Last month, Three Clover Press, sent me the galley proofs for Unwanted Heroes. I was instructed to carefully read through the manuscript and pick out any light changes: spelling, grammar, word choice, etc.
Reading a Galley Proof is like preparing your kid for college (admittedly, I haven’t done this, but I do work with university students – bear with me). It is a last chance to make sure everything is as you want it to be before you send them out into the big, wide world. You want to make sure they have everything they need, are prepared for every scenario they might face. It is the same with a book – a last chance to get everything right.
I have moved on, right? Wrong.
Over the next two weeks, I did not expect to feel the emotional rollercoaster that played out. Of course, I remembered the plot. There are sensitive scenes that I have read, edited, reread, and reedited, a dozen times … but that was back then.
So why am I getting teary-eyed as I read them again now? Why do I find myself rooting for the characters that I got so close to back then? Admittedly, my relationship with these characters continued into the sequel that I wrote last year, and into the notes I have made for the third in the series both of which are also emotional roller coasters.
When I am writing a novel, I become very close to the characters. They accompany me on my commute, in the gym, and I often dream about them at night. I worry for them, get frustrated with them, and just between us, I often argue with them.
I would like to tell you that I have control of these characters. What I type onto the computer decides their actions, attitudes, and destiny. But they, and I, know this is only partially true. They are part of the creation, part of the process, and an integral part in how the plot plays out.
Many writers claim that the plot defines the characters. That has always puzzled me and, I suspect, leads to either shallow characters or obvious stereotypes. The reader invests in characters. Given we all crave a twist or two at the end of the book, it is for the protagonist that we root, and our commitment to him/her is what sends us scurrying to buy the next book in the series.
This is why reading a galley proof is so much more than scanning for errors or word choices. It is reacquaintance with old friends: people with whom we shared so much: people with whom we laughed, loved, and cried. My characters stepped outside their comfort zone to try and create a better world, and for whom we, the reader and author, bear witness.
It is so much more than scanning pages of words.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).