Monday, August 07, 2006

This or the

In my current work, I’ve driven myself mad trying to make the colors brighter at the end of the book (when the girl is happy) than those at the beginning (when the girl is sad)--even though she is wearing the same red coat. It becomes an insane process as I struggle with whether to use jewel red or crimson…and probably when the book is printed, the color difference won’t even be noticeable.

But it’s these little things that we, as creators, can’t let go of. Mary Newell Depalma, when writing A Grand Old Tree, told me a story of how she got into an argument with her editor over a “this” or “the.”

“…the roots of her grandchildren sink deep into the earth,” her editor had marked.
“…sink into this earth,” she had marked back.
“THE earth,” he had replied.
“No, THIS earth,” she insisted.
“I can’t believe you’re being so difficult,” he said.

And I suppose we are a difficult bunch. Exacting, demanding and a bit crazy-- but the ones who really feel the brunt of this is ourselves. While we toil and labor at the subtle nuances, do others, in the end, even notice the difference between a “this” vs. a “the” or a jewel red vs. a crimson? Probably not.

And nor should they. Because that is what makes what we do so beautiful.


Meghan McCarthy said...

Um, yeah, I'm like that. Very nit picky about certain things. The ones who suffer ARE ourselves! For example, In ALIENS I went way out of my way to find the EXACT Life mag. for the month of October in 1938 and then copied into my book in cartoon form (it's in the B&W diner scene if you look closely). Then for the police car scene I wanted to find out exactly what a NJ police uniform would have looked like. Of course my editor and designer thought I was nuts--a tight deadline and I was fussing with details that NO ONE would care about! But then again, I'm the one who will probably have the darn book on my bookshelf the longest. If I ever wanted to look at it again, I'd realized, I knew I had to get it right... even if no one else cared!

YES, we are all crazy. Thanks for pointing it out, Grace.


Libby Koponen said...

Yes, we are (all crazy). For my Thomas Edison book I did exactly the same sorts of things, poring over his notebooks and drawings (and spending money I didn't have to buy a book that contained his own recollections of his childhood, in his own words, even with his own spelling! I spent hours and hours looking at his patent drawings online, even though I couldn't understand the scientific details of any of them! I found a recording made at his INventing Factory (he and his inventors used to stay up working all night and somebody sometimes would play the banjo or piano and they'd all sing).

ANd in the end, no one bought the book. That is one of the other driven, irrational parts of this: you HAVE TO do your best, whether anyone ever publishes it or not.

I wonder sometimes if all the rewriting I do is "worth it" -- I've tried to stop myself from doing it but I can't. And maybe there is a rational reason for this: If I don't write something as well and vividly as I can, using the right words,the BEST words, for what I'm trying to say, what's the point? I might as well then (in Anna's wonderful phrase) "dress up in a suit a suit every day and be an accountant or something."

Anonymous said...

Those are the details that make a book facinating rather than generic. Keep the crazy.