My second novel came out two months ago. It seems weird that it’s out there in the world at all, but it also feels as though it’s been out for two years, not two months.
When I told people I was working on a new novel, the most common question was, “What’s it about?” You’d think I would have eventually developed a good answer, but I never did. “A talking dog and a band from Macon,” was what I usually said, but that description ran the risk of scaring away those averse to verbal animals; even worse, it suggested that I’d had the brilliant idea to rewrite Dr. Doolittle and set it in Georgia.1 So sometimes I said, “The things people should or shouldn’t say to each other,” but that made it sound like a self-help book.2 The most truthful answer was, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”3
Now that Songs By Honeybird is published, the question I get most often is, “How’s the book doing?” Even though I don’t have an answer, I like the question. It treats the book like a living creature, out there in the world, succeeding or failing just like the rest of us do on a daily basis. The question also acknowledges that, at this point, how the book gets treated by the world is out of my hands. The book has its own agency.4 After four (or five?) years and more revisions than a drummer can count, my work is done. I can’t make people react to Songs in a certain way, any more than I can make people like music I’m involved in, or my kids. Or my cats.
Truth is, all the comparisons about finishing a creative project being like birthing a child are simultaneously ridiculous and accurate. Ridiculous, because I have never have carried a living creature inside my body for all those months, never mind experienced said creature then passing out of my body in a long and painful and beautiful process, but also sort of accurate, because I have carried many people inside me for years, and then watched them leave my head and meet other people.
Once the characters go into the world I can no longer control how they interact with, and are received by, others. So maybe that’s another way writing a book (or painting a picture, or finishing any other creative project) is like raising a kid. At first you try and control as much as you can, to shape them into the best versions of themselves that they can be.5 Then, eventually, the day comes when you have no control at all.
Remind anyone else of a Honeybird song?6 I thought so.
1 I now give this reboot concept to anyone who wants to develop it.
2 Not there’s anything wrong with self-help books, of course. Bur trust me, you don’t want me writing one.
3 And this, this is no lie. It’s often not until I have written a few drafts that I figure out what the book is actually, like, about. Even the purpose of this blog—such as it is—did not come to me until I started writing it.
4 I mean, there are things I can do to promote awareness of its existence, like casually mention said existence whenever possible, and go any and everywhere to talk about it, or even write blog posts. (Wait, do people still read blogs? Does anyone read the footnotes in a blog?) What I’m referring to here is my inability to shape reader’s reactions.
5 “Say please, and thank you.” “Remember what Sly said: ‘Sock it onto others/As you would have them sock it to you.”
6 Music by the one and only Charles Walston. Filmed at the book launch/birthing party.