This is a difficult…

This is a difficult entry to write. Or perhaps simply a complex one, since it has both good parts and bad parts to it. Bad part first.

HarperCollins and I have been unable to come to an agreement on The Arrangement. After several revisions of the novel and numerous long conversations by e-mail and phone, it's become clear that they're not the right publisher for this book. So sadly, we're going to be taking it elsewhere; my agent has started showing it to some other publishers, and we're hoping to make an announcement on its new home this spring. HarperCollins will still continue to handle Bodies in Motion, of course, and may well publish other books of mine in the future; just not this one.

How do I feel about this? Well, it's been a long and frustrating process, no doubt. In a lot of ways, I had it really easy with BiM -- I came to HarperCollins with a finished book, they loved it, bought it, promoted it, and sold it. Aside from a few minor quibbles about covers and italicization, which got sorted quickly, it was all smooth sailing. I'm particularly pleased with the foreign rights department, who worked very hard to sell rights in six other countries; the Serbian edition, Tela u pokretu arrived here last week, and it just makes me so happy. I was delighted when I realized that we had sold through my advance in foreign sales alone; that's a huge relief for a author new to the big publishing world. The reviews were glowing, and everyone at HarperCollins was a pleasure to work with on BiM. In many ways, the entire experience was just what every little writer dreams of.

I was crushed when I finally realized that we weren't going to be able to come to a similar joyful partnership on the novel. It's hard to separate out my emotional responses about the novel news from a lot of other things that were going on last summer and fall; some family illnesses, some difficult conflicts with friends, and the early stages of pregnancy, with all the hormonal shifts that entails. Overall, it was just a difficult time.

I think that for the first time in my life, I really suffered from writer's block, though I didn't even realize it at the time. Oh, I did draft my first play last fall, which was interesting, but it was a completely new medium for me; I had no investment in it. I wrote almost no poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction at all. Since I first started writing more than fifteen years ago, I don't think I've ever gone so long without writing fiction. Every time I thought about writing some, I'd get stressed and depressed. I was constantly doubting myself, to the extent that I was scared to write at all. Scared that I'd put down the words and somehow get them wrong.

It's strange, the impact professionals (editors, publishers, etc.) can have. Friends have read and very much liked The Arrangment -- I know Karina likes it quite a bit better than Bodies in Motion. But it's hard to trust their judgement, and it's been almost impossible to trust my own. I haven't even wanted to re-read the book in the last few months -- and in fact, I'm not going to, until Bob tells me he's sold it elsewhere. I do still like it, even after kazillion drafts; I think it's a good book. I love the characters, but I'm so close to them that it makes it hard for me to assess it fairly. Maybe that's true for all authors and their writing.

Now here's the good news. The only reason I feel okay talking about what happened with The Arrangement is that yesterday, I started writing a new novel. I suppose, technically, I started it on Friday, when I wrote an outline for it. It's a book I've had in my head for a long time, centering on Kamala, one of the characters from BiM, and her family. It's in some ways similar to my other recent writing -- it has sex and family and history and culture clashes. It's very different in other ways.

With every scene I finish, I'm second-guessing myself in a way I never did before, which is no fun. But at least I seem to still be writing anyway. After months of not writing, that's a tremendous relief. I'm starting to feel like myself again. Let's hope it continues.

Here's a bit from the new novel. The names may change.

     Tarani has always known two truths. They sit inside her chest like stones, one warm and golden, the other silvery-blue, like a chip of ice.
     Here is the first truth -- her mother loves her.
     She knows this because of a memory, old and paper-thin. Tarani is very small, and she is being held close, rocked back and forth. She has been sick for a long time, days and days, and the entire time, she has been held, rocked in her mother's arms. Her mother sings a lullaby, and though even then Tarani didn't understand the Tamil words, she can still, now, sing it back to herself. When she is sick, or tired, or, like now, homesick, she whispers it softly, soothing herself to sleep. Mambalam nala mambalam. Mama thantha mambalam
     The second truth is that her mother does not love her. It takes no thin memory to tell her this. All the other moments of her life tell her.
     Her mother loves her, and doesn't love her. Tarani has never been able to reconcile these two true things.

19 thoughts on “This is a difficult…”

  1. I am certianly eager to read _The Arrangement_. I will buy it as soon as it is available, no matter who publishes it.

    Whatevr happened to the YA novel you were writing a few years ago? That was one of the only two for which I signed up to be a reader. I am also eager to read the rest of that one.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Heh. Y’know, I haven’t even thought about that one in such a long time. Maybe I’ll start work on that too. And I’m still in theory working on the nonfiction book, though I got a bit stalled on it too. What I want to do with it feels so ambitious sometimes, it scares me.

    Maybe what’ll work best is to be writing three books at once, as they seem interesting to me, rather than trying to write one novel quickly to deadline…

  3. Mary Anne,

    Sorry to hear this news – but glad to hear you are writing again – and that things are moving.

    Personally I think you should keep the small fragment you gave us and use it for the back blurb for the new book – in a few short lines I feel interested in the story – and get a sense that you have a lot to explore. (and who can’t relate to the love/does not love concern)

    Speaking as someone who, for a time, tried to work on multiple novels at the same time – I don’t recommend it (didn’t finish either – if I go back to either and try to finish them I won’t be trying to do so with both books at the same time).

    My suggestion would be to write the current book – at least a first, rough draft – capture the ideas, get them down, give yourself a lot to edit/rewrite when baby arrives. My guess is you may not have a lot of free moments to write something fully new – but perhaps you can find moments to edit/rewrite?

    Anyway I’m glad you are writing! And of course, when you publish The Arrangement (or any of the other books – of course I’ll buy a copy – probably a few)


  4. Oh no! This is unfortunate, and I’m sure it’s stressful. Could I ask a stupid question, though? What does this mean in terms of the advance? Do you have to give it back, or produce a new novel that they want to publish, or what? (I hate asking the stupid questions, but I’m not that familiar with the process, and you’ve always been so gracious about making the process more transparent.)

  5. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    My understanding is that when we sell the book to a new publisher, any advance they give us goes first to paying back HarperCollins for the advance they’ve already paid me. Aside from that, we’re free and clear — there are no other financial commitments on either side (aside, of course, from what’s in place for BiM).

  6. I’m sorry to hear about _The Arrangement_ & Harper Collins, but glad to hear that you are moving forward in both. I look forward to buying _The Arrangement_ when availible.

  7. the littlest (sharmi)

    Ah, you had mentioned this seemed to be what would happen. Sorry to hear it. But the Serbian edition is great news; I love the cover. Here’s a question…How can we order versions of BiM in other languages. I want the spanish edition. I tried looking for it online, and did find one spanish website selling it, but though my spanish is good enough to understand quite a bit, I’m not sure it’s good enough to trust with my credit card information.

  8. This discussion is reminding me of another scene you wrote some years ago. A woman is in her kitchen cooking breakfast when suddenly two armed (and maybe masked) men come in, maybe through the window, and attack her. Reacting without thought, she grabs a kitchen knife and kills both of them.

    I have not been able to find this in your journal, but at the time I commented that the story must have a reincarnation theme, since the character appeared to have had no training as a warrior in this lifetime, so the unexpected fighting skill must have been learned in a prior one.

    Do you recall this; do you know where it is in your journal, or if not do you know a word to search on to find it; and do you have any intention of finishing the story? I really liked the concept, if my interpretation was correct, and if it wasn’t, I am even more intrigued.

  9. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Sharmi, I haven’t actually gotten my author copies in Spanish yet; if you want to wait and see how many they send me (usually it’s 2-4 copies), I can probably send you one. I don’t know any more than you do about buying it otherwise, though!

  10. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    And David, I’m afraid I have no idea what scene that might be. It’s funny how you can write things and then forget them!

  11. Hi sweetie. I’m sorry things didn’t work out with HC on The Arrangement, but I’m glad you’ve started on the new novel.

    Sometimes I’ve found myself second-guessing scenes in a first draft, and what’s worked for me has been telling myself that nobody in a position to buy the manuscript will see that draft, which is basically true anyway. 🙂

    I very much like the excerpt you’ve included. Good stuff. Pulls on the heart. Do keep it up!

  12. I’m sure your novel will find a home somewhere soon!
    Like someone said in an earlier comment, time will be short once your baby is here. (Hearty congrats, b-t-w.) I have a two-month old and the only writing-related thing I’ve been able to get to is thinking about my story and characters while feeding the baby. No time to write anything down. So do as much writing as you can right now.

    I’m interested to know how you go about writing your novel. What I mean is do you just write freely and see where the story/characters go or do you work from an outline? I find that I have to have an outline and I have to know what’s going to happen at the end. Just curious if you work the same way. You commentary on this would make a lovely journal entry!

  13. Oh Mary Anne, that sucks. But I believe Bob will sell it to another publisher very soon.
    And, just to add my two cents about babies and writing–I wrote a TON when Zoe was tiny. Those two hour naps were perfectly long enough for me to write and since I knew that was the only chance I’d get, I just did it. She still naps. I still write (unless I’m grading).

  14. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    ‘fraid not, David. Sometimes novel ideas just come and go again, like the wind…

    Kitty, I’ll try to answer your question in its own entry sometime soon, since it’ll be a long response.

  15. Mary Anne,sorry about the trouble you have had with the process of trying to get your second book published. I am sure this difficult period will soon be behind you. Very glad that you are writing again.

    I finished writing my first novel late last year and am still struggling to have a publisher in India ask for the ms. Once you are new to this very daunting process, it can be disheartening but for the moment I am content to let things take their own course.

    I first heard about you from Abha Dawesar when she gifted me your first book and I sheepishly admit that I haven’t read it yet.
    Will do so now.

    All the very best with your writing and publishing endeavors.

    priti aisola

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