(Ha, ha, just kidding. I want to give my husband a jolt when he reads this!)
Guess what’s come back to me?
This manuscript feels like a boomerang. Every time I send it off, it comes right back (in a big 4lb package). I suppose it feels that way because nothing happened for 6 months after the book was purchased, and then everything happened in quick succession. (With my last book, the whole process was more spread out.)
I’ve been through two rounds of editorial revisions, and now this is the copy-editing stage.
My biggest worry? Reading the copy-editor’s brown pencil notations. I hope my bifocals are up to the job, because I left my lighted magnifying glass in my desk at school and I really don’t want to go back for it.
The coolest thing so far? There’s been a page added since I last saw the manuscript. The copyright page. LOOK!
And the best thing about reviewing the copy edits by hand on paper? I’ll have to get off the laptop and sit at a well-lighted table. Good for my sore shoulder and unhappy left arm. (*)
* Amended — My shoulder actually hurts more after sitting hunched over the manuscript at the kitchen table for a few hours than it does when using the laptop on the couch. FYI.
It’s not the first time I’ve received editorial notes — I had them from Sourcebooks when we were working on WE HEAR THE DEAD and I get them from my agent Sara, too, when I submit a new manuscript to her. But these are notes from my new editor at Clarion, and it’s my first time working with her.
I admit, when I see the email in my in-box, the first thing I do is glance at the stack of brown paper bags on my desk, the ones my students are going to use for their Valentine’s Day card exchange. Am I going to need one? You know, to breathe into, in case I hyperventilate?
Opening an email like this is scary. What will I have to do? What will I have to change? Am I capable of making it as good as it needs to be? A whole lifetime of self-doubt flashes before my eyes before I click it open.
I scan. Then I start over and skim. (Taking it in small glimpses seemed a good idea at the time.) Then I read it. At some point, I push the brown paper bags aside and reach for my lunch, because I’m not hyperventilating and I’m not passing out — and I can do this.
Will I have to kill some darlings? Yes. All of them? No! This isn’t the final scene of Hamlet, with nothing but corpses littering the stage. This is metamorphosis. This is clarity and focus. There will be changes, but most of the things I love aren’t going anywhere and there may well be new darlings born out of revisions.
Is it going to be awesome? I think so. I’m sure gonna try.
Can’t wait to get started.
Last week, I signed the contract to publish The Caged Graves with Clarion. With the book on its way to publication, it seemed an appropriate time for a pilgrimage back to the place that inspired the story – Hooded Grave Cemetery in Catawissa, PA.
I knew, going back, that it was going to look different to me this time. I fictionalized the setting when I wrote the story, changing the geography around quite a bit. For almost two years, I’ve been picturing those two graves outside a cemetery wall at the bottom of a long steep road, between Ransloe Boone’s house and the Shades of Death swamp.
In actuality, the tiny cemetery is squeezed between a cornfield and somebody’s house, and across the road from an orchard. The church is long gone. Somebody cuts the grass, but nobody’s been tending the weeds inside the graves. It was quite sad to see. Both graves were damaged. One of the flying eagles was missing from Sarah Ann’s cage, and the wire had been bent and mangled on one side of both graves. It looked as if somebody had been pulling on the wire trying to get their hands in. (Or get their hands out!) In fact, the damage to the cage is eerily similar to an incident in my book, which is kind of creepy.
My first visit, 21 months ago, was on a bitter cold day in January. We didn’t stay long – just took a few pictures and left. This time, we spent time looking around and examining the other graves. I couldn’t find the graves of either of the husbands – Ransloe Boone or John Thomas. In fact, as I looked around, I realized most of the graves belonged to women and children. It started to creep me out, and I wondered why no men were buried here. Eventually, I did find two headstones for adult men – but all the rest were women and children.
There were a lot of open spaces between the graves, so maybe headstones are missing – crumbled and cleared away, or sunk into the ground. And of course, the mortality rate for women and children was higher than for adult men. Nevertheless, their near absence added one more unsettling element to this place.
All old cemeteries are fascinating to me. I love wandering through them, looking at the names on the tombstones and trying to figure out their stories. But Hooded Grave Cemetery seems to have more secrets than most. I could probably write half a dozen more stories inspired by the strange things I noticed in just this one visit.
Rest in peace, Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas. I hope I made up a good story for you, but I’ll always wonder what really happened.