Manuscripts don't come out this way, tidy and reconciled. Not much ever does, does it? Chefs curse and yell in a pressure cooker, squishing organic matter into mathematically-shaped molds. Organic matter always objects, yet we continue to squish, and this is art. Presentation is at least three of five stars. That's what makes you gasp. Not the ingredients. It's the crisp edges, the control.
Publishing—that gut-wrenching and necessary domain of querying, hustling, and rejection—is the gateway to passionately literate people who are incented to care enough about you to not care about your feelings. They are paid to not ever pussyfoot around your gigantic, glitter-sparkled ego. Writers write books. Editors make writers.
Without an editor to yank back on the leash — or swat a lagging behind — you can't write well. You can't grow. You can't see clearly. Everything sounds fine. Everything looks perfect! Everything belongs. Nothing is missing. Your ideal reader, as you see it? Your mom. Because she'll say Everything sounds fine! Everything looks perfect! Everything belongs. She'll top it off with a honey. She'll tell her quilting bee all about you, about how proud she is. And meanwhile, you're sitting on mediocrity. You always are, if you trust your mom or anyone else who remembers your birthday. The only one to trust is your Penelope.
When I present to junior high and high school students, I show them evidence of the revision and re-revision process. It's important. They need to know that books are made with chisels, not with starbursts. They need to know, no matter what they end up doing in life, that the only way to grow is to surround yourself with people who never call you honey.
Penelope rarely tells me what to do—just that there's something out of balance. Or disharmonious. Or crappity-crap baloney stinker patooey crap.
That last one's my favourite. I only tell you to be less weak because I know you can be, she said, after I told her I was once again taking her indispensability and making it public. I'm not that hard on everyone.
It looks brutal, doesn't it? It can be, sort of. But not really. The compliment is in her persistence. To make the point, I'm not showing you the comments about how she loved a line, or the stretches where she had nothing to correct at all. But what you see here is the gold. Not the encouragement or the sarcastic life-coaching. The gold is in the brutality. Without it, I am lost. Without it, I can't be better than I am. Neither can you.
I'm thrilled to announce that If I Were A Zombie, my next book, is officially on the roster for Nimbus (release date TBA). It's a picture book of monster poetry for 4-8 year-olds. The final copy is due at the end of September. Penelope Jackson is the reigning queen. Do you write? Enlist her. But not until she's done with me.