Whenever my husband perceives that I am procrastinating in the writing department, or when there is a lapse in his understanding of how very long it takes to make a thing not merely good but excellent (which, for me, varies in length depending on my craven need), he asks me, “When are you going to license the plush toys?”
Licensing the plush toys is husbandly code for, “Are you truly serious about finishing, and then marketing, this book?” I blame myself. I started it. I dreamed up the plush toys that would be created from the main character in my first novel for young people, what I now know is a Middle Grade novel. I started this book four years ago during NaNoWriMo, the annual torture fest that is Novel Writing November.
Perhaps there are people for whom beginning a new work of fiction on November 1 is a giddy prospect, followed by a glorious month of triumph and ease during which at least 50,000 words are written, but I am not one of them. Oh yes, I have done it, and more than once. But it’s not easy. It’s a difficult series of days filled with deadlines and word counts and bad, bad writing. The unofficial motto of NaNoWriMo, “Quantity, not quality” is no accident. No re-writes. No looking back to polish. It’s straight on ‘til morning, damn the torpedoes, don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes and so on. Or, as Charles Darwin wrote in his notebooks (as I am learning from Deborah Heiligman’s lovely book, Charles & Emma): &tc.
That first year, over lunch in San Francisco, my friend Megan challenged me to “do” Novel Writing November with her. I said I’d think about it. On the plane back to Seattle that night, in conversation with the woman sitting next to me, an image came to me of a small dog, a beloved and special dog, who has lost his people. He was so exhausted he could do nothing but fall asleep, hidden in the darkness underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It was raining and it was cold.
That’s all I knew about him, except that his name was Tweed and that I was worried for him. On the first of November I started his story, and by the end of the month I had most of a first draft.
Did I revise the book? Yes, more than once. Did I send it out before it was ready? Yes, more than once. Did I learn from these rookie mistakes? Yes, but it took more than one November. This was when the plush toys entered the picture. I’d promise to buy a painting Vic admired in a gallery, “When I license the plush toys.” If he talked about buying a beach house, I’d say, “After I license the plush toys.”
There was a time when I thought I’d set the book aside for good. I’d moved on. It was relegated to my virtual drawer, the one where old or out of fashion books end up, never to be looked at, let alone published. Yet Tweed stayed alive for me, and each time I once again revised my way through the manuscript, each time I felt done and each time I realized that something major had to change about the book, I still believed in Tweed. It was as if he was waiting patiently for me to get it right so he could take his long journey and make his return, utterly changed and utterly the same, as we all do.
I no longer believe I will ever license plush toys of Tweed. In fact, the era of plush toys seems to have passed; or maybe it’s just in remission. I am getting closer though. I can feel him settle at my feet while I write, the way my dog Oliver does. Tweed is very patient, it turns out.
And if I do license the plush toys? If all my dreams come true and the book is good enough for me and good enough for an agent and good enough for an editor and good enough for the readership – I think I’ll have a party. Maybe at the beach house.