A Big Stack of Book: Suffering Succotash
December 1, 2011

This is what 60,237 words looks like after 18 months of work.

Today, I emailed my book as an attachment to my editor. I hit send, and it was...sent. Kind of anti-climactic, especially since, as a former book editor, I can recall the days of FedExed manuscripts and floppies/zips/discs/CDs. I just always pictured that my first (and only) book would be sent the same way. That I'd haul my brown-paper-and-twine-wrapped manuscript to a mailbox and heave it in, only letting out a huge whooosh of relief when the blue metal slot banged shut. (Clearly, I pictured myself writing in Anne of Green Gables' day when everything was brown paper packages tied up with string.)

However, because of progress there's no real reason to print out the book in full. I didn't even print out copies to edit because I do all of that on screen. If my editor needs a hard copy to make her own notes, she'll print it out on her end. There was no reason for me to do it. No reason whatsoever. Except to get this beauty shot. And every writer needs this beauty shot.

This wad of paper is the physical representation of all your work, and the heavier that physical representation is, the better. Because the other physical representation of your work -- the actual published book -- is too neat and tidy to represent your eighteen months of angst, writer's block, and nightmares of Amanda Hesser contributing a blurb that said your book is "boring at best."

Don't get me wrong, the finished product is going to send me over the moon. When I pull one from my stack of author copies and hold it in my hands, running my palms over the cool, smooth cover, and when I see it in bookstores (where I will obsessively make sure it's facing front on the shelves, pissing off bookstore workers everywhere), I will shake with excitement. I will stand in front of my book and try very hard not to tell everyone who passes by, "You see that book? I did that." But at that point, it's done. It's perfect. You don't see, feel, or think about all the work that went into it.

The printed-out hard copy of the manuscript means you can pull out your kitchen scale and say, "18 months of blood weighs 2 pounds, 11 ounces." You can slap a ruler up against it and note, "18 months of sweat is 1 1/4 inches thick." You can go outside and throw armfuls of paper all over your lawn to make a white Christmas in Northern California because 18 months of tears covers a lot of real estate and confirms to the neighbors that you are, in fact, that crazy writer person no one ever sees in daylight hours.

My initial printout of the book was distressingly less impressive. It's true that I hadn't added my foreword or afterword but, even more crucial to the situation, it was single-spaced. So I poked a hopeful email at my editor and casually asked if she had any requirements for spacing when she received the manuscript. She responded, "I prefer 1.5 or double spaced for readability." Which I read as, "IT MUST BE DOUBLE SPACED AND DON'T EVEN THINK OF SENDING IT TO ME IF IT'S NOT!"

Using the math department resources once again for the book -- the first was to obtain packets of Sweet'n Low for some scientific experiments I performed in chapter 1 -- Dr. Mathra ran off a copy of the manuscript and lugged it home in a blue interoffice mailer. "It was the only way to tie it up with string," he explained. "And look! It's the same blue as your cover!"

It is.

There's still more work to come. There will be edits, maybe some rewrites, but the bulk of the work -- the bolus of writing -- has passed. And I can't take my eyes off of it.

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