This is a strange week. The final draft of Dance of the Bones went to my editor in New York late on Monday afternoon. In a way, finishing a book leaves me in a strange kind of void—a literary strain of postpartum depression that doesn’t include a newborn baby.
I’ve spent months with my head buried in the stories, legends, geography, and words of the Tohono O’odham Nation. I’m not a stranger to the T.O., but in order to write about it properly, I had to immerse the creative part of me in that reality. It is something that happens in the daytime when I’m writing but also during the nighttime hours when I’m thinking about the story rather than sleeping. As I’ve mentioned before, I call those sleepless creative nights “wrestling with the devil.”
The immersion process for Dance of the Bones wasn’t just a matter of projecting my whole being into the world of the Desert People in general. It also meant reacquainting myself with the four previous Walker books. When I did that, I was astonished to realize that I’ve created a cast of imaginary and intertwining characters who now span three centuries. Looks at Nothing and Understanding Woman, Rita Antone’s grandmother, were both born in the late 19th century. Now Lani Walker as well as Understanding Woman’s great, great great grandson, are alive and well in the 21st. Does that make J.A. Jance a southwestern version of John Jakes? I’m not sure.
Wrestling with the devil came into play early on in this book. A long bout with bursitis, starting in September and lasting well into December, left me with a lame right shoulder and made sleep a virtual impossibility for an extended period of time. Thinking about writing while trying to find a comfortable position to sleep is not actual writing. Having dealt with chronic pain, even for as short a time as three months, allows me to say with some authority that any kind of debilitating pain is harmful to the creative process—or at least to MY creative process.
Since Monday, the week has been relatively quiet. Well … maybe not completely quiet, come to think of it. We had to bring the glass guys back to do a trimming retrofit on the sliding doors which meant the drapery cleaners had to make a return visit as well. Then high winds knocked a branch off one of the trees in that back yard. No damage, but the branch had to be sawed up and hauled away. I also did three interviews here at the house with another one set for Friday. I’m giggling as I write this. That was a QUIET WEEK? I guess, in this our case quiet is relative.
The problem is, this is the calm before the storm, before the fly/drive, speak, eat, sleep, fly/drive, speak, eat, sleep craziness that makes up a book tour. The first event for Cold Betrayal is in Phoenix on Saturday—THIS SATURDAY. In other words, ready or not, my period of postpartum depression will have to come to an abrupt halt by noon on Saturday.
Last night, I had a long chat with my daughter. She had just finished reading an advance copy of Cold Betrayal, and she was giving me a briefing on it—on the characters; what she liked about the book; what she thought was important; what made her laugh. And why would she do something like that? Because on Saturday, with the Dance of the Bones people still walking around in my head, I’ll have to stand up in public and talk about Cold Betrayal, a book I finished writing last July while we were in Tuscany!
People ask me if I write more than one book at a time. No, but having just been deep in writing one book with one cast of characters, I now need to be able to talk intelligently about another book with another whole cast of characters. Good luck with that!
Okay, okay. I write a LOT of books. Some of you who have heard me speak understand that I have a personal aversion to the word “prolific.” But I understand that when people say that about me, all they really mean I have written many books. It’s true. More than fifty. In thirty years. That comes out to 1.7666 books per year, but who’s counting?
The point is, I am the one who has written all of them. I’m responsible for every single word and every single error—including forgotten quotation marks, split infinitives, and misstated weapon details, as well as my consistent overuse of the redundant conjunction combo “and then.” I write my own books. I do not have a stable of co-writers on hand to “fill in the details after I do the outline.”
It’s all 70+ little old me sitting here in my writing chair and keying all those words into the computer. I believe the number of words typed so far has to be right up at the 6,000,000 mark but again, who’s counting? (When the ubiquitous grammar checker in the computer goes over this note, she’ll want to know if I really mean who’s as opposed to whose? The answer is yes, I actually DO know the difference!)
At some point, hopefully far in the future, someone will lift my gnarled and cold dead hands off a not-yet-invented keyboard. At that point I will well and truly be done with the world of writing.
In the meantime, see you on the road.
PS Twenty years ago, a young female reporter asked me during an interview about how old I was when I published my first book. When I told her I was 41 when Until Proven Guilty was published in 1985, she said, “You were SO old.” If she thought I was old then, she should see me now, but I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that if she tried to do what I do on a day to day basis, she wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace!
So endeth the rant for the day!