Last weekend the completed (and bloody brilliant) professional edit of my book Happy Tango: Sallycat’s Guide to Dancing in Buenos Aires landed in my inbox all the way from Edinburgh, UK. Since then I’ve not had time to drop a line to my mum never mind to spend several hours composing a blog entry. Two weeks ago I was saying that I needed movement in my life: I sure as hell got it.
Have you ever seen a book edit? It’s very colourful. That is, if you like a bright shade of red. Your words crossed through; the editor’s suggestion alongside, shouting at you in the colour of peligro. Sometimes it’s just a question of incorrect or weak grammar, punctuation, or phrases replaced with superior stuff. Other times it’s far more complicated: a chapter that may have to to move; a section that needs to be re-written; pages that just do not work at all. I’d already seen a sample edit of my work so it wasn’t a shock, but even so, when you’re looking at 200 pages of crossed-through text and red type… it took me twenty four hours to pluck up the courage to open the file in the first place, about two hours to read the whole thing through, and possibly less than one second to click ‘Close’ while wondering if I’d ever open it again. Did you really think you could write a book? whispered VOD, as I headed downtown on the number 60 bus to dance tango and forget about the whole damn thing.
These days though, I bounce back with the zest of the orange Space Hopper I rode as a child of the seventies, and by Monday morning Me and Barbie couldn’t wait to get started on the required post-edit redraft. It was as if a fairy landed on my pillow on Sunday night and magicked all my doubts away. Maybe it was the fact that I allowed myself the weekend to formulate my plan of attack – start at page 1, transform as many words as I can each day and see how it goes; maybe it was the fact that a generous friend in Buenos Aires offered to help me resolve any outstanding dilemmas as they crop up; maybe it was the fact that on Saturday night I ran into a tango tourist who seemed completely at a loss (on her second visit to BsAs) as to how to achieve a successful cabeceo. It was definitely in part because my editor, followed up the edit with a rather marvellous email reassuring me that you only ever see the red stuff when you read it through the first time; he also mentioned that he was proud to be involved – Mike Stocks – the rather fabulous, talented British author of White Man Falling, who is now working on his next novel, The Melancholy School of Tango happy to be involved with my book… now I’m telling you, that is motivating with a capital M. In return for his belief in me, I want to give him reason to be proud, and for that I need to follow through on his work, and make the thing the best it can possibly be.
So since Monday, the floor around my desk has been strewn with sheets of my manuscript, maps of Buenos Aires, printouts of thumbnails of photos that might be suitable for the front cover image… by Friday night I’d got to the end of Part 2 (of 4) and averaged, per day, ten hours at the laptop and twenty hours with my head in the book’s content… I did switch off thinking about it when I was in the tango embrace, I promise.
It was in October 2008 – and now over a year ago – that I first told you, with Barbie enthusiasm but possibly without a single word committed to paper, of my intention to write this book. I had absolutely no idea of what I was letting myself in for: how long it actually takes to write 80000 words in the first place and how many hours can be consumed re-writing them until they are worthy of being read by a paying customer; how many times you will hurt, question, doubt, fire up, close down, think you are losing your mind, as helpful people tell you what it should be, shouldn’t be, can be and can’t be; how much self belief you need in order to never give up. Sometimes I don’t think I will ever finish. When doubts flood in, I force myself into dreamlands: me in Cafe Richmond on Florida, someone on the next table with Happy Tango open between their medialunas de manteca and cafe con leche, making notes in their own tiny black moleskin notebook as I’d have done when I first arrived here; someone across from me on the Subte, Happy Tango on their knee, a smile of understanding or relief or amusement spreading across their face; me pushing my bag under the table in a milonga and seeing the book I wrote peeping out of someone’s tango shoe bag.
Am I full of ego to imagine scenes like this? Scenes where people are using my book. Scenes where I notice them using it. Scenes where they are enjoying using it. Maybe I am full of ego. But so bloody what? I am learning that when you are working on the path of your dream, you have to keep it alive with whatever means, including painting yourself to be a hero with super-powers (of the sort that can turn everyone’s first Buenos Aires tango holiday into one full of complete and utter joy). Ha! Who cares if it’s reality or not? It’s a means to an end. And in this case the end will never be even remotely possible, if I don’t find ways to keep going.
So this week, I’ll be transforming Part 3 of Happy Tango into the words that people will finally read. On Wednesday I’ll be getting to see the photographs we took on Sunday morning in La Glorieta, one of which might possibly make it onto the front cover. And I’ll be keeping my dreamland mental images, as described above and starring some of you, firmly in my mind at all times. For a while I might not be able to write on this particular page with quite the regularity I once did, but I promise I haven’t abandoned you: I’m just working with passion towards one of my dreams. And since living your dreams is really what this little blog called Sallycat’s Adventures is all about, I know that you guys, who read it regularly, will understand.
Hasta as pronto as I possibly can,