Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Book That Almost Wasn't

By Lisabet Sarai

Last Monday saw the release of my seventh novel, Quarantine. I've been so busy setting up promotions (while simultaneously preparing for an overseas business trip!) that I haven't really had time to be grateful. And yet, it's a minor miracle that this book has actually been published.

I came very close to abandoning the project halfway through. I guess I can thank my stubbornness (plus Garce's inspired muddling) for the fact that my gay scifi romance is finally available.

Many authors live and write in a constant state of self-doubt. Not me - at least, not usually. I know I'm competent, if not the most creative writer on the planet. I have enough publication credits that a rejection doesn't set me back too much. I've never had a best-seller (even within the narrow confines of the erotica genre) but given the amount of time I devote to my writing (far less than many of my colleagues), I can't really complain about my royalties. When I sit down to produce a story, I'm generally confident I can complete it by the deadline, barring emergencies or acts of God.

With Quarantine, though, my usual self-confidence simply evaporated. The first half dozen chapters went really well – the scenes that comprised the initial seed of inspiration. Then I started to feel I was way out of my depth.

I love reading science fiction. I know the key to a great scifi book is a plausible, richly textured alternative world, along with a “big idea” that drives the story conflict. In contrast, my fictional world felt thin, unconvincing, far too much like the present to snag a reader's interest. Indeed, the original concepts for the story came from the past – the Nazi concentration camps, the WW II internment of Japanese-Americans, the AIDS crisis – and it seemed I hadn't done enough to extrapolate beyond those events and their consequences. Once my heroes escaped from quarantine, I didn't know what should happen next.

I managed to squeeze out a few more chapters. I found myself switching to other projects, avoiding the novel where I was so badly stuck. The longer I went without working on Quarantine, the deeper my sense of inadequacy grew and the more resistance I felt to picking it up again.

Months went by and I hadn't added a single word. Finally, I asked Garce for a crit of what I had so far. I was nervous but grateful that he agreed to help. Few authors are as good at formulating and expressing big ideas as C. Sanchez-Garcia.

We began a dialogue around the story and the characters. Garce came up with lots of questions (many of which I'd never even considered) as well as some wild plot proposals (a few of which I ended up adopting). Garce's critiques helped make my vague feeling that the book was weak a lot more specific.

Our exchange went on for a couple of weeks. But I still didn't resume writing. Nevertheless, I went back to thinking about the book, working on a scene list, roughing out a time line. Finally, about eight months after I put Quarantine aside, I was able to pick it up again.

I'd love to be able to say that everything went smoothly after that point. In fact, I continued to slog along, feeling as though I was wading through knee-deep mud just to finish each chapter. My self-doubts resurfaced. I pushed them away and kept at it, determined that the effort I'd put in so far (and the time that Garce had invested) wouldn't be wasted.

The more I wrote, the more the end of the story seemed to recede. I'd originally expected the book to be about 40K words. It ended up almost 70K.

I finally finished and submitted the book near the end of 2011. I wasn't surprised it was accepted – to be brutally honest, my personal standards are considerably higher than those of many publishers. I was grateful, though, that I could put the unpleasant effort that went into producing the book behind me.

So now the book is out. The readers and reviewers will decide whether the struggle was worthwhile. Ultimately, I'm moderately pleased with the book, though I know it's better romance than it is science fiction. It certainly won't win a Hugo – but perhaps it will succeed in making readers care about Dylan and Rafe and their uncertain future.

Why was this book so hard to write? Looking back, I think I approached it too seriously. It's true that the novel deals with difficult issues and has plenty of dark moments. However, I've found that I write best when I treat the process as play rather than work – exactly the opposite of the way I wrote Quarantine.

I'm trying to apply that lesson as I move on to new projects and new challenges.

(You can buy Quarantine at Total-E-Bound.)


  1. Hi Lisabet!

    I'm getting to this late.

    You give me way too much credit but I'll take all the kind words I can get these days. I've always liked the idea of Quarantine, and I'm glad to see to see it out there. I remember how much you struggled with it and then it seemed to drop out of sight and i wasn't sure if you'd given up on it or what.

    I hope the Fifty Shades of Grey converts become intrigued about this game we play and become curious about the huge variety of writing within this genre. There is such a variety of stuff such as the things you write out there that would surprise everybody if they knew.


  2. Big congrats, Lisabet! I hope at least the difficulty of the process means you're feeling extra satisfied now at seeing the fruition.

  3. Congratulations, Lisabet. The plot premise looks intriguing and relevant to our time.

  4. Thanks, everyone!

    Garce - you deserve every bit of credit I'm offering. I really would have chucked the whole project without your help.

    Jeremy - I guess I'm fairly happy with the result. But recently I heard from a reader who's crying for a sequel...! Not again!

    Jean - The premise is so serious, I'm afraid it might not be entertaining.


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