The stack

I got rid of my books a few years ago in a total home decluttering. This was at the thin end of the massive wedge that smartphones were becoming, and I was no longer reading much. Too distracted. 

And besides, I live in a very small house. Why cover the walls with bookcases? Anything I might want to read, I could get as ebooks or audiobooks, which magically took up no space at all.

Having grown up with an antiquarian book-dealer and a librarian, I’d had my fill of “the smell of books” and the “tactile experience of holding a book in my hands.” Bah. Out they went: the novels I wasn’t going to re-read, the deep college-era classics that I certainly wasn’t going to open again, the how-to books for crafts I was done with, the cookbooks (I mean, the internet is full of recipes, right?).

And I held the line for years. Every book that survived that massive decluttering could fit on a couple of shallow shelves behind my bedroom door.

Until Story Grid. Dammit, Story Grid, I did not see you coming.

Being a Story Grid editor requires wide reading in fiction genres I’ve never touched before. Besides, there’s my new novel to be researched. And my current novel to be marketed.

Suddenly I’m ordering two-dollar “Acceptable” used copies of old tomes about the art of narrative (they have that smell). I’m stopping at every Little Free Library in the neighborhood to see what treasures I can snatch. I’ve even opened an Interlibrary Loan account at my local branch library–and I use it. Every week.

I’m gonna need a new bookshelf.

A tall stack of books on a stool in my living room
The To Be Read pile

It’s still there

My book cover for Restraint began here:

And ended here:

Ninety percent of the saga–junk shop scavenging, spray painting, sewing, pinning, upholstering, dyeing, borrowing, eBaying and freaking out–has been has been cropped or photoshopped out of the final cover.

And yet everyone agrees that it’s all still there, under the surface. Even if you can’t see the candelabra or the riding boots or the knee buttons on the breeches, they’re there. They’re there in the way the model posed and the way the artist turned the photo into a painting. Somehow, they’re all there in the feeling.

I found the same thing in writing the novel itself. Not only is the book half the size of its first draft, but I wrote hundreds of thousands of words that were never in any version. Those character backgrounds and interviews, throwaway scenes and backstories are all there in the subtext of the final version.

It wasn’t until I reduced a 20-page prologue to four words in Chapter 12 that I understood. I needed  to write that prologue just as I needed to sew three–not two, not four–perfectly matched buttons on to the knees of those buckskin-yellow breeches. The prologue was important, and it was okay to crop it out of the picture.

Because it’s still there. Underneath.