“So, are you working on a book right now, or are you between books?”
I wasn't sure how to answer this question. A non-writing friend asked it, probably because I seemed, well, freer than I sometimes do. Not muttering about having to go home and work on my quota. Not exclaiming, with a degree of enthusiasm that's probably baffling to the non-writer, that I made quota fairly early today. Not occasionally fretting that while I'm on target with my quota, "is it any good?"
The friend, as I mentioned, is a non-writer. A writer would know that between books is relative—you're never not writing.
About ten days ago, I sent the copyedited manuscript of Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (Meg #24) back to my editor. This morning I asked when the Lark galleys will be arriving. I'm about to take a short (4-night) cruise as part of my research for the not-yet-officially titled Meg #25, and I want to make sure the galleys don't arrive the day I leave with a due date the day before I get back. And since Toucan Keep a Secret (#23) comes out in August, I really ought to be planning some publicity around that. And I'm still responding to the occasional reader comment about Gone Gull (#21), How the Finch Stole Christmas (#22), and for that matter, any of the previous books that someone is just reading for the first time.
And then there's the whole sponge thing, soaking up ideas and images that might inspire a book or find use in one. The I Am a Camera thing. “My ear is open like a greedy shark,” as Keats said, although unlike him, I'm not straining to “catch the tunings of a voice divine.” More like the small detail that will add verisimilitude. The odd Southernism that people in my small Virginia town would say. The downright peculiar conversation that might inspire a whole plot idea. (By the way, just in case you're impressed or even daunted by my erudition in quoting Keats, I will confess that I wouldn't ever have read those sonorous lines if Lord Peter hadn't quotes them to Harriet Vane. They're from “Woman, when I behold thee flippant, vain,” an early poem that's a strong contender for Keats's worst ever. An entertaining blog called Bioephemera calls it “ghastly drivel.” And Lord Peter's verdict: “That, though you might not believe it, is the crashing conclusion of a sonnet by Keats. True, it is a youthful effort; but there are some things that even youth does not excuse.”)
Okay, I just followed a rabbit trail. I'm not apologizing. Right now, at this stage of writing Untitled Meg #25, following rabbit trails is part of the job. There's also working out a title that my editor and the marketing/sales folk will approve (in progress). There's writing a short synopsis to make sure my editor likes the direction I plan to take the book (done). There's expanding the synopsis into the more detailed outline I like to have before I write (in progress). There's doing necessary research—which this time, as I mentioned, involves taking a short cruise, since that's something I've never done before, and I'm wary of the dangers of writing what I know only from friends tall tales (scheduled, and happening soon). And just when I get really deep in #25 research, the #24 galleys or the #23 pub date will clamor for attention.
You could say that these days I'm always between books, in the sense that at any given time I'm tugged back and forth between the needs of at least three books--rather like Scrooge's Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. I almost always have the book almost/just out; the book in production, and the book yet to come. But as I remind myself when I'm pulling my hair out over deadlines, this is a wonderful problem to have.