Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time Travel, Indeed

This week the Rockville 8 are thrilled to welcome Elaine Fox, USA Today Bestselling author of fifteen historical and contemporary romances, and four novellas.

I recently e-published my very first book, putting it up on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Traveler—a time-travel story about a Civil War soldier who comes forward in time—was written in 1994/95 and published in 1996 by Leisure Books, but has languished in out-of-print obscurity for a decade or more. E-pubbing for the first time was an interesting process, but as it has been exhaustively covered elsewhere, I’m not going to go into that here.

No, what I found interesting was re-visiting a book I’d written that I hadn’t looked at in probably fifteen years.

Anybody who’s ever written anything knows that on many days the outfit to wear for reading one’s own work would not be complete without mud-colored glasses. We can be our harshest critics, knowing just where to thrust the knife for maximum despair. What was polished once needs polishing again. What was never polished should be cut altogether. The plot’s unbelievable —the main character’s a fool—the book should really start at Chapter Five—and the whole thing reads like it was written by a fourth grader. What was I thinking?

I’ve read page proofs of books of mine about to be published that made me cringe with shame, and curse the page-proofing stage for its demand for close reading coupled with rules on limited input. Change a word, sure. Change a scene, forget it.

So I fully anticipated re-reading Traveler and wanting to gut the thing. I was ready to slash adjectives, adverbs, dependent clauses. Beef up plot, hack out internal thought, enhance characterization. I could do that now. I had the rights back. The book was all mine again—as it was when it was born—and the deadline was my own.

I sat down with mental red pen in hand (a.k.a. a keyboard with an eager Delete key.)

Imagine my surprise when I got caught up in the story. I actually liked the characters. The pacing was pretty good. Some of those adverbs even seemed necessary. I couldn’t always remember what was coming, but whenever I thought, “I should change it so that X and Y happen next,” I read on to discover that I’d already written X and Y! To my relief and surprise, the book worked. For me. One of its harshest critics.

While much is written about trusting the reader, maybe what we should be cultivating is trusting the writer. Try this on for size: You know what you’re doing. You’re
actually good at this. You’re a reader so you know not only what you like, but what works.

If you’re a writer who’s spent too much time thinking about genre and marketing and rejections and reviews, here’s my advice. Throw out those mud-colored glasses and start entertaining yourself when you write. Have fun. I mean it. I had fun writing Traveler because it was my first book and I was writing for myself. Because of that, at least for me, the story holds together, even sixteen years later.

I’m sure there were days while writing it that I got discouraged and found I’d donned the mud-colored glasses without realizing it. But on the whole, I was writing free, and I think it shows. (And I mean that in the good way.)

P.S. For those of you who don’t own a pair of mud-colored glasses … I bow to you. But I’ve got some you can have, if you want.


  1. Elaine ~ What great words of wisdom: "Maybe what we should be cultivating is trusting the writer. . . . You know what you’re doing. You’re actually good at this. You’re a reader so you know not only what you like, but what works." I love this, because it rings true to me, deep down. I do read a lot and I can tell if a novel works. So I need to begin to trust that I can identify this and that, possibly, just possibly, I can do this! I'm going to go right now and buy a copy of your book. Because I love that you were writing free and I want to witness that! Plus, I love a good story. ;0) Thanks for guest blogging this week. I enjoyed your post!

  2. Sooooo true, Elaine!! A great story will always be a great story. And we can nitpick a word or two, but if it hangs, it hangs. :-D

    Your book sounds so interesting, I'll have to check it out for sure! Love the Civil War era.

  3. Candy, I'm so glad that rang true for you, because I certainly believe it. An old friend of mine told me years ago the best writing advice he'd ever gotten was from a bank deposit slip. In small letters next to the deposit list it said: Write Firmly.

    Write Firmly. I've thought about this a lot over the years and I truly believe it. When we write confidently -- write free -- we write better. That's where authenticity comes from, after all, and it's authenticity that stands out in a crowd. :)

  4. Meg, I'm a big fan of Civil War era stuff too. When I wrote Traveler I was living in Fredericksburg, just blocks from the site of the battle of Fredericksburg. (In fact, the whole book takes place in and around my house at the time.)

    One thing that most fascinates me about the time is that it's relatively close. We have photographs of it! And when you immerse yourself in it -- read the books, watch the movies, visit the preserved battlefields -- it feels as if you can almost just take a step or two back in time and BE there. That's largely where the idea for the book came from, that feeling that the ghosts were walking in the fields I visited...and if I was open to it, and quiet, I would be able to see them.

    OOOOooooooohhh. :)

  5. Elaine, I LOVED Traveler, and I love the idea of throwing away my mud-colored glasses and writing freely, writing FIRMLY, with abandon. That's at the top of my wish list for 2012!

  6. Thank you for the reminder to entertain myself as I write. I definitely have a voice inside me that says if I'm enjoying myself writing, I must be doing it wrong! That's not a helpful feedback loop and now I can replace it with something more positive!!

  7. Evie -- it's on my wish list too! Since I've been focusing this, though, it's happened more and more lately. So maybe there's hope!

    And Keely, that's so funny, the voice telling you if you're having fun it must be wrong. You must SHUT THAT VOICE UP! LOL Sometimes I think we get superstitious about feeling good, sure that something's going to come along and slap us down, when really it's the opposite that's true. Like attracts like!

    That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. :)

  8. Such good advice, Elaine! And so timely. I'm wrestling with making over a ms I stashed in my desk's bottom drawer... and I mean I am WRESTLING.

    This weekend, I asked myself, "What do I like about this ms? What don't I like?" You're right. I should trust the writer to write it like she likes it. I'll be putting your advice into practice! Firmly!

    Thanks for sharing your insights with the R8.

  9. Elaine - Thanks for joining the R8! I loved your post. Trusting yourself is something I think every writer has struggled with. I wrote today and I just let myself go. I realized it after I'd been writing a bit that I wasn't constantly re-reading what I'd just written. It was so blissful. Your post is right on time for me. :). Thank you for sharing your insight.

  10. Nichole -- the drawer dweller! That's what I call those books. I re-did one of those myself a while ago, and it was hard. Some days I thought it was harder than writing new, but then there were those scenes that worked that felt so good to just plunk down in place, whole. Yes, trust the reader in you!

    And thank you, Lisa. My latest approach to writing is to just force myself forward, like an automatic writing exercise, rereading at most a line or two before going on. This has resulted in some incredibly productive days. So keep it up (saying this to you as well as myself :), and good luck!