I sympathize with people who want to live forever. Truly, I do. I have all these ideas and more importantly so many things I want to learn and do. Right now I want to learn poser, for instance, not so much for the animation (were there time and life enough, I’d want to do that too. In fact if I were a kid right now I’d be looking at how to make animated movies on my own or with one or two friends) but for the character creation/drawing/background. It would be easier, frankly, to do my own covers, but also if I got good enough you could put some of it for sale on dreamstime – another stream of income.
But the question is – if you lived forever, would you really?
Bear with me.
Recently I started putting the Musketeers’ Mysteries up. I now have the first three, Death of A Musketeer, The Musketeer’s Seamstress and The Musketeer’s Apprentice. These were books on which I thought I’d have to do minimal work before I put them up. At first I had this vague, hopeful idea of doing a document compare between the published version and mine, and making some choices, and voila, edited manuscript.
It doesn’t work that way. For one, assuming that the edits were sane or rational would be truly unwise. I’ve been finding that changes were done after page proofs (this part I actually knew since the Shakespeare books, where I happened to read a passage in the middle and hit the ceiling, as someone had changed it to their idea of Shakespearean English, but it was actually illiterate English.) A lot of them were done by someone who ran spell checker and ran merrily ahead with no idea of what difference archaic English has from modern one. A lot of word-salad sentences.
For this reason, I went painstakingly line by line on Seamstress where I found a “brilliant” thing, where someone had changed Armand Jean Du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu’s birth name to Armand Jean de Richelieu – clearly not understanding titles, and also failing to get that the title was not bestowed on him till he was a Cardinal and the king’s counselor. (And this referred to his young misadventures.) I have no idea when that was changed. Might very well have been before page proofs. The two years in which this series was being written was the time at which my younger son was having issues in school, and then when I was homeschooling him. THAT was rather the focus of my attention, and though I worked very hard at the writing (I have a map of Paris at the time that I bought from a war gaming site. It’s right now behind a bookcase, but it will come out and onto the wall again when I’m writing the next one) and I ordered books from France for the things not covered here – but when you’re doing three of these a year, when the page proofs come back you might not have an enormous amount of time, and you assume(d) that while they might not be improving your prose, they’d leave your details alone.
You’d be wrong.
A similar detail got flagged in a review of The Musketeer’s Apprentice – and it was the same exact issue, only in this case I was fairly sure (still am fairly sure – it’s had to be absolutely sure as I can’t remember which of the ten versions on the drive was the one I sent in – I was naming them things like final, really final, truly, truly final. Yeah, I need a system) that in the manuscript turned in there had been an explanation of the name, and a quip on it. It’s in eight of the versions on my drive. Did I delete it in one of the passes, thinking it sounded clunky and meaning to type something else, and then it never got re-written? Wouldn’t be the first time. Of course, as it stands it’s an insane error – and you’d think that the publishing house would catch it, right? Guys, I’m not even sure that the underpaid flunky who went over it (the same bright flare who wanted me to say something about Porthos remembering “subconsciously”) didn’t remove it because it was clunky or because she had seen a movie which made that mistake.
The problem with that was that I didn’t go over Musketeer’s Apprentice as I went over Musketeer’s Seamstress – the thing would almost likely have hit me in the face – and that the version I sent to the people doing it for me was one of those without the explanation. So the first version I uploaded still had the mistake. (Yes, I’ve uploaded a new one.)
The other bad review made more sense, and is more to the point here – I gave absolutely ludicrous names to the walk-on characters, even if they walked on in two books. Why? I have no clue. I have a very vague idea about its amusing me, but I have no idea WHY. I think honestly, if you were to dissect it deep down by that time I was so deeply resentful of the publisher that it was a joke on them. The same way I set the refinishing mysteries in Goldport because I knew they wouldn’t catch it.
But didn’t I think of my readers? Well, not really. Partly because this was the time when I had six books out and none made it to shelves. Partly because I thought the readers would “get” it. (In which I was not only wrong, but I can’t imagine what I was thinking.)
I’d changed that in the first two books, as I did the line by line, but not in the third because one of the ridiculous names was necessary for my denouement. I figured it out, and did that, and reuploaded the book.
The problem now, though, is that I can’t POSSIBLY trust myself then. It’s not just that the books were very badly edited. The thing with the joke names shook me from the beginning, but it’s not just that. Going through the first two – there are choices…
I don’t know how to explain this. It’s not even word choices, though it’s that too – it’s a thousand little different choices in how you tell a story. In terms of movies, it’s what you light and what you obscure. There are a thousand different choices that read as though they were made not so much by a clueless newby, but by someone completely different.
Now, I’m aware – none better – that you can’t just go back and rewrite everything you ever wrote. Writers of the past didn’t, heaven knows. And a few of my very favorite authors have a strong inflection in the middle of their careers, where the stuff before is pretty standard, even if touched with genius, and the stuff after is uniquely theirs. But writers of the past weren’t faced with bringing out indie editions of their work, either, where you’re more uniquely responsible for it.
That said, two caution points. A) the musketeer mysteries have their fans, and I still get requests for number six, which means as annoying as they are to me now, they can’t be that bad B) I wrote them after ten years of reading a lot of historical mystery, which in the last ten years hasn’t happened at all, or at least not deep-historical (coming from where I do, 100 years is not history, merely old news.)
So of course I’m not going to go back and rewrite the whole things, but I am, before I bring them out in print (I have a proof for DOAM in my hot little hands, but I won’t put it up until I have time to go over it step by step. Also, I had an attack of random capitalization, among other places in the blurb.) I’m going to go line by line and do my best to fix the most outrageous instances of “this isn’t me any longer.”
So, besides the fact that – I am that neurotic – I spent two days considering giving up the whole writing thing, because you can bet I’m making mistakes today that will make me cringe in ten years, it made me feel awfully queasy on “who wrote these books?”
It might seem like I’m being stupid – but it’s not that obvious from the inside. Look, I know my own hand – any craftsman does. In the decisions you make, I know how my hand turns, as it were. I know my fingerprints in the clay.
But these books, written only – I think – seven or eight years ago, feel alien. As though someone else entirely wrote them. They feel not-me.
Was I not me seven years ago? How do I know? Do you? Some of my older stuff might as well have been written by an alien, but this one shook me, because it’s still close enough and because I was already a seasoned pro. Who is that woman who wrote those books? And what happened to her?
As we live longer lives who lives that lives? What is the continuity in the human mind and heart?
Charlie Martin and I were talking about how over the last fifty years life expectancy essentially doubled. And yes, I know people will come in and say “if you survived childhood” – bullsh*t. Lies, damn lies and statistics. Yes, there were probably always people who lived till eighty in any population, and there would be the marked outlier who lived to 100. But what people expected to live, what was considered old – all that has moved.
I remember being a little girl and hearing of someone dying at sixty and everyone shaking their heads and going “well, he was old. It was his time.”
Shakespeare died at 58 and he was a very old man.
My son who volunteers at the hospital says barring accident MOST – like 80% — of the people who come in in really bad shape are in their hundreds.
We’re living longer. We’re living healthier. When I was ten, I met someone who was 80, which seemed like an impossible age, and he looked/acted like the 100 year olds today. My dad is 83 and is not a human wreck.
Are all of us going to live that long? There are no guarantees of course. Pie in the sky, they might invent rejuv and we might all live 200 years.
BUT the question is – who will live that long?
I’m forever stunned with both the continuity and the changes, and how they’re not what you expect, or anyone would. A friend I hadn’t talked to in decades, but who is one of the few people who knew me growing up, wasn’t even vaguely surprised by my turn to the libertarian end of politics “Yes, but you were always like that. You just didn’t have a name for it.”
Another friend, possibly my oldest friend, when I was raging at being stuck in a “literary” niche several years ago said “That would drive you nuts. You never wanted to do weighty and worthy things. You wanted to write pulp.” And that was accurate, but I didn’t remember wanting it.
In some ways, as I get older, I seem to become more and more myself.
But then there is going back and looking at things I wrote and going “who IS this stranger?” It’s entirely possible, of course, that the stranger was the result of my having hit my head around that time (I understand severe concussion can take five years to fully recover from) and also of my being under intense emotional pressure, both because of what the school was doing to my son, and because of my situation in publishing itself, which often resembled running to stay in place.
But frankly, it feels more that, as a writer, I was a different person.
So, when I think I’d love to live forever – or at least till 200 – and learn and do and write, I wonder who that would be.
Perhaps we, each of us, die a little every day. They say we change all our body cells in seven years (?) Perhaps we change all our personality in seven years, little by little, by accretion, like the sea taking and depositing material, till in the end we’re someone completely different and our younger selves are dead and gone.
No matter how long we live.