The first advance review copy of SEEING RED was overnighted to me by my lovely editor and I am seeing stars. This book has been a long time coming and I’m giddy that it’s finally “born.” I started this novel 14 years ago, in the previous century . . . I checked my computer and the earliest notes are from 1999. My apologies for this long, self-indulgent post, but this book is near and dear to me. Like all stories, it comes from my past. It comes from my head and my heart and, most of all, from my gut. And it has a long history . . .
… my first sale, my first publisher merger, my first change of editors, and my first sad pulling of a novel because I didn’t like the way it was ending up. That was hard to do — I had finally made it to the “big time” and I wasn’t going to see it published. Sometimes it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey although, I admit, I didn’t feel that way at the time. But as I tell students at school visits when I’m encouraging them to take the time to revise, this is your name, your stamp, your brand you’re putting on this work. Is this really what you want it to say?
This book has been through many, many revisions. The plot has changed. The title has changed — here are just a few I remember over the years: Facing Freedom, Deer Season, Freeman’s Phoenix, Cornerstone, Finding Truth, Finding Hope, etc. — but the heart of the story has remained the same. And the era. It’s still 1972, with all the strife of that time — Vietnam, Civil Rights, equality for women. The characters, too, have stayed steady. Their spirit has been the same through every revision. Red is still angry, confused, hurt, loyal, thoughtless, caring, responsible and irresponsible– like all of us. He’s a mix, which is what makes him not perfect but real. Beau is sweet and kind and smarter than most give him credit for. Miss Georgia is strong and tough, given what she has been through, and doesn’t take any guff from anyone. I love that. Daddy is still idealized by Red, all the more so since he’s gone, but the rest of us can probably find a few flaws because he was, after all, human. Still, what a great dad to treat your son like a man and give him responsibilities and give support, by standing by, as he solves his own problems. Mama is coming out of her shell and awakening to the women’s movement, helped perhaps, by Rosie, who suffers her own pain but has the hope and resiliency of youth. I could go on because I’ve lived with these characters for a long time, but I’ll leave it to potential readers.
After my non-publication disappointment, I didn’t want to pick up this story again for a long long time. I’d tried so many iterations and it just wasn’t working. The manuscript was a complete jumbled mess. But the characters still spoke to me and people kept asking about it, including my very encouraging editor. When I, reluctantly, went back to the manuscript I saw it wasn’t such a horrible mess after all. There was hope. There is ways hope. So … more revisions. More research. More time. My editor retired. I still worked on it. Enter, stage left, Andrea Davis Pinkney at Scholastic. She championed it, got the support of the Scholastic book fairs and clubs, and people in house cheered for it. Like every good editor, mine had some suggestions–give this character more room, go deeper here, face the demons. So now I’m glad that it didn’t publish ten years ago. I don’t think I was a mature or brave enough writer then to really write the novel I wanted to. Now it’s finally there. And now it’s finally here. And I’m proud of it. Thanks to many people along the way, it’s finally where I want it to be. It’s the story I want to tell. Thats why I’m seeing stars.
Oh, and a note on why revisions are so important? Picking up the ARC, seeing it as an actual book and, even as the author, feeling more like a reader, I saw a glaring omission. At the back of this novel is a list of some of the important characters and their inspirations. Somehow, I neglected to explain my main character’s name. Thank goodness for advance review copies! The rest of the ARC’s will be out soon (although perhaps not with the explanation about Red; that will be in the final version). Thanks to everyone who has expressed interest. And to the teachers, librarians, booksellers and those in the literary world who wanted an ARC, thank you in advance for taking the time to read it. I appreciate it.