The truth is that a book’s reality evolves, kind of like a child’s reality. Having given birth to both books and children, I can vouch for the similarities. The essential difference, of course, is that kids are less obedient than plotlines . . . but they love you back.
Still, there’s a related “realness” that’s even more significant. At what point does one become a Real Writer? Is it when you finish a story, send it to an editor, sign a contract, finish the manuscript, cash the checks, see the cover flat . . . or have the George McFly Moment?
Those of you who have seen Back to the Future will no doubt understand what I’m talking about. It’s that moment when, in the timeline altered by his son, Marty, the ex-loser George McFly—now a successful science fiction novelist—receives his box of books from the publisher. The cover, of course, is the vision he saw when the time-traveling Marty visited his bedroom in the middle of the night in a hazmat suit, sounding like Darth Vader and urging him to take destiny (or density) into his own hands.
When I saw that movie in 1985, I was an amateur writer in the earliest days of learning my craft. I was in love with writing and the characters I was creating but clueless about what went into getting a novel published. BUT when George opened that box, I had a moment of breathless vertigo. For me, there was nothing on the screen but that box and those books. The moment was frozen in Time (ahem). I envied George McFly (with whom I share many, many painful similarities) and I wanted that MOMENT. The moment the books arrived and made me a Real Writer.
I was very pregnant with my first child at the time I saw Back to the Future, so the two experiences sort of overlapped. Would the arrival of a box of books make me a Real Writer in the same way that the birth of the already named Alex Sumner Bohnhoff make me a Real Mommy?
Nope and nope. I became a Real Mommy far earlier than Alex’s birthday. I’m not sure when—perhaps when he sprang into existence, or when I realized he was there, or when I named him (when I was 3 months along) or when I first felt him Snoopy dancing to Dire Straits.
But in the same way, I’ve come to realize that the box of books is not the measure of a Real Writer. Being a Real Writer has nothing to do with what goes on on the outside and everything to do with what goes on on the inside. As Gerald Brenan once put it “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer. Those who do not do this remain amateurs.” He saw being Real as a function of self-discipline and, for me, that’s a great part of Realness. But it’s more than that. Being a Real Writer involves loving the process of writing as much or more than you love the resulting box of books.
So, does that make the George McFly moment I had yesterday as I pried open my big old box of STAR WARS: SHADOW GAMES author’s copies any less potent? Nope. Not a bit. I oohed and ahed over the cover (which is gorgeous, IMO). I caressed the binding. I inhaled the aroma of the pages.
And I thought about George McFly and how love can make you Real.