Toward the end of December, I took a break from emergency revisions for NOT QUITE A HUSBAND and went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
I shed my first tears within moments of the beginning, when the clockmaker’s backward-turning clock was revealed, and he spoke of how he wished that time could flow back and bring back all the young men (his own son included) who had perished in the Great War.
The tone of the movie was set. From then on, I was completely and rapturously enveloped in the gentle yet unsentimental journey of a man who ages backward. I’d read other aging backward stories, most notably in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, so I already know it is a peculiar genre that moves me. But still, I cried and cried at the end of the movie and then went home–it was like 2:30 am when I got back–and cried for another half hour. Because it touched me so. Because for me it spoke so eloquently of the fragility of life, the inexorability of death, and the gallantry of love, knowing in the end that it might not even be remembered or recognized.
But I seem to be in the minority in my uncritical love of this movie. When I’ve talked to people about it, they feel the movie was too long and rather boring at parts. My mom in particular, from whom I inherited my shallowness, complained at length that there wasn’t enough young Brad Pitt for eye candy. 🙂
Now, what else do I love uncritically?
Some of you might know that I had a lot of trouble with DELICIOUS, that I had to throw out the equivalent of two entire drafts before my editor accepted the third version. (I am, without a doubt, the best edited writer in all of romance–bar none.) When I received the first final copies of DELICIOUS hot off the press, I sat down and read it through–for probably the very first time, since before that I always had to make changes. My verdict? “Powerful but imperfect,” as I wrote in an email to my editor, vowing to keep the powerful but get rid of the imperfect with my next book.
Some of you might also know that I had some major trouble with NOT QUITE A HUSBAND in the home stretch–namely, I sent it in and my editor sent it back with a few choice words that had me wander around my house shellshocked for half a day or so before I pulled myself together to redo the book in the three weeks. (Otherwise my pub date would have to be moved back to 2010.)
Having gone through three drafts with DELICIOUS, getting a sucky draft sent back shouldn’t be anything new for me, right?
Well, it was a new experience. Each time I handed in a not-okay draft of DELICIOUS, I sort of knew that it wasn’t okay. The first time I actually prayed that my editor wouldn’t hate it too much–she did, and I wasn’t too surprised.
This time I was really, really shocked. Even after I’d rewritten and resubmitted and had my new version accepted, I couldn’t stop wondering about it. Why was my assessment of the original version of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND so diametrical from that of my editor’s? The ability to judge one’s own work is an important quality to have for a writer, especially a professional writer. And I’d thought that I’d finally acquired that ability.
Then I read the new version of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND in anticipation of the line edit and the copy edits. I cried–and cried and cried. It dawned on me finally that NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, even the much-flawed original version, was just like Benjamin Button for me.
Have you ever read a book that hurts so good that you lose all critical faculties? A book of deep lovely pain that make you feel with such intensity and rawness that you cannot grade it on any objective measure, because you don’t care, because it just knocks you out in all the right ways?
That is NOT QUITE A HUSBAND for me. Me, not my editor, fortunately. The book as it originally stood had a couple of significant structural weaknesses which I completely ignored because I was an emotion junkie getting her fix with the rest of the story. My clear-eyed editor pointed them out and made me fix them.
And the new version gets to me even more.
It feels unsettling, almost, to speak of a book of my own that way. And I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I could very well end up in the minority here, as NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is not an easy story, nor does it have a secondary romance to lighten things up from time to time. But it is, in a way, a marvelous experience, to write something that jives with me so much that I’m utterly blind to its faults, that upon reading it I am incapable of anything but teary-eyed happiness.
The rest of you, prepare to be sorely disappointed. 🙂