One day at a time

Amid this week’s tumultuous current events, I’ve been working through the galleys of The Women of the Copper Country, which will be published on August 6th this year.

Galley proofs are the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, printed up with extra-wide margins so we can pencil in changes and clarifications.

Most of the changes to Copper Country were done last month in the copy-edited version of the pages, but there were still three passages that were snarled sufficiently to require rewriting. Also: a few dropped words; a lot of “this could be shorter and better;” some phrasing that made me stop and stare while wondering, What made me think that made any sense?

It’s always a source of frustration to me that the uncorrected pages will go out to reviewers. They never see my best work, but at least the published version will be closer to what I hoped when I started writing that story.

The next pass will be through the page proofs, which will be the last time I can change anything before the book goes to the printer. After that, it’s out in the world on its own. So. Getting close to calling this one finished.

This morning, I am spinning my wheels about going on to Book #8. Last year, I wrote 30+ pages before getting caught up in the production process for Copper Country. I like the main character’s voice. I have a good structure in mind. I even have a general outline, which is rare for me; usually I’m flying blind while writing a first draft.

Here’s the hold-up: I am daunted by the massive amount of research this one will take. That’s the disadvantage to having a strong outline: I know how much I don’t know, and it’s a lot.

All of the earlier books have been research-heavy. That’s why they’ve taken me so long to write. Every time I’ve finished writing a novel, I’ve sworn it’s the last.

This time is worse. I’m distracted by the current political upheaval, and it’s even more tempting to think, “I’m done. This is too hard. I’m going to retire. I’ll share snarky memes on Facebook, and watch birds and cooking shows, and help Don clean up after an increasingly incontinent old dachshund, and enjoy the hell out of the life I share with a man I’ve loved since 1968.”

But — just for today — I’m going to do what I suggest to other writers. I’m going to put my hands on the keyboard and make some prose happen. I’ll use my stupid football analogy and tell myself, “Don’t even think about throwing a long bomb into the end zone. Just pick up some yardage. Get a little farther down the field.”

I won’t try to write a novel. I’ll write one sentence. I’ll look up one fact. I’ll write another paragraph.

Hello. My name is Mary and I’m a novelist.






28 thoughts on “One day at a time”

  1. Wonderful! Congratulations. Now, take a short break(you deserve it) and then keep writing. You need it. We need it. And thank you.

  2. Having read all your previous novels, and very much appreciated the meld of new voices in old history, I can understand the tremendous amount of research that goes into your work. Your novels represent a look into how individuals have risen to needs during a particular time.
    That gives me hope during this insanity that faces our country. George Will and Steve Schmidt are two of the “characters” who speak for my concerns, and rise to this occasion! WRITE ON NOVELIST.

    I also understand the problem of cleaning up after elderly dogs. Our two Dachshunds will turn 16 this month, the smaller suffering sensory depravation and panic attacks, and Max (having gone through spinal surgery twice as a younger dog) has little bowel control. However, they eat well and are not in any evident pain, so care for them with the love they deserve.

  3. I for one am so glad you decided to keep writing, even just a word or a line or a paragraph, because I so enjoy your writing. It is poetic and beautiful and also informative and entertaining. Not too many people manage that.

    I am off to the bookstore now to see if my copies of A Thread of Grace have come in… I ordered more to give to my children. (grown children… I too was married in 1968.)

    Keep at it, there might be a touchdown in your future!

  4. Is there research with which your genealogy genies might assist?

    And on a separate matter, I greatly appreciate your political work on Facebook and have pointed several friends in its direction.

  5. Thank you – for writing, for posting this, for your books, and for keeping on keeping on, planting one word in front of another and keeping them watered until something sprouts.

  6. I have audio version of “The Sparrow” on my iPhone setbto play random chapters in between music. Your writing fits right in as the music of prose and your research jumps out at me. The chapter describing parts of Puerto Rico, Aracibo and LaPerla in particular, take me back there better than any photos. I love your writing and hope you never quit.

  7. I have valued your novels and always look forward to the next because they are carefully researched. They make an event or period of history come alive; you add the personal details by inserting at times characters of your onw invention. Thus, write your prose, but look upon all the hours spent on research of immense underlying value.

  8. Thanks for continuing to write. The Sparrow is one of my all time favorite reads..thank you for that!

  9. You are so brilliant and committed to sharing your insights. Have you ever considered inviting your many fans (including retirees like me) help you by inviting some crowd-sourced research? Or inviting your fans to submit proposals to do unfounded research on your behalf? For what it is worth I am a retired law professor who is a dogged researcher and my husband is a retired bookseller. We now live on Nantucket Island, off Cape Cod, and have recommended you as a speaker for the 2920 Book Festival. We love your work and would be eager to help you and/or host you. Judith and Warren Wegner

  10. I hope you don’t retire quite yet. Memes are fun, and you deserve to retire. But maybe if you just go slowly and have some fun here and there, it will help.

    Whatever you end up doing, I’ll read the new one, as I’ve read all the rest, and be grateful for what you have given us. Thank you, Mary, for writing one of my all-time favorite books.

  11. Once again. Raw genius, gut creativity, and masses of muses meet the human condition. Even Jacob had to resort to primordial stubbornness in quest of his visionary “Blessing”. No. 8 is already being written. Don’t hurt your ankle in the process. However we all walk with a limp.

  12. Mary, I do enjoy your books. I’m also a writer, and I know the struggle is real. Just today I was describing to my husband how getting started on this new novel is like trying to crank up an old, cold tracror on a subzero morning. Which we are having today, by the way.

    But there’s just something about how the process feels, once it’s in gear and the words rumble through me.

    Whatever image works best, metaphors be with you!

  13. “I know how much I don’t know, and it’s a lot.” This is me every day of my life these days. I admire, to the point of astonishment, your ability to breathe life into history with your characters and insight.

    “I’m going to put my hands on the keyboard and make some prose happen.” Please don’t stop.

  14. Please keep writing. I agree with the person who suggested taking a short break and then returning to your work. I don’t think you would be happy just posting snarky comments and memes on social media.

    I am looking forward to the release of your new book this summer. Please keep writing!

  15. Thank you for writing…thank you for the sacrifice…and thank you for all your books that have been and will be.

  16. Mary,
    Congratulations! Wow, you amaze me. Your brilliant work (and artistry) has added greatly to my love of historic fiction. I deeply trust the history you share and I learn much from it, while enjoying the fictional characters and their story.
    However, I do wholeheartedly support your idea of an enjoyable retirement with the man you love, Don — sans the poop cleaning part from the pups. You deserve this break, I feel.
    Hey, you can always write a few short stories now and then, or become an historic commentator for PBS Ken Burns-type documentaries.

  17. Your eloquent fans follow you, reading and re-reading your books, chuckling and commiserating with you on FaceBook, and you must certainly cherish them, basking in the glow and getting energy from them every day.

    If that doesn’t motivate you to keep researching the next subject, still interested, and striving (realistically) to reach that unreachable star – so be it! You’ve already done well. (Forgive me! Recently, I saw a perfectly lovely, FLAMENCO production of The Man of La Mancha, here in AZ, and I cannot get it out of my head. Somehow, at this moment, the words reminded me fondly of you – not that you are a dreamer.)

    Five years ago you were working on EPITAPH, and your *genealogy genies* were privileged to participate, however marginally. It was FUN! ann

  18. I too am horribly distracted and fascinated by politics. Thank you for this word to write one sentence at a time. I have rough drafts waiting for me. Commenting to sign up.

  19. I just read this while I’m n the midst of listening to the audio version of Copper Country——-i LOVE this book! Thank you so much for telling Annie’s story! Keep writing! This horrible world needs more stuff by you!

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