

[Inside the replica of Fort William Henry, Lake George, New York. Photo by me, 2013.]

Visits there some years ago – long before most of you knew I even existed – certainly played at least a small role in inspiring me to write the two novels I have written in the last few years. Note the flags: the independent USA, Great Britain, and pre-French-Revolution France.

On August 3, 1757, French and Hurons began a siege of the fort that did not end well – to say the least – for the British and provincial American forces inside of it a few days later. After their victory, the French burned the fort. (Hence why there is a replica.) Some of the Hurons, who refused to abide by, or didn’t understand, the surrender terms negotiated between the French and the British, massacred (the number cited varies from between some 200 to well over a thousand) some of the captured soldiers, including wounded in their beds; and on the march away from the fort they kidnapped numbers of civilians – including women and children and black servants. The capture of the fort famously forms the backdrop for the novel, The Last Of The Mohicans.

The site was abandoned for nearly 200 years. During that time, though, tourists, often drawn to the area because of the 1826 novel, would turn up looking for the fort. In the 1950s a group of local businessmen bought the site to prevent its development – it is right on the shore of the popular lake – and decided as a tourist and historical attraction to reconstruct the fort from the original plans. Archeologists have excavated the area extensively and since then they have unearthed dishes, clothing buckles and buttons, and just about anything routinely “domestic” in the 1750s. Less pleasantly, they have occasionally also found musket balls, shells, and human remains.

* * *

I am approached from time to time to review my books. Recently I have been asked a couple of times by DM via Instagram. The requests are usually contingent on receiving a free copy.

I have said this on here before and with the new novel out in a month or so I just want to say it again: I have never and I will never give away copies in exchange for (honest?) reviews, because I believe doing that is unfair to those who buy a copy. Even if “everyone else” does it, that practice (meaning, essentially, “promotion” of the book) just feels way too quid pro quo and wrong to me.

That rule applies also even if you are from the New York Times or the London Review of Books… in which cases, well, you can certainly afford to buy a copy. 😉

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂