I don’t know about most authors, but me, I’m almost never a good judge of the quality of what I’ve written. Except for one or two rare exceptions, by the time I’m finished with a manuscript—all seven or eight revisions—and my editor and I are in agreement that the work is ready for production, I’m usually sick to death of it. The story is lackluster, the writing pedestrian, the twists all telegraphed well beforehand. Everything about the project feels flat. I want nothing more to do with it, and am so ready to move on to the next story, which I’m always certain is bound to be better than the piece of dreck I’ve wasted the last year writing.
Vermilion Drift was no exception. I remember thinking at the end of the process that eventually every author has to turn out a piece that falls short, and I figured this was the piece for me. There were good elements in it, to be sure—the remarkable Iron Range setting, the deliciously dark secrets from the past of Cork O’Connor, the wonderful role Henry Meloux played. But overall, I thought I’d come up shy. All I could see were the weaknesses, the words that didn’t quite say what I’d hoped they would, the obvious manipulations, the floppy motivations, the potential for disaster.
Then I saw the finished book. Oh, is it lovely. One of my favorite covers. And then the reviews started rolling in. Starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Kirkus, for god’s sake! They never like my stuff. Last week, I got word that the book will be reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, and is being considered as a People magazine book pick. We even got a call from Hollywood.
So now I’m stoked. What’s changed? Nothing, really, except I’ve been able to step back from the work and look at it through different eyes. With a little distance—and with the encouragement that comes from a good critical response—it’s easier to see the strengths of the story instead of focusing all that I know falls short.
No work is perfect, but at the outset we always believe somehow we can make it so. In the end—to maintain sanity—an author needs to learn to come to terms with the great potential and the ultimate reality. Kind of like loving someone even though there are things about them that drive you nuts.