The Last Word
I was asked recently which one of my books I would recommend over the others. Responding like a parent, my answer was that it was impossible to say which of my books is my favorite. My companion phrased it in another way: if I were going to send only one child on a visit, which child would I send? It was an altogether clever way of getting me to look at my books.
Five books/five kids. Which child should go visiting? If only one is allowed, how could I decide which one should represent the others? The first book is an emotionally laden book because it was my entrée into the world of publishing. The second, a hard birth, did not fall on the heels of the first by similarity in style or content. It stood on its own and was a story that required a lot more revising than the first. The third was assisted into the world by my companions at the Iowa Writers' Festival in Iowa City, where I began the laborious rewrite process. The fourth, like all surprise children, just happened. By the fifth I was like the mother who was overprotective of her first child and by the fifth kid didn't worry at all, letting him jump off the wall that she wouldn't allow her first child to go near.
Each book/child is unique and stands alone (if sequels are to other books as twins are to children, I've never had twins). So which one would best represent me as an author? The sad thing about writing (and there is much to be sad about) is that once you've completed a work, you have to let it go, so much so that I have never read my own books once they're on the shelf. After I've had my last pass in the editing process, I need to move on. The only time I read them is when I'm doing a reading, and it's always a bit hard to chose just where to start; inevitably, I see phrases I'd give my eye teeth to be able to improve on.
But, back to the question posed by my acquaintance. Given the ten years or so between book-the- first and book-the-last (so far), my writing style has matured, my influences have changed, my publisher has changed. One book may be strong in plot, another in character, a third is a good allegory, but none of them are quintessential enough to say: that one represents me the best. I know that my writing style is fairly well developed, in that it's recognizable in the way I construct sentences and run dialogue and, especially, in my choice of rural settings. Maybe I should recommend one on the basis of setting? Do you like coastal settings or the Berkshires? Maybe New Hampshire speaks to you. Or, do you like re-cast fairy tales, or lovers' triangles? Mysterious strangers? Psychics?
I've also been asked which of my books I liked the best. Now there's a question no mother can answer. The truth is it's whichever book I'm working on at the time that I'm in love with. That sounds fickle, but as each book has passed from inspiration to creation to publication, I move on. I'm fond of them all, certainly, and believe that, like my kids, they are perfect (except where I wish I could edit a line or two) and worthy. But they are history. My history. And the creative process is so immediate and so private, that the newest is always going to take front seat in my heart. Once a book is out in public, it belongs not to me but to everyone, and I wave goodbye. Sort of like graduation. The kids may still show up for meals, but they are no longer my responsibility. Off you go.
In the end I dug out paperback copies of my entire oeuvre and gave them to my new friend - she can choose for herself.
Susan Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Oak Bluffs. Visit her web site at susanwilsonwrites,com