Until recently my website bio concluded with the following line:
At the moment Camille is working on a new novel that will feature chocolatiers, burlesque dancers, antiques dealers, pyromaniacs, and a runaway snow globe, though not necessarily in that order.
Tongue-in-cheek, but only to a point. At the time I wrote that I was doing a lot of random reading and wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about. Since this is novel #3 for me, I have enough of a work history now to notice a pattern of peaks and troughs in my creativity. I have never finished revising one novel and started writing the new one the following week or month (and I’ve always wondered about those writers who say they do). In between revising the Practice Novel and beginning Mary Modern there were a good seven or eight months of trying to develop various ideas that ultimately weren’t viable, at least in the form I gave them at the time. The Mary Modern-Petty Magic interim period was a good deal longer—partly because I was working on Moon Ireland, but more because I was putting a fair amount of pressure on myself to come up with something that would top Mary Modern. All in all, it was roughly a year between finishing up the guidebook and MM edits and beginning Petty Magic.
Even with Mary Modern promotional stuff taken into consideration, 2007 didn’t feel like a productive year for me, although I figured even at the time that “trough” was a necessary part of the cycle. All the false starts eventually lead you closer to what you’re meant to be working on. In 2007, these false starts took the form of seventy pages of a novel I later realized I could have written five or six years ago (fortunately I could cannibalize the strongest parts, and for two different projects), and the start of another more promising novel that clearly needed more time to simmer. I also wrote a few short stories I will revise at some stage. (As my friend Danny put it: stories, like jelly, need some time to set.)
So there seems to be a pattern of filling up (reading eclectically and voraciously; collecting random bits of dialogue/character quirks/fun words/plot jumping-off-points on little scraps of paper – though these bits will eventually work their way into many future stories, not just this one coming up), formulating an idea, writing up a storm, then another eclectic reading and gathering period that well outlasts the novel revisions. (I’ve read that this cycle is personified by a trinity of Hindu gods: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.)
It’s that filling-up period that has all the false starts in it. You’re trying to write before you know what you actually want (or need, or should) write about. And you know you’re in the formulation stage when you start to notice little serendipities: books of particular relevance seem to pop off the shelf, and you may notice subtle links between two seemingly unrelated topics that have both intrigued you lately. There is a definite sense of things falling into place, and a lovely tingling excitement whenever you think of your new Big Idea.
That, and relief that you aren't faking it.