Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
– E. L. Doctorow
I’ve always been allergic to ‘acknowledgements’ in a book. Whether at the end as an afterthought, or beginning as a warning, I know from my own experience that they can’t possibly do what the author allegedly intends. Like many of you, I’ve read the ones that are five pages of lists of people’s names—people you’ve never heard of so have no reference point for—as well as the ones with a discreet and seemingly very personal offering that is still a total disconnect from your own life. Writers often read the latter in hopes of finding a new agent or publisher for themselves, and perverse readers (like me) read the long lists, often out of sheer stubbornness and a sense that all connections to the art form must be applauded by all artists. I sit through the credits after a film is over and struggle to read them as they flash by at the speed of light. Gosh, if that was my name, I’d want someone to recognize my contribution!
But writing a novel is a very long and complicated endeavor. There’s no way, if the author is honest, to list all the support from the beginning of the work when we hardly know what it might become. Certain Liberties took about 6 years to write, so there are many author colleagues from various now-defunct and current writing groups who supported it with encouragement and artistic critique. I couldn’t possibly name them all without leaving someone out—so it’s safer not to name any of them. There were also many of what I’d call ‘lay’ readers, for want of a better term, who read pieces of the book as they emerged from my imagination. I have no recollection of how they dealt with the strange twists and turns a novel takes before becoming what it will ultimately be, but I thank them all for hanging in.
It’s a very different story than I thought it was going to be when I first saw little Emily Alden burning up with fever in the gigantic bed at the home of her wealthy foster family. I knew she had a passion for reading music in bed and playing the violin, but not a clue where those proclivities would lead in the 19th century, or even how she’d deal with the illness that obviously started her off badly in her new home. Would the boy of the new household become a friend or foe? He was intended to be a second protagonist, but we all know how the best plans can go wrong, and that boy, the parents involved, and even the music teacher, were all moving targets as Emily kept morphing into someone unexpected.
Still, ‘in the interest of full disclosure’, as the financial marketers like to parrot when they’re feeling guilty about obfuscation, I do want to mention the two people who were completely responsible for putting the hard copy in our hands and digital version on our Kindles. Katie Holeman of KSH Design, firstname.lastname@example.org, planned, set and executed the cover and full design of this book. She’s the best collaborator anyone could have for the realization of a dream. I recommend her artistic skills and almost inhuman patience to anyone wanting to control their own novel through the ‘printing’ (which it no longer is) process.
I also recommend Walter Bode, editorial consultant par excellence, to anyone who writes fiction or memoir. For someone like me who loves historical fiction, he’s particularly valuable as his blog www.crisischronology.com attests. Former editor-in-chief of Grove Press and a senior editor at Harcourt among others, the books he’s revised and authors he’s worked with have been awarded prizes that make me quake with fear of failure. And talk about patience! Lord knows where his comes from when he’s warned his author for the umpteenth time that she’s put her character in the wrong month, year and location for the action she’s blithely describing. It’s no good to have someone reflecting on things that couldn’t have happened yet, and that stubborn insistence that the specifics aren’t all that important must make him despair of ever reaching the end goal.
But reach it we eventually have, and the novel that will soon rest in your hands and light up your synapses is the proof. A lot of people worked hard to put it there, and now the characters deserve the chance to tell their stories. Full disclosure should also include the fact that they are the ones who should be credited with wisely choosing their collaborators. We were all just taken along for the ride.