(This is a LOOOONG post specifically about book stuff, I'll warn you in advance.)
I got featured on Metafilter yesterday, which was both cool and a bit startling when I checked my stats. I panicked a little since I was right in the middle of updating the book site with some significant changes. God knows what people were seeing when they went there, but a LOT of them went there.
Two interesting points were made in the comments. One of them came from a long-time reader, or perhaps I should say a long-AGO reader, who enjoyed my writing before Schuyler was born but found me to have since become a one-trick pony, albeit one who is good at my one trick.
The thing is, he's right, and not just in the sense of my writing. When I think back to the life I had before Schuyler and the one I've had since she was born, and particularly since she was diagnosed, I can see how she has come to dominate my world. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing; I think I'd be kind of a crap father if it hadn't, especially given her condition. But more than that, taking care of Schuyler and fighting the good fight with her has given me a purpose, a mission even. Choosing to write a book about it made that even more true.
I know I've become less amusing and less "controversial" (which is a silly word to use since I was never really controversial so much as just sort of an ass) since those early days, but I think I found my stride as a writer, and my Muse. (Hint: she's four feet tall and speaks Martian.) So it's a valid criticism, but I'm not sure how many people really miss the guy that I was before all that much. Looking back now, I really believe that I was just waiting for Schuyler.
The other point that came up in the Mefi thread was one about which I suspect many people are curious, particularly writers who are interested in moving from online writing to the kind that kills trees. (Stupid trees. That's what they get for growing roots instead of legs.) It involves my removal of my old journal archives, and whether or not I was somehow bullied into doing so by my big mean publisher.
(One note of clarification: I removed the archives covering the same period of time as the book specifically for book-related reason. The materials from before that, in a stroke of poor timing coincidence, disappeared when the server where they had been stored all these years finally shuffled off this mortal coil. One of these days, perhaps I'll put them back up somewhere else, but I'm not actually in a big hurry to do so any time soon. Honestly, I was sort of a dick back then.)
One person remarked that the book deal came about as a direct result of my blog. (I'm not actually sure if that's 100% true, although it certainly became an important part of the marketing plan for the book soon after I signed with St. Martin's.) "That publishers decide to use their economic leverage to force authors to remove their stuff from circulation so the publisher can monetize it upsets me," they said.
So here's my perspective on that. From what I have learned this year, my contract with St. Martin's Press is actually neither unusual nor particularly draconian. If anything, it gives me more involvement in the process than I expected. I've had a crazy cool amount of input in the design, and so far the editorial process has consisted of fixing and tightening up my writing, not so much cutting. The book that will be published is probably going to look very much like the one I envisioned, except with much better grammar and fewer F-bombs. (I'm down to three, believe it or not, although one of them is a "motherfucker", which I think should make for bonus points both in Scrabble and in street cred, yo.) I didn't get a huge advance, but as a first time author I didn't expect one, and all that really means is that the book will have less to earn out before I begin to see royalties down the road. (WAY down the road, if what I've heard about publishing in general is true. Well, what are ya gonna do?)
In other words, my experience with St. Martin's Press has been almost entirely positive. I've heard horror stories about how authors are treated by the Giant New York Fancy Pants Publishing Houses, but so far, those stories haven't been my own. They've said yes to just about everything I've asked for, and my editor still treats me like I'm doing them a favor by letting them publish my book.
The part of the contract that applies to my blog ("Competing Works") is actually pretty generous, now that I go back and read it again. The contract actually gives me a good amount of wiggle room in regards to retaining material on the blog that was online previous to its incorporation into the book, only disallowing direct duplication of text beyond a contractually specified number of words. Even my archives would seem to be mostly safe, since a very small amount of the book's text is drawn directly from the blog.
With a memoir that covers the same material that a blog has covered for seven years, however, "new" is obviously not 100% clear. Anyone who has read my blog is going to be familiar with a lot of this material even though it's being freshly told.
The point becomes murky, especialy since every so often as I reviewed the blog and journal to refresh my memory, I'd come across a turn of phrase that I liked and decided to use again. How much would I be required to change a similar passage in order for it not to be considered the same material? It would have to be determined on a case by case basis, surgically removing the bits and pieces that felt too close to call.
I should mention that aside from the competing works clause contained in my contract, at no time has anyone at St. Martin's even mentioned removing my archives. (I guess they assumed that I was capable of reading my own contract, which was mostly true.) Technically speaking, I suppose I don't actually have to pull anything at all down until the book comes out in seven months. St. Martin's has been very cool about the blog and the book site; I'm sure they understand the importance of an online component in building interest in a book.
In the end, I decided to remove the archives in their entirety. For one thing, if I only used materials that I thought were especially worthwhile, then removing them would mean cutting out the best of my writing and leaving the rest. I didn't much care for what I was likely to have remaining. ("I took the best cuts of beef off this cow, but you can have the rest if you want.")
I also felt that I had entered into a business agreement with St. Martin's Press, with the common goal of bringing Schuyler's story to the printed page. Their part of that agreement involves a huge financial investment that they have no guarantee of getting back. What should my part be, beyond the writing itself? What's my commitment to this project and its worth?
I guess the main reason for taking down my archives, however, has more to do with writing itself. Telling the story of those years was important to me, both at the time and now. I just spent the past year or so telling that story with greater clarity and with the measure of understanding that has come from looking back on it. I was lucky that I was writing about it online all that time; I was taking detailed notes for a book that I didn't even realize I was going to write. Now that the book is done, I'd like for it to stand on its own.
As for the future, I'm not going anywhere. I can't imagine that Schuyler's story is going to become boring any time soon. If it does, I'll just make some stuff up.
(Joking. As far as you know.)