Greetings, blog readers. I have finished the revision of my second novel, We Are Totally Normal, and I’ve turned it in to my editor, and, barring the sort of mishap to which I am unfortunately quite prone, I am finished with the whole blessed thing.
And not a moment too soon. The book, which I have rewritten extensively in the last five or six months–to the point where perhaps not a single word remains of the version of the book that I originally sold this time last year to HarperTeen–has started to tire me.
Normally when I read a work of mine, I have no trouble thinking, “I am a genius,” but in this case, although I still thought the book was very good, I had begun to wonder whether it was truly worthwhile. In fact, in reading the first chapter of the book, I actually had the thought, “Would I buy this book if I encountered it in the bookstore?”
And the answer is that I don’t know. I think I would. The truth is, I’ve read it at least two dozen times, and I’ve rewritten it seven times, and I’ve worked on it for almost three years, and it’s impossible at this point for me to view it dispassionately.
This is in contrast to Enter Title Here, which was more or less a gift, and which went from first draft into publication with remarkably few hitches. Even today, when I pick up a copy of ETH, I can read its first few lines with a certain level of fondness (though I’ve never actually sat down and reread the book, from cover to cover, as I keep meaning to do).
Anyways, we will see.
I’ve read a good novel recently: After The Workshop, by John McNally. I picked it up for $1.99 during a Kindle sale, and it was really good. The book’s about a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop who stuck around, turning into one of the burnout townie former writers who cluster around the site of any MFA program. John Sheehan thought his star was on the rise: he published a story in the New Yorker and had it picked up for Best American. But since then he’s been unable to write a word.
It’d be hard to say what the book is about. It’s just an event-filled weekend in his life, where he’s visited by many figures from his past, including a number of the writers he’s squired around town (he works as a media escort) and some former friends and lovers. He shakes off his writer’s block, of course, and discovers a sense of hope, of course, but what’s most valuable in the book is simply the world that it creates for you.
Most stories of artistic failure are bitter and desperate, and that’s even more true when they take place amidst snow and poverty and debt in a tiny Midwestern college town. But what stands out most about McNally’s book is the sense of warmth. The book has something good to say about everyone, whether it’s the pompous trust-funded working-class imposter or the romance writer with a magnetic personality and a terrible writing style. The book is full of life, full of the numinous, and it comes by these things honestly, without any sugar-coating. Yeah, the writing life is full of failure and despair, but it’s also got some interesting stuff too.
P.S. This is a book I found through my inveterate browsing of discount Kindle deal newsletters. If you want to hear about good (emphasis on good) books that are on sale, sign up for my own deal letter: Three Dollar Classics.