This is a fear I have often. Daily, if I’m being honest. Am I alone? Please, for the love of chocolate, tell me I’m not alone. Lie to me if you have to…
I get asked a lot what my favorite book is that I’ve written and—thus far—my answer is always Caged in Winter. Why? Well, for lots of reasons. I love the characters—they’re, to me, the most complex I’ve written. I love the prose—again, to me, it’s been my most lyrical. Even though I spent the shortest amount of time with that book and those characters as I have anything else I’ve written, I feel like I know them best. I feel like it’s more a part of me than any other book.
It was my first full-length novel, one that came to me in a flood of thoughts and rushed out of me like a waterfall. It is also, apparently, the book of my heart. I didn’t think it was at the time I wrote it—at the time, I just basically vomited out this story that demanded to be told. I’ve heard many authors talk about the books of their heart, and I didn’t think I had one, yet I continually come back to CiW when asked my favorite.
The problem I’m facing now, seven books into this journey, is…what if I’ve already written my best work? What if everything else I’ve done or will do pales in comparison?
And the thing is, logically, I know that’s not true. I know that with each book, I grow a little more as a writer. I learn how to better create and mold characters. How to create tension and smooth a plot arc and increase emotional investment. Besides that, I have readers who’ve loved each of my books more than any of the others—some of them are Caged in Winter, but, interestingly enough, most are not.
Years ago, when I was a professional photographer, I went to a workshop held by someone I highly admired in the field. She went through our portfolios and gave us feedback on them. When she was going through mine, it was quiet murmurs of appreciation interspersed with head nods and smiles. Until she came to one picture—a personal favorite—and that head nod turned into a head tilt. That murmur of appreciation turned into a, “Huh.” She asked me what the deal was with that picture, because, apparently, it didn’t go with the rest of my work. The answer? It was of my son. I had a personal attachment of the picture, and thus held it in higher regard than other pieces, even if they were “better” in the eyes of others.
Perhaps that’s where I am with holding all my other work up against my first. It was the book that got me an agent. The one that got me my first publishing deal with a big five publisher. The book that got me in bookstores. So I wonder if my viewpoint of it is tainted somehow? If I’m seeing it through rose colored glasses?
The point of this post? I don’t even know, man. This is something I’ve been struggling with for a while, and, honestly, that whole last paragraph? Totally just came to me as I was writing this. It makes sense, though. Readers, agents, industry professionals see your work with fresh eyes and a new perspective. When we, as writers, look at our work, we see the trials and tribulations. The late nights and early mornings. The writes and rewrites and edits and deletions. We can never see just the sum of all the parts. Can never only focus on the project as a whole. We only see what it took to get us there.
What about you? Do you have a book you think everything else you write should be held against? Something that everything else pales in comparison to?