Long after I'd made the last major revisions to How To Buy a Love of Reading--the Advance Readers Copies already printed, the copyedits completed--I began creating the "books" on the virtual bookshelf of my website. By providing interested readers with additional material, (photo albums, a journal, excerpts from fictional books mentioned in the novel), I wanted to extend the world of the novel past its covers. I thought it would be a fun project, and I knew the site's wonderful designer, eat.tv, inc, would make the "books" look terrific. I loved the fictional world of the book I had written about for so long. I thought of it like going back to visit a place where I'd "lived" for so long.
But here's the thing: forgive the cliché (which would make at least one of my characters cringe), but you can't go home again. Or at least, as I discovered, not without a lot of cognitive dissonance.
Revisiting my own text, reading the book and deciding what I could put onto the site that could add to the story without altering anything in the story, I started to feel like an intruder, a time traveler (who has to make sure she doesn't step on a butterfly, else the entire history of mankind will be irrevocably changed). It wasn't that difficult not to misstep. But after stomping around that world so long, doing whatever I pleased in it, I resented having to look where I trod. As happy as I was to be able to create the new site material, I was happier, still, when it was over and I could leave the world of How To Buy a Love of Reading. It isn't my world anymore; it belongs to the characters.
We talk about literature in the present tense (Alice follows the White Rabbit, Tom Sawyer runs away) because--as my high school English teachers told me and as I went on to tell students of my own years later--the novel is forever "happening," the text eternally "alive." My book is alive, all the characters playing their parts in the present. But I can no longer interact with them. I'm only a ghost, looking in from their past.