You Again Again

So I’m finishing up Agnes—ARGH—and looking ahead to the next book, which is actually my last book, the late, unfinished You Again.

For those of you not up to date on this saga, three years ago I gave my editor, who is a genius and a saint, 64,000 words of a work in progress called You Again. The book was under contract and past deadline, so I said, “Honestly, I’ve been working, here look,” and sent her the manuscript but I also knew that I was hopelessly, hopelessly lost. So we met in the tearoom at the Algonquin Hotel, and while the ghost of Dorothy Parker wept into her scotch in sympathy, my editor said, “Nope.” Well, first she and I talked about it, what was working, what wasn’t, but at the end of the conversation, she said, “Put it aside and start something new.”

I was so grateful, I almost wept right there with Dorothy.

Because I had been fighting that manuscript for so long, knowing the story was there but absolutely clueless as to how to fix, hell, how to find it, that I was almost suicidal. I’d even sent it to the guy I was collaborating with who insists he can fix anything. I gave it to him on a Monday; he said, “I’ll have it to you fixed by Wednesday.” On Wednesday, he said, “This is trickier than I thought, I’ll get it you to Friday.” On Friday he said, “This is going to take the weekend.” On Sunday he said, “What the hell did you do to this thing?”

So I put it in a drawer and moved on to Don’t Look Down, and “Hot Toy,” and The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and Agnes and the Hitman, all collaborations except for the novella because I loved collaborating (and I’m going to do it again, too). But now I’m done collaborating for a while and it’s time to fly solo again and I’m heading back to that bottom drawer to see if I can salvage You Again.

I have to. People keep asking about it. I showed it to too many people while I was working on it. “Whatever happened to You Again?” they ask. “Sixty-four thousand words? Hell, just sit down and bang out the last thirty-six and you’ve got a novel.” Oh, if it only worked that way.

Plus I really want to go back. I loved You Again. I loved the heroine, Zelda, and her best friend, Scylla (pronounced Cilla, and that’s going to cause trouble), and the hero was great, James, a good guy, and then there was Rose, the surrogate mother from Zelda’s past without a maternal bone in her body, and Quentin the butler, and of course the supporting cast which was . . . uh, large. And I loved the premise, it was going to be my version of the classic Agatha Christie because I’m a huge Christie fan, only probably more Margery Allingham because I’m an even bigger Allingham fan, with some Rex Stout thrown in maybe . . . . Well, you can see how the plot got away from me. And why the beta readers kept saying, “Who ARE these people? And what the hell is going on?” I loved the damn book but it was a mess, so much so that I’m not sure I can fix it even now. I just moved the file to my new laptop and it’s sitting on the desktop looking at me. The last time I opened it was May of 2005. It has digital dust all over it. I’m afraid.

So my plan is to not do it alone. I’m taking you all with me. I’m going to journal about trying to restart You Again and then if it doesn’t work again, I’ll let it go forever and start a new book, and if anybody asks, I can just refer them to this blog.

I figure the first thing I’ll have to do is reconceptualize it. Before I open it, I’ll try to remember what I loved about it, what’s stuck with me these three years, the things I can’t let go of. I’ll figure out what the book feels like—I’ve still got the collage after all—the emotional shape of it, and then I’ll get some touchstones in place so I don’t run off the rails.

After that, I’ll have to do the basic outline which I would explain here but I’m explaining my form of outlining in general over on the HWSW blog right now so go there if you’re curious. If not, I’ll be getting to it here in a couple of days.

And then I’m going to have to open that file and take a look. That’s when I’ll do the Twelve Days of Zelda. (Somebody out there is thinking, “Twelve days. If she did three thousand words a day, she’d have that novel done.” No.)

And by the time that’s done, somewhere after Valentine’s Day, I’ll know if You Again is back again or gone forever.

It’s a plan.

But in the meantime, this has to be cheering up writers all over the place. I have a contract with a publisher and I still got rejected, in mid-book no less. It happens to everybody. Publishing. Gotta love it.

34 thoughts on “You Again Again

  1. Tell us about the touchstones and how they help. And how you weave them into the story, how you know how to use them.

  2. But Jenny, your first rendering of Bet Me stunk on ice, to paraphrase your words. And when you’d gotten some distance on it, you were able to come back and rewrite the sucker from the ground up, so wonderfully that a hugh number of your fans still think it’s your best work. So why worry? You’ve done it once, you can … here, have a Krispy Kreme while you’re plotting. Couldn’t hurt.

    Have you done the collage yet? What sort of music is playing in the background on this novel? Inquiring minds… need to get a life. Okay. Enough nosy questions.

  3. It is really irksome that I can’t go back and edit out the typos in my comments. Don’t suppose I could pass them off as regionalisms? Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s my native dialect. Don’t you dare make mock.

  4. Cheering up writers everywhere? To think that YOU, The Cherry, got rejected, mid-book? Uh, not quite. More like scaring the hell out of me!
    But then, that just makes me think of something you said (I think it was in NJ)… If they tell you “no, this is no good” – they are WRONG.
    Keep writing, Jenny. You’ve done it before, and your cheering section will be right here watching you do it again.

  5. Excellent news, Jenny! I’m very much looking forward to the twelve days of Zelda. I may play along with my main characters. They need help.

  6. Twelve days of Zelda – I’m buckling up for the ride. If you thought Bet Me stank originally then I have absolute faith that You Again can be another RITA winner.
    Why is writing more painful than childbirth (I had two 24hour labours so I know that hurts real bad). And why do we go back to it when we KNOW how bad it hurts? Like childbirth. Whatever happened to hurts so good?

    Okay yeah, that’d be the RITA…

  7. We all look forward to collaborating with you on this project. Just tell us what you want to know and we will fill in the answers. If only it were that easy, eh? (Sorry about that, I’m Canadian). Maybe if you told us what you liked about it and where you wanted to go….You never know, brainstorming has worked for others.

  8. My first thought was that you need a new collage, or at least a revamped one.

    Actually, my first thought was, “what happened to the lovely yellow color and design of this blog?” I don’t like the grey. Is it just my computer farting or did the change in blog format kill all the good visuals? As I look at my bookshelf, I think those were the colors of Faking it and Bet Me in paperback, and that was a happy thing.

    I love that your books have so many characters, so I wish you the best with You Again, even if it is a selfish wish. And thanks for the bathtub bubbles photo!

  9. Hmmmmm. Christie, Allingham and Stout. Interesting. Also a big fan here. What about Sayers and Marsh? Just to make things more complicated.

    Sounds to me like a fresh start is what you need. We have great faith in you, Jenny.

  10. Jenny, I, and we, are rooting for you all the way. I’m currently stuck on (and hence avoiding) my latest WIP, too, so I can commiserate. So hey, maybe we can help each other out with this Twelve Steps I mean Twelve Days thing. (Hello, my name is Karen, and I am a writer.) So bring it on, we’ll get you through this. (If only for purely selfish reasons, in that I get another book of yours to read.) Good Luck!

  11. You know, Jenny, there’s this really terrific online writers workshop going on right now and you could probably go over there to ask questions and get some help. Or if you’re feeling a bit shy — we know that is often a problem for you — you could tell us what questions to ask, we’ll go ask them for you, then come back here and tell you what, um, what your answer was…

    Maybe, since you have so many characters, You Again is really more than one book? Maybe a three book series? And your 64K words are in reality just three 20K synopses? Let’s see, that would be one for Christie, one for Allingham and one for Stout. And gee, happy day, that would mean three for ME, says the greedy reader who can never seem to get enough books.

    I have faith that you can sort it all out.

  12. Yes, cheers! Ok, so it’s not that we’re cheering on your misery (NO writer should wish this kind of agony on anyone!), but we are cheering YOU on and ourselves along with you. It isn’t the rejection bit that’s encouraging, but the fact you still struggle with stinky drafts. We all do, but we wallow in our own muck and think that we’re the only ones in this mess. Now . . . to get my own butt up and figure out what’s wrong with my own steaming pile over in the corner . . .

  13. Oops! I was going to post a recommendation, but BCB beat me to it. Those guys might be just the ticket to help you figure out what you need to fix.

    I don’t think you meant it this way, but “The 12 Days of Zelda” is an intriguing title for a novel.

  14. I loooooove brainstorming. Are we going to brainstorm with you on the 12 days? That would be amazing. I’m so excited.

    Sometimes I can’t see the wood for the trees (I know it’s a cliche, heh) but in tossing the ideas around with others I usually come up with the answer. Someone tries to lead me down some dark road, or stinky back alley, and I start kicking and screaming and get in a few punches, and then the lightbulb goes on, falters a bit, then a giant blast of pure white light and I’m off and running.

    I’m envisioning you right now, tying the laces on your sneakers …

  15. Zelda sounds great. As a reader, I’d hate to see her gone for good. Especially before we even get to meet her.

    This may sound stupid, but I teach a communications class, and my material has a section on Problem Solving that might apply.

    *Define the problem – be specific (Not Book Sucks! Maybe: too many characters; or Dropped plotlines; or no arcs; or wimpy antagonists; or not enough conflict; or too much conflict; or started story at the wrong action point. . . )

    *Make sure you own part of the problem (as the writer, well, this one is all yours)

    *What have you tried to fix the problem? (List them out)

    *Refer to step 3 . . . and STOP doing that stuff over and over . . . cause it doesn’t solve the problem.

    *List at least 3 things you can do differently to solve the problem. (Asking for input for those you trust is OK to expand your options)

    *Pick one thing and try it. If it doesn’t work, try another of the 3.

    As a natural born “fix-it” person, I understand the compulsion to hammer away until something is FIXED. But, I’ve finally learned that it is OK to let something go if it isn’t working. (I’m having visuals of you hitting the delete key on all those E-mails from LTD 2006.)

    Remember, we are Cherries and CBs, we happily read grocery lists.

    Sorry to blather on.

  16. This is sort of a crazy suggestion, but you appear to be in a vaguely crazy place. One of the founders of National Novel Writing Month (you know, the one where amateurs write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days?) wrote a book about how to write NNWM. Towards the end, he includes a chapter about how to deconstruct the story and look at its parts and then work on putting it back together again. This editing advice is aimed at people who started writing by opening a file and typing, with absolutely no idea of plot or characters, so considering how lost you feel, I thought you might want to give it a whirl. Pick it up at your local library … the bulk of the advice is on how to sit down and write, and that it isn’t your problem. But it may give you an additional perspective on how to rework a really tangled story.

  17. I bet you would like the name of the book, wouldn’t you? No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty.

  18. I had wondered what happened to the “You Again” idea since I read about it a few years ago on your website. I’m glad you’re giving it another try, because it seems a worthy idea.

    P. S. I’m so glad you switched to WordPress! Yay!

  19. LOL zvi, a writer friend of mind was just telling me the other day that she got that book and followed the principles and wrote 50k and got to the end and realised she had no plot!

  20. That was one busy collage. I kind of liked the 3 book scenario. You could keep all your characters, and we could get more JC books. It is a win-win situation all the way around.

  21. I was going to suggest, as BCB did, that maybe there wasn’t room for everyone’s arc to be honored in one book, so perhaps a duology or trilogy was in order. I’m a simple-minded reader, and can handle up to about a dozen characters, provided not too many of them have similar names. Beyond that, I get confused. One of the things I like about my favorite authors (you, Georgette Heyer) is the attention given to the supporting cast. But that can lead to focus issues…

    Will there be a railway schedule? Is that why all the watches?

  22. Yes! Yes!! Yippee! You go girl!

    By the way, wasn’t it a menopause thing? If so, and you’re back in the saddle again, then there’s hope for the rest of us.

    Soooo happy for you.

  23. Poor Baby. We’re all here when you need us, Jenny. Use us. Go ahead, we don’t mind.

    I’m glad your going back to this one. It seemed so cool. Still does, of course.

    Good Luck.

  24. Ahhh–it was the butler in the drawing room with the candlestick, eh? Awesome! Christie’s Orient Express has always been a particular favorite, but the one that got me the most was The Crooked House–great twist in the end! (even though she practically tells you at the beginning who the murderer is, it is still the last person you would ever suspect…)

    I remember you talking about that book and I thought at the time that it sounded like a great read. Maybe you just weren’t ready for it at the time. After collaborating on a couple of books where you did the murder/mystery sort of thing I think you are better equipped to deal with this book now. I can totally relate to the pulling the book out of cyber dust and trying to figure out what is worth keeping–just did that myself recently. Good luck, and we are here when you need us!

  25. Just looked at the collage and description and thought . . . Oh. My. God.
    I live in a 3 level house and had 16 people living with me between xmas and new years. I even have that pink chaise lounge sofa. So, yup, you’ve gotta finish it. I need to know how it turned out. I gotta tell you food has to be an issue. Tons of people in a house at that time of year, you’re going to have food issues. Tradion vs new foods. Not that blood was almost shed over that issue here. Nope. Not here where the poetry is more Robert Frost’s Road Not Taken …

  26. Send ME a copy of the file. I feel that You Again is going to be another breakout book and that’s why you’re stuck. It’s simply that you haven’t written to the necessary focus/ plot/ theme/ thing before.

    You’ve written about Zelda before, now I want to know more about Rose. In a way this feels like Rose’s Book, in the way that Anyone But You was Fred’s Book.

    So the Christie thread is all these people stuck in a country house with lots of food. I’ve never read Allingham or Stout, so you’ll have to tell me about their dominant themes. In Christie, certainly, there was often a romance going on somewhere, but it wasn’t the driving force in the plot. Do you need to focus on the mystery element rather than the romance?

  27. You might want to consider pulling apart the collage and starting that over before you open the digital crypt. I used to be really into doing collages for my writing and I remember I once threw the collage out the window (literally, so maybe there were some small anger management issues there) and once I started the collage over the whole thing came together beautifully.

  28. Okay, the first thing I see in comparing your collages on the link page is that your “You Again” reminds me of a pack rats house. Theres tons and tons of stuff and only the owner knows where everything is. Maybe this is contributing to the cast of many? Bogging down the storyline? Maybe you need to clean house in order to find some of the stuff you lost. It’s working with my aunt house and she actually is a pack rat – to the point that as we clean I’m finding mail from ’99. Not to say there anything wrong with pack-rats, but not everything gets to stay. Otherwise, we eventually have to move out of the house because there’s no room for the main character.

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