All is Vanity, by Deb Emily

Emily Winslow by Jonathan PlayerIf deadlines don’t exist, I have to invent them.

I don’t always achieve my personal deadlines, but I usually come close. They’re my way of breaking down a huge task (write a book!) into manageable chunks. I wrote The Whole World in a year, entirely on self-imposed deadlines (well, and one looming contest deadline; I didn’t win). Now that I have external deadlines for the next book, I’m amazed at the self-discipline it took to write the first one without them. I remember sitting apart from other parents at playgroup, writing at a table by myself while the rest of them sipped tea and chatted. I remember exiling myself to a library table with my computer and not getting up until I’d reached my goal wordcount for the day. I remember staying up all night to force myself to complete a chapter that challenged me.

But it wasn’t entirely self-discipline. A lot of what drove me to write The Whole World was ambition, and a desperation to live up to the potential of my youth. That’s pushy stuff.

Christina Schwarz’s second novel, All is Vanity, didn’t make nearly the splash that her first (Drowning Ruth) did. But I love it, oh I love it.

The protagonist is a former “gifted child” grown into an ordinary adult. This gulf between her childhood expectations and grown-up reality drive her to quit her teaching job and attempt to write a novel. Relying only on vague “talent,” she suffers sort-of-deserved failures and humiliations. To some readers who commented on Amazon, she is unbearable, stupid and unrealistic. But I recognize a lot of myself.

Okay, let me be clear: elements of myself exaggerated to comic and tragic extremes. But elements of myself nonetheless. The book humbles me, chastises me, and entertains me. I reread it every year or so. Assuming that readers of this blog are book people, you might enjoy it too. And if you’re a writer, you may see an embarrassing, laugh-out-loud bit of yourself.

7 Replies to “All is Vanity, by Deb Emily”

  1. Thanks for the book recommendation, Emily. I’m sure I won’t relate to the “former gifted child” part! But the “ordinary adult” part, definitely.

  2. I love this little glimpse into you, Emily – and can I say how impressed I am that at playgroup, you peeled away and wrote! I’m sure that as a parent who home-schools, you needed to socialize, but obviously you needed to write more. And all-nighters! What dedication. I’m really impressed.

  3. Emily, I’m not being facetious (honest) but would love to know if you wore ear plugs while writing at playgrourp? If not, please share your secret of concentration.

  4. I too had lots of self imposed deadlines before I got my book deal. It’s funny though because today I have a headache and I told myself, “Just pretend like you have a deadline and do some writing anyway. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but some.” So I came in here to work and suddenly realized, I don’t have to pretend I have a deadline anymore because I DO have a deadline of March 1st!!!! That got me writing and I managed 1500 words, even with a headache! Haha! With self imposed deadlines, I wouldn’t have gotten that far, but they really do work for the most part.

  5. Larramie–Well, that particular playgroup was French and music lessons, so the kids were in their little classrooms at the time. The grown-ups got to sit in the main hall area with their tea. So it wasn’t that the kids’ noise would distract–but that the grownup conversation would attract me!

    Sarah–I’m convinced that all-nighters are a sign of weakness. Someday, perhaps, I won’t need to resort to them! Even recently, though, I worked till 4 am–not because I’ve been lazy or unprepared, but because my days are really fragmented. Sometimes all night is the way I can get a long block of uninterrupted time.

    March 1, Joelle–Is that for the whole of the next book?? Or just a part?

    Alicia–It’s probably better in the long run to be a “gifted adult” 😉

  6. March 1st I have to hand over a completed draft ready for editing! Luckily, they bought it off the first 90 pages, so those were quite polished. And this book will not be as long as RH. I’m expecting it to only be about 55k words, which is fairly average for YA.

  7. Emily, I’m the EXACT same way about setting my own deadlines. I have a tight deadline for my next book as well, but I still need to set myself individual goals and force myself to stick to them.

    I come from journalism where deadlines were not a date on the calendar; rather a time on the clock. THAT certainly focused the mind!

    And that book sounds right up my alley.

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