I have a problem. Lately I’ve been happy with my writing; I don’t want to make a whole big thing out of it, but the words have been good words. I like them. They make me happy. One day, not too long from now, I hope other people will see them, and be happy, too.
I haven’t mentioned this recently—by “recently,” I mean, “for the last 18 months”—because I got myself into the slightly embarrassing situation of publicly declaring my excitement for a book that, in retrospect, didn’t quite deserve it. I don’t think I had gone through the essential “falling out of love” stage, which must occur so that an author can stop making goo-goo eyes at her new baby and start dismembering it, to build a new body around the interesting parts.
Also, I figured it’s frustrating to hear an author talking about how great his writing is going when he’s not putting out any frickin’ books.
But clearly this has backfired—or at least run its course. I first got an inkling when a friend sent me a podcast on “Writers and Procrastination.” Then there were the growing number of emails and comments, like this one from Ian:
What do you do all day? I read Twilight for frack sake. I’m so bored. And you….watch movies and grow facial hair? Books! WRITE BOOKS! Short stories…..anything
People think I’m not doing anything. It’s a little strange, because if I’m on book tour for some paperback edition, people seem to figure I’m at least keeping busy. But if I bunker down and write, they assume I’m sipping daiquiris in the Bahamas.
I decided to tally up the number of words of fiction I’ve ever written. It’s 1.5 million. My finished novels tend to wind up around 80,000 words, so that’s about 19 books. Since Company, I’ve written about half a million words, the equivalent of seven novels.
But not seven good novels. I’m a pathological rewriter: I believe that if a book hasn’t had more words cut from it than it is long, it needs more work. Right now, I have quite a lot of fiction that is promising. Some of it is almost there. But not quite. And I do not want to give you a bad novel. I never want to do that.
So here is my problem. Even if I escorted a manuscript to my publisher tomorrow, it would be a year, minimum, before that thing reaches your hands. It would make you happy, I think. But it’s a long time to wait. It’s too long.
So I am going to do something. I know what the something is. It will be good. And it will be in March.
I got into big trouble with my brother for that anti-ginger blog. “You’re just like Hitler,” he said, or might as well have. “It’s not 1935, you know. Demonizing people for aspects of their appearance they can’t control: we’re not doing that any more.”
“Steady on,” I protested. “It was just harmless good fun. Besides, the point was I’m a ginger when I grow a moustache. That’s what made it funny.”
“I suppose you think Auschwitz would have been fine, if only Hitler was Jewish,” my brother argued, more or less. “I suppose you think it would have been hilarious.”
I suspected that my brother, or at least this version of him I was exagerating for comic effect, was getting carried away. But he did have a point. “Redheads are one of the few remaining groups it’s still socially acceptable to ridicule,” he said, and dammit, he was right. I had been so enraptured with the possibilities for jokes when I started sprouting gingers, I didn’t stop and think. My moustache was gone, but the dark moustache on my soul would not be shaved so easily.
“History is full of red-headed achievers,” he said. “You just never hear about them. Thomas Jefferson. James Joyce. Galileo. Malcolm X.”
“Malcolm X!? Are you sure?”
“Check it out for yourself.”
“Wow,” I said. “Maybe that’s why he was so angry.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“But I’m a ginger.”
“Let me explain this to you one more time.”
But seriously. Redheads rock. I love you guys. If I could grow long, amber locks, I’d be all over that. I’d let my beautiful red hair flow down to my shoulders and smell it every night before I went to sleep. Right now, I’ve got nothing. The difference between a red-haired guy and me is that he has options.