Nothing but Good Ideas








My new novel, THE CELESTIALS, comes out on June 11.  By this point, I should be well into a new project.

“Should be” for a variety of reasons.  One: I finished THE CELESTIALS over four years ago  (see previous posting for history of publishing said novel).  Two: I finished edits on THE CELESTIALS months ago.  Three: I teach at Williams College, but I’m not teaching right now, and I’m not teaching next semester either.  I’m in the midst of a whole year off.  To write.  Four: I have never published a book without being well into another project at the time of publication.

“Never” for a variety of reasons.  One: the writing of a book is hard enough, but the publication of a book is a whole other beast, one that requires a different side of the brain, the side that most writers aren’t very good at (it’s the reason they became writers in the first place and not event planners or PR reps), so it’s good to be exercising the side of the brain that matters most to you when the side of the brain that doesn’t is being asked to perform well beyond its reach.  Two: writers who say they don’t read reviews are lying.  Well, they might not be lying, but they definitely have their best friends, or their mothers, or their best friends’ mothers, read the reviews, and being well into another writing project protects the side of the brain you need for writing from the concussive effects the world’s reception of your work can have on, say, your entire being.

So, what am I working on now?  (This, by the way, is the one question that I am guaranteed to be asked most once THE CELESTIALS comes out, the way newly-married couples are inevitably asked when they’re going to have kids.)  The truth is, I’ve got good idea after good idea, and I can’t seem to commit to any of them.

A few months ago, I had two good ideas: a novel based on the American woman to bring the first live panda back to the States from China and a novel about a woman who dies in a car crash who may or may not have been leaving her husband, and who may or may not have been on her cell phone telling her lover if she was going to leave her husband when she crashed.  Did I want to do a book more like my most recent novel?  Historical fiction requiring lots of research, real live people (who may or may not get annoyed at my fictional representations of them) in real live situations.  Or did I want to do a book more like the short stories I tend to write?  Sad Characters Having Angry Sex.

Turns out, no need to choose between two, since now I have at least half a dozen good ideas.  A possible rape told from the point of view of the town where it occurs.  A novel based on the women who started a program for stray dogs in prisons and then fell in love with one of the inmates, breaking him out of the prison in a dog crate.  The Case of the 22 Chinese Women in California in 1874 which led to the first Chinese litigant before the U.S. Supreme Court.

My husband, also a writer, says–not completely patiently–that many writers would feel lucky to have so many ideas, so here’s my new plan: quit writing, start a business that sells good ideas for novels to other writers.  Well, that, or quit writing and become a personal shopper.  Or a closet organizer.  Or someone who comes up with titles for other writers’ work.  Or, just quit writing, since my ability to know what I love, what haunts me, what world I want to create and immerse myself in for the next God knows how many years seems to have escaped me.  But, here’s the problem, when I quit writing (which I’ve basically done for the last several months), I’m miserable.  And when I try to do it (which I’ve also done for the last several months), I’m also miserable.  But as my husband often tells his students: you may be a writer if you need to do this in order to feel good about yourself, even though doing this almost never makes you feel good about yourself.

So, I’ve got that going for me, which is good.