This is that most awkward of times, both the "best of" and the "worst of."
I'm between books.
For the past 10-12 weeks, I've been towed through my days by the ending sequences of PULPED, the book I finished last Tuesday. The closer I get to the end of a book, the more completely it dominates my consciousness. If someone had thrown pop quizzes at me in the last month or so to see whether I knew what day of the week it was, I would have failed every time.
And then, at the very end, a sort of panic set in: This is going to be over soon. I'm going to have to leave this story. I managed to prolong the actual conclusion of the writing process by going back and papering over some of the scabbiest patches, but now even that's done.
I've even read it to my wife, and today was devoted to making the changes that emerged from that reading -- shortening the passages where I found myself speeding up, enlivening the pages that were met with snores. Sharpening the sequences that had her sitting up and staring at me as I read. Doing a little structural carpentry. All that's finished. The book has been sent to its beta readers.
Am I the only one here who goes through something like Kubler-Ross's (now largely discredited) stages of grief when a book is finished? All the characters I've come to love and hate with such intensity over the past six months -- gone. The landscape I've described in such detail (I could diagram the placement of every rock structure in the part of the Joshua Tree Monument where the first big action scene takes place) -- gone. The ideas and concepts I've been twisting around like pipe-cleaner animals -- gone.
So what do I do now?
I know what I should do: I should go straight to work on the fifth Poke Rafferty book, now that it appears we have a publisher. But I'm not Anthony Trollope. Trollope worked five hours a day, no excuses, no matter where he was or what he was doing. He wrote in stagecoaches, on sailing ships in the middle of the stormy Atlantic, on buckboards traveling the raw new roads of America. If he finished a novel when he had four minutes remaining in his five-hour session, he put it aside, reached for a new piece of paper, dipped his pen, and started a new one.
Well, the hell with him.
I could celebrate the fact that I have my life back. When I started PULPED, when I was pushing it uphill, trying to get the flywheel (as Haruki Murakami calls it) cranking, when I felt like every word weighed five pounds, my life was infinitely interesting, ripe and rich in unexplored territory. It dispatched sirens on a regular basis to call to me. Then the book enveloped me and surrounded me and began to turn itself inside out, the way a starfish turns itself inside out to ingest its prey, and my life no longer interested me. What interested me was what was happening to Simeon and Madison, what was happening in Joshua Tree and in the Limbo that pulp-fiction series characters inhabit when their last book goes out of print and is pulped for newsprint. And how the twain would meet, and what would happen when they did.
What interested me was my book. My life, right now, feels like black-and-white, and not very well shot, either.
I know, I know. This too shall pass. I love my wife and I love my life and . . . and there's this new book waiting for me. I'm not there yet, but I can catch glimpses of it, sort of glimmering at me.
So -- what do you guys (in a non-gender-specific sense) do to recover from the ending of a book?