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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Week in the Life of a Debut Novelist

Gina Holmes

The phone rings. It’s my bff. We talk publicity, editing, writing, publishing news, kids, dogs, eyebrows, husbands and house chores. We end the conversation with, “Go write.”

I pick up my coffee, take a sip and grimace. It’s cold. I reheat it for the third time in the microwave. As I wait, I open the fridge to see what to have for breakfast. Two eggs stare back at me, along with a block of cheddar and a piece of last night’s chicken pot-pie. I pull out the cheese and break off a hunk.

Coffee in hand, cheese in mouth, I saunter to the couch where my laptop awaits.

I decide that before I get writing, I’d better check my email. I might have finally heard back from the producers of Ellen or Oprah. You never know. Instead, I find an email from my agent who writes to say that the manuscript I’ve been working on for three months is well written but not the best choice for my next book. I sigh and think, crap, he’s right. I’ve known it all along, but was hoping no one else would. Back to the drawing board again. After tearing out a wad of my hair and trying to fashion it into a noose, I decide that maybe I’m overreacting.

No worries, I tell myself, it’ll be fine. I still have six whole months to write the next book and I’ve got a great new idea that the publisher seemed to like. It will be even better than the last! It will be To Kill a Mockingbird, Peace Like a River. Watership Down, and Jane Eyre all rolled into one! “Yessss,” I hiss to my hound, Maggie who lies at my feet. She raises her eyebrows and sniffs the air—just in case my excitement has something to do with food. Since it does not, she groans and lays her head back down on her paws.

After deleting ninety-six emails sent by Facebook, I set to work on my new manuscript, trying to push from my mind the crippling thoughts of how important a second novel is to a writer’s career, the five articles I’ve promised to write for various publications to publicize my soon-to-release debut, the laundry, whether or not my day job will lay me off and … Oooh, I have the perfect title for book two!

Let me google it real quick to make sure it’s not already taken. It is—twenty-two times. I’ll go with my second choice. Also taken, but only twice. One to a vanity press self-help book and the other to a thriller that released more than a decade ago.

Should I still use it? Yes, I will. No, I won’t. Oh, I don’t know. I decide for time’s sake, I’ll just keep it as a working title for the time being until something better comes along. Something perfect will come from a line I write, it always does.

As I open a new word document to begin, the pattering of feet alarms me. Someone is in my house! My heart begins to beat wildly … until I see my son shuffling toward me, rubbing his eyes. “Morning Mommy.”

“Why aren’t you at school?” I ask.
“Today’s Election Day,” he replies.

I sit confused a moment. I could have sworn I’d dropped that child off at school. I guess that was yesterday. Am I getting Alzheimers? I call my bff back and ask her. She responds that all writers do the same thing. “Yesterday,” she says, “I took my daughter to her soccer game and no one was there. It seems I was looking at last month’s schedule. Apparently the season has already ended.”

Only half-convinced I’m normal, (for a writer at least), I thank her and hang up.

“Fix yourself some cereal” I say to my son. “Mommy’s writing.”

He hugs me, then runs away. Two seconds later, I hear screaming from the next room.

“Get off of me. I’m sleeping!” The angry voice belongs to my older son.

“Mommy said get up!” my younger son screams.

“I did not,” I yell back. “Leave your brother alone!”

Ten minutes later, there is quiet, except for the snoring dog at my feet, and boys at the kitchen table slurping milk from their cereal bowl.

Excitement and hope fills me as I type my working title into a blank word document, and then “Chapter One.” I know exactly how my story will start. I love beginnings. They are by far the funnest and easiest part of the process for me.

I throw the idea down on computer with fervor, not pausing to edit. I’m scared to lose my groove. The muse is like a little bird perched on my window, if I disturb him, he’ll fly away and maybe never return. He’s fickle that way I hear.

At the end of the day, I smile at my genius. Laugh maniacally at my good fortune. At one chapter a day, I’ll have this baby done in a month and a half. I’ll give Karen Kingsbury a run for her money.

I don’t think I’ll need the full six months to write this. At this rate, I’ll have it done in a few weeks. What will I do with my extra five months? Whip out another classic? Take a vacation? I daydream for a few minutes, until I hear my oldest son ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Dinner? What happened to lunch? I wander to the kitchen confused as to where the time has gone. I see plates left over from lunch. Apparently someone had made tuna sandwiches and apple slices. I’m not sure if it was me, and I’m too embarrassed to ask, so I just wash the dishes and rummage through the cabinets looking for something to fix.

My writing day is now over and it’s family time. I love family time. Halfway through dinner, I jump up from the table. “She didn’t kill him,” I exclaim. “He killed himself!” My husband’s blue eyes are fixed on me, wide and alarmed. After a moment, his face relaxes. “In your story you mean?”

My children continue to eat, not responding to this conversation. They’re used to their mother’s strange outbursts

The next day, I have a great idea for the next chapter, but before I begin, I decide to read what I wrote the day before just to get the feel of the story right.

The smile drains from my face. Who wrote this piece of crap? Surely it was not I. I am a genius. I write fine literature for the ages. Sigh. No matter, it can be fixed.

I spend the day adding quotes and periods, mundane things that any old hack could do. It feels like a waste of my genius and time, but I know one must shovel dung if one wants to own a purebred. A necessary evil. I’m not too proud to shovel.

At the end of the day, I reread my chapter, surely it must be brilliant now. I’ve labored two days on Monique (Monique is this chapter’s pet name. Don’t ask.).

With a grin I begin reading, with a grimace I end. This is not genius. This is trivial. Mediocre at best. Mundane word choices, half-baked ideas, absolutely no symbolism or foreshadowing what so ever. While reading it, I didn’t burst into tears or laughter even once.

A realization hits me like a wrecking ball to my chest.

I can’t write! I probably never could. Crossing Oceans is a good story, everyone says so, but obviously it was a fluke. The rest will be garbage. After I turn in my second book I’m sure Tyndale will cut me loose, wondering how they were fooled by my weak impersonation of a novelist.

After a light vomit, I call my critique partner who tells me, “You’re a great writer, Gina. Really. One of the best. I’ll bet the chapter is good. Send it to me.”

Reluctantly, I do. An hour later I get a call, “Yeah, that sucked. Sorry. What about writing a story about a child who gets abducted and ends up living in the same neighborhood as …. oh wait, I think I’m describing The Deep End of the Ocean. Well, you’ll think of something. The writing was good. REALLY good, but that’s not the right story for you.”

She goes on to talk about a plot thread in her own manuscript, and I try my best to listen and offer suggestions, but my mind is onto a new story.

When I start writing again, I’m completely confident, until paragraph two. What would it hurt if I just ran this new idea by my editor? I do and she likes it! I start to write again, but by paragraph five, I’m thinking I should probably get my agent’s too. It could work, he says. Not as enthusiastic as my editor, but he didn’t shoot it down. It’s a good story. A great story! Maybe I’ll just ask my two critique partners for the heck of it. One loves it, the other isn’t sure.

I sigh and decide I need to chew on this idea a day or two. Meanwhile, I have plenty to keep me occupied—Twitter, facebook, shoutlife, myspace, blogger, after all, a novelist has to network. After several hours of updating my status, commenting on my friend’s pages and blindly staring the Twitter bird, I write a post for Novel Journey. Two hours later, I query five magazines to see if I can write articles for them to publicize Crossing Oceans. I’ll worry about where I’ll find the time to write them later.

To reward myself for a hard day’s work, I do a voice over for the book trailer that I’ve had to learn to put together, since I’m A. poor, and B. picky.

Two days later, I’m still working on the book trailer. It seems it’s not all that easy to put these things together after all and not make them look cheesy. After thirty four takes of the voice over, and a flare up of my carpel tunnel, I have something I like. I send it to my critique partners who tell me I’ve got a winner—if I’ll change a, b, c, d, e, f, and g.

After hanging up, I cry, scream, rip out more hair, and get back to work. Five minutes later, my bff calls me back crying. “I’m a hack,” she says. “I can’t write. Who was I fooling?”

“Me,” I say, knowing just how she feels. “And you’ll fool everyone else who reads your work. You’re a literary genius. Yes. You are. Hey, did you remember to pick up your daughter from daycare?”

“My husband did.” There’s a pause. “Wait, what’s today?”


  1. I give this post a thumb's up!

    Is it just me, or is every chapter I write like "Monique," only I end up hacking and writing my "Moniques" so many times, I guess they should have titles like, "Monique the VIII"

    Fun post!

  2. Hey - I resemble a few of those remarks!

  3. I love the part about finding the lunch dishes and being not sure if you'd made lunch!

  4. Hilarious, Gina! And so true. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who lives in a writer's fog. Thank you for the laughs, Jennifer King

  5. It sounds so familiar. All except the publicity, editing, publishing part. Have fun.

  6. Thanks girls. Glad to know it's not a rare disease :-)

  7. Oh my goodness, someone has been spying on my life! I love this article! Nicely done. As you can see, I was reading all my emails first before writing . . .

  8. Gina, you are so stinking cute! (Love that picture!) And I loved how you expressed every writer's fears well. Now watch that debut novel be a big hit... and the next one, and the next one... Love ya!

  9. This is a great post. Within the humor is this truism: the value of a writing bff!

  10. Awww, shucks Michelle.Ha. Thanks everyone!


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