I write these words on a Friday having just recently finished and sent off my next YA novel, Pirate Cinema, to all the agents, editors, friends, first readers, and fact-checkers who've been awaiting it. I believe it is a good novel. In fact, I believe it is my best novel to date. I elatedly tweeted about finishing the book, letting my readers know that it was in the can, a month ahead of deadline no less, and that it would be coming to a shelf near them... in May 2012.
At this point, I was forcefully reminded of how fundamentally weird it is to work heroically toward a deadline, hit it, and then have to basically forget all about it for the next 18 months. I've learned many things on the way to becoming a professional writer, but the most difficult thing was learning to cope with delayed gratification. This has not come easily to me. I am, by nature, short of attention span and impatient. But I've come to grips with the long, leisurely pace of print publishing, with all the logistical coordination between writer, editor, sales, marketing, distribution, and retail. I've learned to trust that everyone is doing her or his job and that I can just forget about things until someone tells me it's time to pay attention again.
My readers, however, are less Zen. Upon being told of the new book's delivery, they writhed with scorn, unwilling to believe that it could take 18 months to midwife a book from a draft to an object of commerce. I am sympathetic to this point of view. But working on With a Little Help has taught me that the writer's Zen-like complacency has no place in the world of writer-as-publisher. To be blunt: every piece of With a Little Help that I didn't pay minute attention to has slipped through the cracks. Not just one or two pieces, but every element I took my eye off, even for a second. I was certain I'd be selling books by October—and the first books are just about to start shipping now, a week before Christmas. And things are not about to get any easier.
You see, I've got this back problem. Like a lot of people who sit in chairs for a lot of their lives, my spine is not my friend. Over the years, I've done a lot to try and fix this: 10 years of tai chi, five years of yoga, losing 80 pounds, osteopathy, chiropractic, massage in 11 flavors, acupuncture (with and without electricity), and so on. But it has just kept getting worse and worse, to the point where sitting has become excruciating. After a series of MRIs, the leading theory is that the gnarly bony spurs in my hip sockets are to blame, and so, on January 18, I'm having my hip broken and my femur shaved down. This is going to be every bit as unpleasant as it sounds, and the rehab to follow will eat an enormous amount of my work time over the next six months, at least.
This means that the shortened With a Little Help selling season I'm already facing as a result of the current delays will be confounded by a two-week Christmas holiday, followed almost immediately by surgery, two weeks of bed rest, and four weeks on crutches. During which period, I am, theoretically, supposed to be printing, binding, packing, and shipping limited editions of With a Little Help, as well as doing publicity and so forth.
Frankly, I don't know how I'm going to do it.