Books are weird.
This isn’t my first. It is, in fact, the fifth, and I’ve written two more since this one (you’ll see those next year). And yet every time is a surprise. Every time is like the first. Though perhaps that has something to do with how bad my memory is.
Writers often say that books are never really finished. It’s true. You don’t so much finish a novel as reach a point where you don’t know what else to do with it. That’s the point at which you stand up and say, “I think I just wrote a book.” And every time that, too, is a surprise.
The weird thing is that for something you never really finish, you finish writing a book many times.
That moment when you complete the first draft.
The third draft.
When you get the feedback from your test readers and have cut out two POV characters and rewritten everything in a different tense.
When you’ve finished the ninth draft.
When you’ve gone through all your editor’s comments and changes and fixed everything.
Each of these feels like finishing a novel.
But yesterday the Smoke and Stone author proofs arrived with Felix Ortiz’s art and the final typography. I sat at my kitchen table staring at the book. I picked it up, turned it in my hands, read the back-cover copy, and put it back down. I picked it up again and cracked it open to stare blankly at the words within.
“I wrote a book,” I said to my wife, in wonder.
She stared at me like I was a lunatic. It’s a look I get a lot.
But now it was real. Now it was a book.
Now it was finished!
And I think I came awfully close to not having that experience.
You see, I wasn’t going to hire an artist. I couldn’t afford one. My budget being limited, I’d decided to spend it hiring Sarah Chorn to edit. I made my own cover, a cool looking black and white Mandelbrot fractal. I splashed some typography on it and was pleased with the result. But when the Advanced Reader Copies with my cover arrived, I didn’t have that It’s finished! feeling. I didn’t realize it at the time.
So there I was with my book and a cover I was reasonably happy with that cost me nothing and that evil genius Felix Ortiz posts a link to his Artstation page (https://www.artstation.com/felixortiz).
He’s really good.
So I drop him a message complimenting him on his work and we’re chatting and he innocently says, “I want to try doing a fantasy city sometime.”
Smoke and Stone is the first book in the City of Sacrifice series. The whole story quite literally takes place in a city.
I looked at my Mandelbrot cover.
I knew then my budget was blown to hell.
Now, picking my book up off the kitchen table, I know I made the right choice.
For the first time I really am finished this novel.